Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

After Peter Jackson won three Oscars for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2004 (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay), it was only a matter of time before his company, WingNut Films, produced a version of J.R.R. Tolkien's 1937 children's fantasy novel The Hobbit. As early as 2008, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (Pans Labyrinth (2006)) was on tap to direct a two-part epic. Del Toro left the project in 2010 amidst MGM's financial problems. To make matters worse, actors in New Zealand were advised by their unions not to take part in the film. Finally, in March 2011, principle photography for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure and its sequel The Hobbit: There and Back Again began in New Zealand. It has since been revealed that after shooting two films Peter Jackson has turned the story into a trilogy, with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opening in December 2013 and There and Back Again opening in July 2014. An Unexpected Adventure has been the subject of much attention prior to its release, particularly Peter Jackson's choice to shoot the film in a new High Frame Rate of 48 frames per second (the standard rate is 24). Despite a negative reaction from audiences, James Cameron is choosing to shoot his Avatar sequel in HFR 48, and Andy Serkis has announced he will shoot his adaptation of Animal Farm the same way. Unfortunately, I am unable to comment, as enjoyed The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure in standard 2D, with 24 frames per second. Growing up in a house with a father who loves fantasy novels (especially Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings trilogy), The Hobbit was a must-see Christmastime adventure. I found the story to be slightly lacking in depth comparatively, and just like in the LOTR trilogy, Jackson lingered a bit too long in the set-up. It felt like nearly a third of the film was spent trapped in Bilbo Baggins' small home with Gandalf and thirteen dwarves. Set 60 years prior to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo is played by Martin Freeman (known for his role as Dr. Watson on BBC's Sherlock). Many actors from the LOTR series are seen in An Unexpected Adventure, including Ian McKellen  (costarring once again as Gandalf), Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Andy Serkis. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure is a welcome return to a familiar world, that of Middle Earth, but despite strong acting and characterization, the story is too awkwardly paced (too rushed or too slow) at times to be as wholly absorbing as its predecessor.

The film opens immediately before the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, as Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) is awaiting his 111th birthday party. He is sitting down to write a letter to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) detailing his involvement in helping the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) defeat the dragon Smaug, who, nearly a century ago, destroyed the dwarf kingdom of Eerebor. Bilbo is tricked by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (McKellen) into joining their quest, told that dragons are unable to detect the presence of hobbits. On their quest towards the Lonely Mountain, they must contend with goblins and Orcs, including Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett), for whom Thorin Oakenshield bears a considerable grudge.

As much as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure felt like another chapter in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it had considerably fewer battle scenes than I had anticipated (which definitely were a staple in the first trilogy). But I am also the only one in my family who has not read The Hobbit. At least we know Bilbo Baggins survives. The story feels, to me at least, much less special than The Lord of the Rings, which had a superior sense of urgency. The Hobbit was written in 1937, seventeen years before The Fellowship of the Ring was published. Is it unfair to assume that J.R.R. Tolkien matured as a writer in these seventeen years? Granted, The Hobbit was intended as a children's story, while The Lord of the Rings is decidedly more mature. The Hobbit is 310 pages, while The Lord of the Rings is over 1500 pages long. I am not quite sure if Peter Jackson can stretch the story of Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield over three films, especially if its sequels will also be nearly three hours long. There were at least two moments when I found myself dozing off. I am a fan of Tolkien's work, and of Jackson's adaptations, so I remain interested in next year's sequel, The Desolation of Smaug, especially considering that Martin Freeman's Sherlock costar Benedict Cumberbatch will be starring as Smaug. While not quite as ingenious and innovative as expected, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure is an over-packed introduction to the story of Bilbo Baggins, yet it features just enough excitement to keep you interested in the story.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

No comments:

Post a Comment