The Hobbit: An Unexpected Disappointment

The Hobbit promo from iMDB

Let me clarify something. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is not a bad movie. It is, in fact, a very good movie. It’s a three-hour movie that doesn’t feel its length; it keeps you entertained throughout. It is visually stunning, with beautiful cinematography and Peter Jackson’s trademark “epic” style. The special effects are good, the acting is good, the action is good, and so on. It is a good movie.

But it’s not a great movie. And that’s the problem.

The Hobbit has some crucial weaknesses and flaws that drag it down, making it ultimately a disappointment. The biggest weakness by far stems from its source material. When I heard that Peter Jackson was making a The Hobbit movie, I thought, “That might make a great movie.” Then I heard he was stretching the story of J.R.R. Tolkein’s novel into three movies. That’s when I thought “Uh-oh.”

Each Lord of the Rings movie was based on a rather dense novel, and a whole lot had to be cut out of each film for time constraint reasons. But The Hobbit is a single novel, and a pretty concise one at that, a mere 310 pages. What, are they going to make a movie about every 100 pages? Even if they did that, they’d have to add a bunch of filler to make each movie a three-hour epic. Which is precisely what they did. They made up and added material to pad out the length and forge stronger links between this story and the story of the Lord of the Rings movies.

The result is, well, clunky. It doesn’t feel smooth and fluid. We spend a fair chunk of An Unexpected Journey with a character that is completely unrelated to the main plot and essentially unnecessary, only to set up a sequence that won’t appear until the next film. We get to see Saruman, supposedly before he turned evil. Okay, that sounds like it could be great – we get to find out what Saruman was like as a good guy and see him as Gandalf’s friend, making his betrayal in Lord of the Rings that much more compelling. But “good” Saruman turns out to be an arrogant jerk who dismisses and belittles Gandalf and generally acts like a bully. It just doesn’t work.

Once a jerk, always a jerk. Apparently.

Once a jerk, always a jerk. Apparently.

And don’t get me started about the point where we see giant, walking mountains beating each other up. Yes, that happens.

Wat image from Know Your Mene

The ending was pretty awesome, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t feel like the climax of a movie on this scale. So, when the credits began to roll, I heard more than a few cries of “That’s it?” from the audience. Myself among them.

Look, I’m trying not to sound too negative, here. It was a good movie, and made some smart choices. For example, we know that The Hobbit is not going to be as epic or action-packed as its more famous counterpart. So, how do you keep the audience’s attention? Why, with great characters, of course! Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins is the perfect reluctant hero, whose actions and motivations are made the more compelling because he reacts very much like a member of the audience would in each given situation. Fans who prefer “rebellious and fun” Gandalf over “serious and wise” Gandalf will be in for a treat, as Ian McKellen turns in one of his best performances yet. By far the best part, though, is the dwarves – I found myself actually caring about what happened to characters with silly names like Balin, Dwalin, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur.

The Dwarves from The Hobbit image from Geektown

Then again, the film also made some baffling choices, particularly when it came to the action scenes. One action sequence in particular just seemed to go on and on needlessly. It could have been about half as long and been far more compelling. Instead, we are treated to a Lord of the Rings-style over-the-top sequence that ends up looking inappropriate to the context and feeling like a slapstick cartoon.

The real problem, at the end of the day, is that as good as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was, it simply can’t hold a candle to the Lord of the Rings films. When you have been trained to expect perfection, anything less than that is a disappointment. If this movie had come out first, or if the Lord of the Rings films didn’t exist, I would right now be singing The Hobbit‘s praises.

As it stands, I would take The Hobbit over The Amazing Spider-Man or the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes films, but if I had to pick between watching this or watching the recent film Argo, I would pick Argo. And that’s a Ben Affleck movie. Peter Jackson, it’s a bad sign when I’d rather watch a Ben Affleck movie.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings and their families. Cat Flag supports you in your moment of loss and grieving.

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