Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was brilliant and groundbreaking, and he’s using The Hobbit to (unnecessarily) remind you of that. Returning to those iconic sets, recycling that familiar score, reusing those great actors, Jackson has transformed J.R.R. Tolkein’s little children’s prequel novel (and some “relevant” LOTR appendices stories) into a massive trilogy of as epic proportion as his original trilogy. The idea of having Jackson adapt The Hobbit was pleasing, but, like a kid in a candy store, he got far too carried away.
The Hobbit occurs 60 years before the events of LOTR when Gandalf (Ian McKellen) recruits Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as a burglar on a grand quest with a gang of dwarves. Their aim is to take back the Lonely Mountain from the evil dragon Smaug and retrieve their lost treasure. The first half of their adventure mimics that of The Fellowship of the Ring and Jackson makes sure to add more allusions to Fellowship when they don’t naturally occur in the novel (he somehow manages to squeeze in some drama at Weathertop).
A lot of various plot threads are introduced in this film, making it feel especially bloated. When familiar characters are worked into the story—Elijah Wood pops up as Frodo in one gratuitous scene, Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel makes a seemingly unimportant cameo—it feels like cheating. Yet when new characters are introduced (ones not directly from The Hobbit novel) they feel completely unnecessary and uninteresting—especially Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) who comes off as a psychotic old man with Ent semen in his hair and a Snow White obsession with forest critters.
Despite Jackson’s attempts to give the film a “stand alone” feeling at the end with an accelerated storyline about Thorin’s (Richard Armitage) acceptance of Bilbo as a part of their gang, Unexpected Journey just feels like the first few episodes of a Hobbit miniseries. Miniseries is an accurate term for this synthesis of a novel and appendices. Its scope is broad enough and its execution feels episodic enough that this 3-hour film feels more like a marathon of TV episodes.
Not to say that this film isn’t enjoyable. Jackson easily captures the whimsy and humor that is prevalent in The Hobbit, although sometimes it feels almost farcical. But the excessive amount of added storylines makes this a tiresome film to sit through. Fellowship felt like a full, entertaining story that left you wanting more when it ends; but Unexpected Journey’s ending leaves you excited to get out of the theater. This film is all exposition and story building without any true payoff. Once you are able to consecutively watch all the films in close conjunction, however, it will be a more enjoyable experience to watch this movie.
- Watching The Hobbit A Second Time (thecarton.net)
- Sci Friday: Hobbit vs. Hobbit (bookpeopleblog.wordpress.com)
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) (pilgrimswatch.wordpress.com)