Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Title: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Azog? Radagast? Galadriel? What The Hell Is Going On Here? You don't make a trilogy of three-hour movies without giving ample screen time to characters either not found (Azog and Galadriel) or briefly mentioned (Radagast) in the original source material, you know.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two-and-a-half Leonard Nimoy albums out of five.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Diminutive country bumpkin is lured into perilous road journey by vengeful dwarves, steals ring.

Tagline: "From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends."

Better Tagline: "From the sparsest narratives come the most bloated films."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is a an ordinary hobbit enjoying an ordinary life when he's more or less strong-armed by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) into joining a band of dwarves on a quest. Led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) the dwarves are out to seize their ancestral mountain home of Erebor from the dragon Smaug, who's taken up residence there. And did I forget to mention the huge pile of gold? There's that, too.

"Critical" Analysis: It's hard not to sit down for the first of Peter Jackson's three scheduled Hobbit films without a sense of resignation bordering on [Mount] doom. Certainly Middle Earth has many tales to tell, but I'm not sure all of them need the extended director's cut treatment.

Oh, who am I kidding? The extended cut of this movie will be over four hours long.

And that's part of what made the book The Hobbit, well, not necessarily better than the Lord of the Rings, but a nice accompaniment. It's a straightforward story -- over the Misty Mountains and through Mirkwood to Smaug's house we go -- that moves at a good clip and doesn't get sidetracked like the subsequent trilogy does with stuff like the "Scouring of the Shire" or the END OF AN AGE or freaking Tom Bombadil. It's less epic, in other words, and that's totally okay.

But in Peter Jackson's hands, this is never the case. Every leg of the journey must be captured by sweeping helicopter shots and backstopped by Howard Shore's by-the-numbers epic score; each moment of levity must be balanced by dire pronouncements about the characters' fate; every chase or battle scene must stretch at least 15 minutes beyond the audience's capacity to give a shit (see also King Kong). It's EXTREME Tolkien, but it's also incredibly repetitive.

As I mentioned previously, you wouldn't be able to stretch this tale into roughly ten hours running time without padding out the source material a bit. For instance, the dwarves' exile from Erebor comes with a subplot involving Thorin and the giant orc who KILLED HIS FATHER (George W. Bush would know how to handle this). We spend a decent amount of time in the abandoned fortress of Dol Guldur, while one of Gandalf's contemporaries, Radgast the Brown (7th Doctor Sylvester McCoy), is now a major player.

And because they were apparently so popular in the LotR trilogy, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) are back as well. I guess Jackson and Lee buried the hatchet over that Return of the King business.

Jackson was also apprently so worried about securing the female audience (Galadriel is the only female character in the movie with a speaking role, up from zero in the book itself) he even gives us a dwarven Legolas: Kili (Aidan Turner). Dwarves as sex objects ... D&D may never be the same.

Did I say a "bit" of padding? It's more like D-cup falsies, and I don't know if I'd have had as big a problem with it if so much of it wasn't a rehash of earlier LotR scenes: there's another perilous mountain climbing sequence, and another warg chase, and Gandalf crumbles another rock formation with his staff. By the time we get the obligatory ensemble shot of the cast gazing off into the distance towards the Lonely Mountain of Erebor, all we can think is, "Shit, they're not even halfway there yet."

And, "Why didn't the eagles fly them all the way? They're fucking eagles!

As for this much maligned 48 FPS business, that didn't really bother me. It made the 3D more vivid (or maybe this movie's just better lit than most of its ilk) and smoothed out some of the CGI, but didn't hold up as well during the action sequences. In short, I'm not sure I see the point of it.

Like I said as the lights went up, "One down, two to go." The Hobbit: An Unpexpected Journey is, as expected, technically impressive, but I prefer my movies to be more entertainment than ordeal.

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