For the first 45 minutes of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey I feared an absolute debacle. Then the trolls showed up. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Facing the adaptation of The Hobbit, director Peter Jackson made two decisions that have sparked both mild debates to Mordor-grade fury: First, dividing the book into three movies. Second, shooting the trilogy at 48 frames-per-second, and therefore improving the film’s definition to an off-putting degree.
Both daring choices would be proven terribly boneheaded.
The Hobbit is actually shorter than The Two Towers, in turn the briefest of Lord of the Rings books. No matter the alleged depth of the origin story, it’s math. Heck, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part II feels less stretched.
As for the 48-FPS 3-D experience, it doesn’t enhance it — it cheapens it. Remember those old BBC soaps shot in video? That’s how it feels.
Then there is the meandering 45 minutes at the start. It takes that long to convince Bilbo Baggins to join a band of dwarves in a quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain. The place is now occupied by a gold-loving, mean-spirited dragon named Smaug, of whom we barely get a glimpse of.
As in every quest ever, this one is full of dangers, the most pressing being Tolkien’s all-purpose villains, the orcs. In a departure from the book, the main nemesis in An Unexpected Journey is a slightly more complex orc named Azog who barely gets a footnote in the source material.
At times, Jackson (who is a skilled action director and has an ear for comedy) makes the audience forget the 48-FPS, three part brouhaha. The set pieces are entertaining and the fan favorite sightings are a treat. Gollum looks more real than ever and has an actual resemblance to Andy Serkis. Impressively, Saruman gets the bigger laugh as he complains about Radagast, the brown wizard.
Not all the problems of The Hobbit are Peter Jackson’s fault. The dwarf hero, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, MI-5) is no Aragorn, son of Arathorn. For the most part, Thorin comes as ill-tempered and standoffish. On the other hand, Martin Freeman (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) is the perfect fit for Bilbo Baggins, good natured and fussy.
It must be said, the people at the screening I attended, applauded at the end. Expect a wide public-critics divide this time around.
Three slightly disappointed prairie dogs, who nevertheless will line up for the sequel next summer.