Friday, August 16, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Directed by Peter Jackson.
2012. Rated PG-13, 169 minutes.
Ian McKellen
Ian Holm
Richard Armitage
Ken Stott
Sylvester McCoy
Benedict Cumberbatch
Graham McTavish
William Kircher
James Nesbitt

The Lord of the Rings trilogy detailed the journey of Frodo Baggins (Wood) and company to destroy that all-powerful ring. The three movies earned both critical praise and goo-gobs of money. Naturally, to the delight of franchise devotees, director Peter Jackson dips back into the Tolkien universe to give us this long-awaited prequel. This time, the adventure is that of Frodo’s favorite relative Bilbo (Holm as the older version, Freeman the younger). Actually, Bilbo is just a follower on this mission. He is coerced by the wizard Gandalf (McKellen) to join a group of dwarves in their effort to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from Smaug the dragon. Of course, this means trekking across Middle Earth en route to a remote location, ecountering various dangers along the way.

In true LotR fashion, it seems we walk every mile with our heroes. By now, four movies in, this has become a tedious undertaking. The problem is not necessarily the length of the film, though we stretch to near three hours, but that much of it is stagnant and repetitive. For far too much of the run time either nothing is happening, or some character is merely giving us an update on the plot in case we dozed off. Speaking of dozing off, doing so for chunks at a time wouldn't really mean missing much of the narrative. Besides, this is all just a setup for the next installment.

Things perk up as the movie nears its stopping point. Most fun is the scene shared by Bilbo and everyone’s favorite CGI character, Gollum, again marvelously handled by Andy Serkis. It can be argued that much of the scene is superfluous, going on for far too long. However, it’s just flat out entertaining. This third act also includes much of the action and the most harrowing situations faced by our heroes.

Visually, the film continues the franchise tradition of presenting to us an eye-popping spectacle. Like its predecessors, it’s simply beautiful to look at. Wonderful shots of whatever terrain the good guys are traversing combine with amazing special fx to keep our peepers darting around the screen.

Overall, the good stuff cancels out enough of the bad to make The Hobbit a decent watch. However, most of that good stuff is back-loaded as the first two acts are plagued by long stretches of nothing happening except some hit-or-miss humor. Even though the sequel has yet to be released as of this writing, I’d venture to say this movie could've been condensed into the first half of a three hour movie with that one as the latter. It certainly doesn't need to be one by itself.

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