The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first film in writer-director Peter Jackson’s three-part Hobbit series based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book. That means each film—and this one is just shy of three hours—tells about 100 pages of story, provided each film sticks to the events contained within those pages. Before we get any more meta, I’ll be straight: I didn’t like The Hobbit as a book. I did, however, enjoy The Fellowship of the Ring when I read it, and that film is my favorite in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series. His first Hobbit film, on the other hand, is just irritating.
Right off the bat, The Hobbit suffers from a serious case of “the cutes.” Sure, the book is considered a children’s story, but—maybe because of the out-and-out seriousness of Lord of the Rings—I didn’t expect the cutes. Gimli the dwarf and goofy hobbits Pippin and Merry from LOTR have more weight than any character in this screen version of The Hobbit.
Even the elves are cute. Hugo Weaving, the master of the straight face, again shows up as Elrond, and the first thing we see on his mug is a big, dumb smirk. Then there are the logic gaps in The Hobbit that seem more egregious than any logic gap in the other stories. For example, there’s a moment when Gandalf the wizard (a fine Ian McKellen), 13 dwarves and our hobbit hero, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), are literally up a tree to hide from orcs out to kill them. Gandalf sends word, via butterfly, to some giant eagles that they need help. The eagles swoop in, gather up our heroes, kill some orcs, and save the day.
So why not have giant eagles pick everyone up at the story’s start, take the group to Rivendell (where the elves live) to have a map translated (a plot point), and then pick them up and fly them to the Lonely Mountain (another plot point)? Because then the movie would be 20 minutes long, and we can’t have that.
An Unexpected Journey, unlike Lord of the Rings, feels like an exercise in technology more than it does a story we’re supposed to enjoy. The story is straightforward: The dwarves have been burned out of their home by Smaug the dragon. Thirteen of them, along with Bilbo and Gandalf, set out to win their home back. Along the way, Bilbo finds a ring.
About that technology. By now stories of Jackson’s use of High Frame Rate 3D are widespread. In short, it looks terrible. Those grand images you see on your HDTV at home? In a theater through 3D glasses it looks like a BBC sci-fi series shot on video from the late 1970s combined with a Sony Bravia TV’s Motion Flow technology. It’s unnatural and distracting.
There are people out there who will find this review nitpicky and stupid. Fair enough. Enjoy The Hobbit for the next three Christmases. But when a movie gives me this much to think about as I’m watching, it just doesn’t work.
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) leads a dragonslaying quest in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of three films based on the
fantasy novel by J. R. R. Tolkien.