It has been over a decade since we were first introduced to Peter Jackson’s vision of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth with Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.    The original trilogy took home seventeen of its thirty Oscar Nominations, including one for Best Picture, Best Director and several effects awards.  Since that movie, visual effects have taken giant leaps thanks to films like Avatar and Prometheus.  Also in that time span, several directors came and went from The Hobbit project and the number of films changed.  In the end, Jackson returned to the franchise, decided to stretch it into three films, and ultimately pioneered a new style of filming.

I feel that before going any further, I must tell you that I have not read any of The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings books.  I have seen all three of the Lord of the Rings films and I own the original theatrical release DVDs. I have never had the desire to watch the extended, directors-cut editions.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens with the story of how the dwarves lost their land to a dragon.  The dwarves had a lot of gold and their king was obsessed with it.  Apparently, the dragons were too and one came and took over the mountain, displacing all the dwarves.

Then, we see old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) writing his story in a leather book for Frodo (Elijah Wood).  We are then transported sixty years into the past to witness the story that is being told.  There we see young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) meeting Gandalf (Ian McKellan).  That night, thirteen dwarves show up at Bilbo’s house to start the journey that will hopefully end with them taking back their homeland.  The leader of the dwarves is Thorin (Richard Armitage) and he is joined by Balin (Ken scott), Dwalin (Graham McTavish), Bifur (William Kircher), Bofur (James Nesbitt), Bombur (Stephen Hunter), Fili (Dean O’Gorman), Kili (Aidan Turner), Oin (John Callen) Gloin (Peter Hambleton), Nori (Jed Brophy), Dori (Mark Hadlow) and finally Ori (Adam Brown).

Along their journey, the troupe comes across Orcs, Goblins, Elves, Wizards, and of course Gollum (Andy Serkis).  There are plenty of Lord of the Rings alumni that reprise their roles: Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchette) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) to name a few.

The movie finally comes to its merciful end after the group escapes an Orc attack on the backs of giant birds.  I thought that this was a good, if not late, stopping point.  Though, the fanatics next to me called that ending a cop out.  Many fans of the book complained on the way to the parking lot.  They wanted more.  I wanted less.  That is where this film is going to suffer.  I cannot imagine that there is two more movies worth of story to tell. 

Almost the entire crew from the first trilogy is back on board for this new trilogy.  What I cannot figure out is, if the writers (Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson) and director (Jackson) are back, why did The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey suck?  Visually, it is absolutely stunning.  Jackson utilized 48 frames per second to get a more “real” feel to the film, as opposed to the typical 24 frames per second.  That was amazing!  I was worried that the visuals would not hold up at the higher frame rate in 3D, but I was wrong.  The 3D was fantastic, too.

The story and pacing dragged this film down. I was bored.  The adult tones of the originals are not here.  The Hobbit suffers from being almost too childish. I found myself nodding off while waiting on this journey to start.  The assembling of the dwarves at Bilbo’s house took too long.  Once they got going, I got back into the film. Then, they slammed the brakes on again, and we had to go through all kinds of pointless visual feasts.  It looked great, but it all seemed like fluff.  I feel that I am watching the extended version in theaters.  Nothing seems to be left out.  As a non-fanboy of Lord of the Rings, I found much of The Hobbit excruciatingly trivial.  The theatrical releases of the original trilogy all came in at about three hours, and they trimmed hours of footage to streamline the story for the theatrical release.  Unfortunately, they did not use that approach with this movie.  Peter Jackson was allowed to do whatever he wanted for 2 hours and 49 minutes.  The Hobbit is a visual masterpiece stymied with a boring, verbose, and overblown story.

RATING: 6/10 (for special effects and visual achievement)


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