It used to be that when a movie became a trilogy (especially a planned one) it meant something. It was a very rare thing. How many years was it between Star Wars and Back to the Future to The Star Wars Prequels? Thanks to the success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it seems like a lot of movies are now being split in two for no storytelling reason. Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2? Harry Potter? Ok, I’ll give you splitting Deathly Hallows on paper was a good idea, it was an 800 page book but in execution? One 3 Hr movie probably would have been better. Twilight Breaking Dawn? Oh, hell nah….
Now we have the absolute worst example of this new trend – Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. I say Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit because it certainly isn’t JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit anymore. A 270 page book, stretched into 3 – 3 hour movies (not to mention the inevitable extended versions) and you feel every bit of the first 3 hour installment.
I’ve tried reading The Hobbit on numerous occasions and could never make it past the first 30 pages. In those 30 pages they never left the hut, never said what the point was of the entire adventure that everyone would soon go on, very little character building of the 13 Dwarves just a bunch of silly singing, eating and reading about how purplexed Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) was at the shenanigans going around him.
The main controversy surrounding this movie, beyond the split was Peter Jackson’s insistence on shooting this movie in a new 48fps on 3D HFR (High Frame Rate). Many people compared the look to watching a video tape on the big screen. Some have said that 48fps leads to a higher instance of motion sickness. Jackson thought this new “gimmick” would give the movie a higher definition and better viewing experience than the regular 24fps that we’re all used to.
As someone who gets motion sickness fairly easy (The Hunger Games made me sick), I was ready to hate this new format. Peter Jackson was right. The first 20 minutes of this movie are so stunningly beautiful that I was absolutely enraptured. The much maligned 3D 48fps projection made for some of the clearest, most beautiful 3D that I have ever experienced. Is it the future of movies? No. Either my eyes adjusted to it fairly quick or it was only used in some sequences.
Like LOTR, The Hobbit starts off with a 10 minute prologue that does a fantastic job of setting up the world and the story. We get a brief history of the rise and fall of the Dwarf Kingdom in a mountain. They became a prosperous nation under the leadership of their King. The King’s addiction to gold brings upon them the terrible wrath of the Dragon Smaug. Now homeless and scattered the Dwarves dream of one day returning home. Boom, that’s your story and Jackson tells it with the gusto you would expect. The 3D, SFX and sets look huge, imposing, and immediately sucks you into this world.
Unfortunately that Prologue is the best thing in the entire movie. Any momentum and excitement from the amazing first few minutes is lost as the padding immediately starts to rear its ugly head. First we have to spend some time with Old Bilbo and Frodo along with lots of sweeping shots of the Shire. The entire opening of the movie is pure Jackson addition, but it works. So I was filled with hope that maybe all of his changes would be good.
The filler begins right away with the incredibly long drawn out set up. Which felt unnecessary, since we just saw the entire story basically laid out in the first 15 minutes. Did we really need another 30 minutes of watching the “whimsy” of Gandalf Ian McKellen) and each no-name dwarf show up on poor Bilbo’s doorstep. Sure it is cute for a few minutes watching them trash his house and eat all his food while he wonders who these strangers are, but after awhile you want them to get on with it.
There are too many characters, with jumbled names that are introduced quickly, whom we never find out much about. We’re stuck with cliched tropes – the old wise loyal dwarf, the two comic relief ones – who will grow to be annoying, the rugged warrior one, a bunch of other ones who can’t even be bothered to have a stereotype – I’m assuming they will be cannon fodder in the next two films – the dour and unlikable Prince Thorin (Richard Armitage).
Most of the things that I didn’t like about the first trilogy are here in spades. The repeated sweeping helicopter shots of the beautiful landscapes that making you feel like you are watching a Travel Channel show and not a movie, the constant running and walking with no purpose and talking Orcs. It’s hard to take Orcs and Trolls as serious, badass villains when they all sound like characters out of a Bugs Bunny movie. Or a big fat Goblin King who sounds like a singing Elmer Fudd.
Through the voice of Thorin, the movie spends too much time denigrating Bilbo. Questioning why he is there, his loyalty, etc. At one point in the movie Bilbo is left behind and Thorin doesn’t try to find out what happened to him he just says “I knew he would leave us” and then leaves him behind. At another point they leave Rivendell without saying anything to anyone either. Thorin is the one who shows a complete lack of faith in his people or trust. What kind of leader is that? All the while, Bilbo says or does nothing to really defend himself. So when he finally does something “heroic” at the end, it becomes a case of who cares.
It seemed like Jackson didn’t no how to end the movie. The climatic battle felt long and drawn out with multiple climaxes. Where I couldn’t help think – if they end it here, it’s completely cheap. Then the battle would continue on for 4 more pseudo “moments” where the movie finally stops and how it was done, leaves you wondering. Why did I just spend 3 hours watching this if they could have just done the thing they did to be at the place where they were? (Trying to avoid spoilers). And we have 2 more years and hours of more time to watch this story when it seems like it is basically ended?
There and back again, indeed.
Final Grade C-