Thursday, December 20, 2012
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)
Peter Jackson’s superlative three-movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy set a high water mark for fantasy films and gave them some cachet. Now, with a script he co-wrote with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro, director Jackson returns to Tolkien’s well with his three-film adaptation of “The Hobbit,” the modest single-volume prelude to the epic trilogy. This first installment, clocking in at nearly 3 hours, begins with wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) coercing hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) into joining a band of dwarves led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) on a quest to reclaim their ancestral home under the Lonely Mountain. Many years ago the dragon Smaug desolated the kingdom and now sits on a vast horde of the dwarves’ wealth. But do not expect more than a glimpse of Smaug before film’s end, because the road to the dragon must wind through three films. The script captures every significant moment from the first third of its source material and adds more mythology than the simple story can take. To compensate for the novel’s episodic structure, the writers devise a pursuit by a vengeful Orc bearing a genocidal grudge against dwarves. They also spend a head-scratching amount of time with the dropping-covered wizard, Radagast (Sylvester McCoy), mentioned only in passing in the books. And there are still three hungry trolls to encounter, not to mention a harrowing climb through the passes of the Misty Mountains during a stone giant battle, and a daring escape from the lair of the Great Goblin (Barry Humphries). However, the trolls’ scene lacks charm, the stone giants sequence feels like a theme park ride, and the goblin battle strains credulity in its scope. Only the fateful riddle contest between Bilbo and the duplicitous Gollum (a terrific Andy Serkis) feels confidently paced and vital, and makes room for some honest-to-goodness acting. In the original trilogy Jackson moved the unwieldy material at an urgent clip with bracing visual shorthand, but here he gorges on excess. Somewhere in this meticulously crafted bloat is a wonderful two-hour movie. If only it could be found.