By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Heaping any more praise on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy — based on the J.R.R. Tolkien novel — the third installment of which won 11 Oscars with each entry earning a billion bucks, would be gilding the lily.
That said, it’s both surprising and disappointing to report that Jackson’s epic fantasy adventure, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – essentially a prequel to The Lord of the Rings — is an unexpected clunker, a monumental bore.
Oh, it’s technically accomplished. But there’s no emotional point of entry to the story and no zing to any of the cardboard characters. For anyone who has sat through the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this first installment of yet another trilogy, this one set 60 years earlier, is a dispiriting deja viewing experience.
JRR Tolkien wrote The Hobbit in 1937 for his own children. As for today’s children, let’s hope for the film’s sake that they don’t mind a level of techno-geeky self-indulgence that loses track of just what it is that allows movies to connect with viewers. Because whatever it is, The Hobbit doesn’t have it.
With a more modest scope than its predecessor, it’s the story of title character Bilbo Baggins, the reluctant diminutive hero played by Martin Freeman, who goes on a Middle-earth quest accompanied by thirteen dwarves – who lack individuality to an absurd degree — to reclaim both a treasure and the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug.
Ian McKellen returns as the wizard Gandalf, as does Andy Serkis as the CGI creature, Gollum. And returnees Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, and Christopher Lee stop by in a string of glorified cameos. But the magic they collectively conjured in the first trilogy just isn’t there, not by a long shot.
The three-part adaptation that producer, director and co-writer Jackson has concocted with scripters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro seems to take the approach that anything that can be included should be included.
Uh, bad move.
Director Jackson (King Kong, The Lovely Bones, Heavenly Creatures) shot the film at 48 frames per second, partially to accommodate the 3-D process. That’s twice the normal speed, making this the first theatrical film that isn’t 24 frames per second. And, frankly, so what? From this vantage point, it makes the movie look more like a television soap opera than a feature film.
Worse, it makes some of us wish Jackson had lavished the same kind of painstaking care on story, character, and dialogue values.
When all you find yourself noticing are the sets and the backgrounds and the makeup and the special effects, something is very, very wrong. Even viewing The Hobbit as a pure children’s film, it’s an absolute slog to sit through, well over an hour too long. An hour.
And there are still two features to come over the next two years. Yep, Jackson has transmogrified one little book into three big movies. Talk about hubris. Yikes.
So we’ll expect 2 stars out of 4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a bloated and tedious down-to-Middle-earth fantasy with much too familiar a Ring to it.