The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey- An Unexpected Review
If you scan the recently announced Golden Globe nominations, you will not find a single nomination for the prequel to the trilogy that won 17 Academy Awards in total. The reason for that is simply because The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) is not worthy. Many things go wrong in An Unexpected Journey, not least of all the visuals (which the Lord of the Rings Trilogy won the Oscar for with all three movies). With all the admiration of the first trilogy and a stumble in the prequel trilogy, Peter Jackson may be pulling what George Lucas did with Star Wars.
Like Lucas, Jackson opted to use a breadth of computer graphics for his new movie, and this is by far his worst mistake. While much hubbub was made about the frames per second making the movie look bad, it turns out that it does not matter. The movie looks awful in 24 frames per second as well. There is a plane overuse of CGI for creatures such as orcs and even smoke when entirely unnecessary. Following the celebrated makeup and prop use of previous films, this is completely unacceptable. CG characters do not portray creatures having large weight well with their movements too quick and bouncing around like toddlers at times. The animation itself is suitable perhaps for a Harry Potter film or computer video games, but not for this series. It is easy to tell that more of the attention was clearly directed at 3D effects even while watching it in 2 dimensions. The layers stand out distinctly from each other like a weatherman in front of a green-screen and are not blended in the slightest. This movie looks unfinished and in desperate need of polishing. The Hobbit will not convince the industry to transition to a higher frame rate with such poor visuals to being with; it will perhaps take James Cameron’s sequel to Avatar (2009) to accomplish that. This deservingly needs to be called “the movie that CG and 3D killed”.
The presentation is not all bad, however. Possibly the best thing about this movie is Howard Shore’s amazing score and soundtrack. Though the typical environment sounds and effect sounds do not particularly shine or falter, the music greatly enhances the experience. Much of the same is replayed too often, but the music itself is extremely well done –especially in “Misty Mountains” as seen in the second theatrical trailer.
The movie, like this review, takes too long to arrive at the plot. While audiences are already familiar with the Ring of Power and Bilbo Baggins’ general history, they are not so familiar with the history of the dwarves and their homeland. Briefly, the dragon Smaug forced the dwarves out of the Lonely Mountain for the vast quantity of riches they covet, but has not been seen for 60 years. A band of 13 dwarfs seeks to reclaim it before other factions do with the aid of Gandalf the Gray, who recruits the unassuming Halfling Bilbo Baggins. Much of the plot revolves around Thorin, leader and heir to the kingship, and his hatred of the elves who did not help in the hour of need as well as his problem with Bilbo being unfit for such a journey. Richard Armitage’s portrayal of Thorin is suitable, though perhaps a bit overdone. Like a select other few, he seems too good-looking to be playing a dwarf. Martin Freeman does extremely well as Bilbo Baggins taking in part mannerisms and way of speaking for the character. Ian McKellen and others resuming their roles are on par, though no one stands out as exemplary. Andy Serkis’ performance of Gollum is again great; however the character is nowhere near as exciting as in Two Towers and Return of the King.
The story is stretched far too thin. Not the longest of the books, it seems Peter Jackson wanted to include near the entirety of The Hobbit book across 3 films. Some sequences could and should be entirely cut out to make the conversion to the silver screen less of a grind for movie goers. A scene with rock giants may add to the world of Middle Earth, but it adds nothing to the story and should have stayed solely in the book. So far, the story is slow and unsophisticated, lacking substance and deep thought. There is too little peril and drama. While waiting for part II of The Hobbit next year, the payoff is not yet great enough. We see the hobbit Baggins come into his own and find his bravery, but it just is not grand enough after experiencing the Lord of the Rings on film. Thorin’s difficulty with the elves may have made Gimli and Legolas’ friendship more special later on, but having the Lord of the Rings movies first makes The Hobbit’s spectacle lackluster.
Putting the audience back in Middle Earth again is most of what there is to enjoy. The Lord of the Rings movies left fans wanting more, and with a whole book of source material just as celebrated, there was no excuse not to make it. Everyone resuming their old roles helps put us back into the frame of mind that this world existed here long before and will linger on after the J. R. R. Tolkien books have ended. Despite its flaws, the movie is still enjoyable with its charm. The bar of expectations just has to be set well lower.
This is a rocky start to a new trilogy, and it is unfortunate that this has to be a reprimanding review for one of film’s and literature’s greatest franchises. It does not fall as hard or will be chastised as much as Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), but the comparisons are surely there. The CG and 3D-centric design is the movie’s downfall while additionally hurt by a stretched out story better suited for prose novels. This classic hobbit tale is not beyond saving by any means, but the first third does not warrant its own movie. Expect An Unexpected Journey to be the least celebrated in the franchise.
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