The UnPopular Opinion: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Do you remember where you were when STAR WARS: EPISODE I was announced? Do you remember how excited you got knowing that the man who shepherded a landmark science fiction/fantasy trilogy would be returning to helm a series of prequels? Do you remember the anticipation as trailers and information leaked out abou the story, plot, and casting of those movies? Do you remember that feeling that there was no way they could possibly suck? That is how I felt when Peter Jackson announced THE HOBBIT films. Sure, I was apprehensive when Guillermo Del Toro left and Jackson had to step back behind the camera, but I still trusted the vision of the man who brought us THE LORD OF THE RINGS. All of the major players were coming back, including Ian McKellen, to bring THE HOBBIT to life and the trailers were a thing of beauty. And then, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY hit theaters.
Never in my film-going life have I wanted to love a movie so badly and been so disappointed, Maybe I set my expectations too high, but how could you not be expecting top notch filmmaking after RETURN OF THE KING won Best Picture at the Academy Awards? There has always been an excess to THE LORD OF THE RINGS films, something that did not translate as effectively with either THE LOVELY BONES or KING KONG. While I enjoyed both of those movies, they felt like they were being made grander than they needed to be. The biggest warning sign with THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY was that it was a slim volume that was made into a 9 hour trilogy. Making THE LORD OF THE RINGS as three films made sense since the massive scope of the novel could not be contained into a single movie. But, THE HOBBIT has always been looked at as the "kid friendly" version of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Why do we need to mess with that?
Even the lists in this movie are unnecessarily long. What the hell.
We can say it was in pursuit of the almighty dollar, but that is not fair. Peter Jackson's ambition to translate THE LORD OF THE RINGS was a massive success, so why not try and do it again. Neither of his films after RETURN OF THE KING reached the level of acclaim that he gained with his Tolkien trilogy, so why not try and mimic it? The result is a glossy and unrealistic mess that diminishes the purpose of what he set out to make. That is without even taking into account the use of 48fps and 3D which reduce the film's quality in their own right. Something just doesn't feel right about THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY and it becomes very apparent on repeat viewings of the movie.
It hurts me to say this, but I think one of the biggest problems is Martin Freeman. I love everything the guy has been in from the original version of THE OFFICE to THE WORLD'S END and most recently SHERLOCK, but he just does not embody the Bilbo Baggins we came to love in Iam Holm's portrayal. Freeman's take on Bilbo is a stuttered, anxious, and very British character who doesn't quite embrace the adventure he is going on the way Frodo did in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Where that film got moving after a prologue and introduction to the characters, we do not begin to see Bilbo evolve until the final minutes of AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. When expanding a story like THE HOBBIT from a short work to a three volume movie, your first film cannot be over two hours of introduction.
Like about seventy-five minutes of this movie, this scene serves no purpose.
Peter Jackson himself said if he had kept this a two film project, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY would have ended with the barrel chase down the river that serves to open THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. Instead, the movie ends with a non-ending. None of the LORD OF THE RINGS movies ended in an unsatisfying way. Each had cliffhangers and unresolved plot elements, but they can be watched as distinct films on their own. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY serves to function as an opening with no satisfying end. And that is even with added plot elements from Tolkien's appendices and other works. So much about THE HOBBIT is beloved that there was no doubt that fans of the original work would be disappointed by the changes, but even those who have never read the novel can see where this film is stretched to what barely passes for a standalone movie. Yes, it is great seeing Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm, and Elijah Wood back in character, but of all those roles, only McKellen and Serkis are necessary. The rest seem like box office padding in the event the rest of the "unknown" cast are not good enough to make the movie a hit.
It was clear from the moment we heard Gollum's return in the trailer that THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY was going to be a nostalgic return to those bygone days of 2003 when the world fell in love for the hilarious little monster. But, while Andy Serkis lent a humanity to Gollum rarely seen in CGI creations, the rest of the characters in this movie feel two dimensional. We love Gandalf because we know him. We tolerate Bilbo because we have met him before. But, the cast of dwarves here are all interchangeable and do not feel distinct enough to be unique characters. I defy you to name any of them aside from Thorin Oakenshield. Thorin is portrayed as a stand-in for Viggo Mortensen as there truly is not character on par with Aragorn since Bard the Bowman was relegated to THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. But, Thorin is remarkably unlikeable, no matter how hard Richard Armitage tries. Even Radagast the Brown, a minor character in the books, is bulked up to be more than necessary to further the enhanced Necromancer storyline for the films.
I love this cartoon!
From the sweeping landscape shots of beautiful New Zealand to the innovative character and set design, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY feels like a welcome return to Middle-Earth, despite the fact that it is now a hyper-colored, CGI-laden mess. THE LORD OF THE RINGS injected the viewer into the world of trolls, orcs, and elves without the need for gimmicks like 3D or High Frame Rate. The special effects work from WETA was mind-boggling in how amazing it looked in those films that it is a damn shame to see what looks like shoddy work in THE HOBBIT films. Suddenly, every non-human character looks computer-generated whereas they felt seamless and part of the world in the prior films. Add in the High Frame Rate and you suddenly remove any hope for this movie to look real. Taking the layer of film we have been accustomed to away, HFR makes the picture crystal clear and amazingly crisp. That is all fine and dandy, but it also takes away the buffer that allows visual effects artists to blend their creations with the physically filmed footage. Now, you can clearly see what was added and manipulated which also removes any magic from the screen.
Where Peter Jackson was once able to create the impossible on the big screen, that curtain has been pulled away. It feels that with THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, Jackson has used up the last cinematic tricks he had up his sleeve. He got a taste of what success can afford a talented filmmaker and parlayed that into a pair of films that did not reach those same heights. But, now with what was essentially a blank check to make a movie greater and grander than THE LORD OF THE RINGS, he has instead done what many accused George Lucas of doing with his prequels: he has gotten in his own way. Guillermo Del Toro directing THE HOBBIT would have afforded another director the chance to realize magic on screen with Jackson's guidance. Instead, Jackson has no one to slap his hand and tell him when enough is enough. The result is an utter disappointment for a project that should have been on par with it's predecessors. Don't even get me started on THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG.
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