Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It goes without saying that the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy are beloved by many and even sacred to some.  And while I admit to coming a little late to the party, the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films have become very special to me over the last decade, more so every time I see them.  In their extended forms, they span over 11 hours, so they're no small commitment of time.  Yet I recently had a full day marathon in preparation for this prequel, and I could not have enjoyed them more. 

Needles to say, I have been so looking forward to 'The Hobbit'.  After all, it's been nine years since the last LOTR and once again this one is directed by Peter Jackson and starring Ian McKellan as Gandalf.  How could this be anything but fantastic, right?  Wrong!  It's hard to describe what I'm feeling right now.  It's a combination of anger and shock.  Mostly, I kind of feel like Jackson killed my puppy.  But where to begin? 

I know.  How about Jackson's experimental use of filming in 48 frames per second (fps)?  Now, just like you, I had no idea what this really meant when I first heard it.  But according to the buzz, this would look even better, as other films are filmed in 24 fps, but our eyes see in 60 fps, so supposedly this, combined with that crazy new trend of 3-D, would make this new trilogy even more realistic!  Really?  I kid you not, it looks like we time travelled back to the days of 'Land of the Lost', 'H.R. PufnStuf', and 'Sigmund the Sea Monster' from the Krofft Superstar Hour.   Or, if that reference goes over your head, picture old BBC shows, like the original Dr. Who.  From minute one I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  Is this a practical joke, I thought?  I was praying it would go away and return to the beautiful film quality of the original holy trilogy once they go to flashback.  It didn't.  Now, those that know me know that I don't embrace change well.  And I agree, innovation is important, and James Cameron took visuals to a new level by experimenting with 'Avatar'.  But you don't experiment on a beloved franchise!  You stick to the formula that works and save your experiments for a new freakin' project!

Well, the look of the film aside, it must have other positive attributes, right?  Well, not much.  For one thing, the tone is all wrong.  It's silly.  Jackson has changed everything that made LOTR such a mature fantasy series.  He actually turned this into a freakin' kids' franchise!

Sure, I freely admit, McKellan is still perfect as Gandalf.  Yet I felt embarrassed for him in this debacle.  And Martin Freeman was a very good choice for the lead, Bilbo Baggins, but his thoughtful acting is lost in the mess.  And, thankfully, Andy Serkis and Cate Blanchett return, providing a few rare moments of solid screen time.  But the rest of the cast are as forgettable as the lines everyone was given to say and the uninteresting creatures they are endlessly fighting.  Oh, and don't get me started on Elijah Wood's pointless cameo.  It was hardly worth his plane ticket to New Zealand.

Over the last decade I have heard many complain that George Lucas has lost his mind and ruined the Star Wars legacy.  Well, I'm not completely on board with that statement.  But Jackson has truly LOST HIS MIND and RUINED THE LOTR LEGACY!  I honestly can't believe it.  It's a sad day for film.  It really should have been called 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Disaster'.

I think I need a good cry.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring:    Grade: A+
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers:     Grade: A
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King:    Grade: A
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey     Grade: D

11/16/13  UPDATE:

I just watched the film again on DVD and I am happy to say it was a better viewing experience the second time around, largely due to the look of the film.  Thankfully it looks normal and that makes a huge difference.  But I still have all of the other issues with it I mentioned above (and a new one as well): 
  • It's way too long.  It could easily and should definitely have been edited down significantly to keep the pacing tighter.  The battle sequences with the trolls, orcs, goblins, and whatever else go on way too long.  This book clearly shouldn't be split into three films. Two would have been much better (and less greedy.)
  • None of the dwarves on the journey with Gandalf and Bilbo have standout, memorable personalities.  Remember how great Merry and Pippin were?  And how about Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn?  We don't get that here at all.
  • As great as the score was in the first one, it feels like rehash this time.  The themes we know and love should have been included to supplement some equally memorable new themes.  John Williams didn't rest on his laurels with Star Wars Episode 1.  He wrote 'Duel of the Fates' which is at least as good as any theme he write previously.  Howard Shore must have called out sick on this film.
  • There are too many kid-targeted moments that tarnish the maturity of this fantasy franchise which is beloved by adults.  There are plenty of movies for kids.  This shouldn't be one of them.
Nevertheless, when it isn't shown in that horrendous 48 fps, it gets a much better grade.  Lo and behold:

Revised Grade: B-


  1. oh no! so disappointing to hear :(

  2. Interesting read Brian. Thanks for taking the opportunity to actually say what you think. I am reconsidering seeing this movie, despite loving the LOTR trilogy and having read the Hobbit a couple times in my youth... Also, I heard Jackson made this single book into a trilogy?! So annoying. I may wait for it to stream free, online. Regardless, I love your biting critique :)

  3. Thanks Mike. You will undoubtedly think it's better than my review, but probably largely because I have now set your expectations. It might be a C going in with lowered expectations. Once it comes to DVD, I intend to put myself through this experience again and see if it improves any.

  4. Actually, youre right. Going into it with low expectations helped. I was surprised to find it online free and watched it shortly after reading your review. It should be noted, my hate for it was tempered by the fact that I could see it for free. On my 27" imac, it looked OK, if not a little too harshly lit (over dramatic?) so I can see your land of the lost reference and agree. It's not nearly as beautiful as we know it could have been. I disagree with your assessment that it was reduced to a kid's movie. It was far too scary at times for kids under 9, in my opinion. My problem with it stems from my history of having read the book and enjoying what Tolkien created. Jackson apparently needed to condense it to the point that I did not even recognize more than a few of the key scenes. For example, the pace was so inappropriately rushed, the Gollum segment failed to capture the tone. Bilbo was facing the possibility of never leaving that completely lightless cave if he didnt use his wits to escape, yet the scene was a mere 3 minutes and not even close to feeling like he could be stuck there. Oh, listen to me, sounding like a Tolkien geek! (sigh).
    Perhaps this movie shouldve been a series of 1 hr segments.