Actually, This Hobbit's Journey Is Quite Expected.
Director: Peter Jackson.
Writer: Fran Walsh.
Studio: Warner Bros Pictures.
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis.
After cutting his teeth on the Academy Award-winning big screen adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth this week to bring us the first part of what he's expanded into yet another trilogy from Tolkien. As you likely already know, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the story before the story, so to speak, originally published 17 years prior to LOTR and telling the tale of a young Bilbo Baggins.
On this unexpected journey, our story centers around the youthful Baggins (enthusiastically portrayed by Martin Freeman, who offers up the shining performance of the film). It's a similar story: Baggins lives the life of a humdrum hobbit until his fate is changed from apathetic to adventurous and he's inspired by Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen, who may even be more magical here as the towering wizard than he was in the original LOTR films) to join a company of dwarves as they set out to
a Duck Dynasty convention to a ZZ Top concert to reclaim their mountainous homeland from a gold-digging dragon.
Unfortunately, this just feels like the same old story with a mostly new cast of characters and a few familiar faces here and there. Jackson and frequent collaborator Fran Walsh — who also penned the screen adaptations of the LOTR trilogy — appear to have used The Fellowship of the Ring as a template for The Hobbit, as it follows almost beat for beat and moment for moment the same story structure.
There are a few fun moments and thrilling sequences, but the whole thing's essentially predictable and without surprises.
What that means for us is a lot more walking — not to mention a sluggish pacing and unnecessarily drawn-out moments to accompany it.
Listen: When you're watching a movie and you start to feel the depth of its 169-minute runtime about 20 minutes in, that's not usually a very good thing. And keep in mind that we're talking about a 320-page book that could have easily been adapted into two films — at the most.
Unnecessary journey is more like it.
This is where Jackson and Co. deal the film one of two major blows. Simply put, the film fails to keep the audience interested, whether it be emotional or otherwise. After all, it's hard to care when you realize that you're essentially watching one really long first act of what will be a nine-hour, continuous story, bloated with moments that have been forcefully added in to connect this trilogy to the other (something the book did not and could not do considering that Tolkien hadn't even conceived The Lord of the Rings yet).
Will Ringers love these moments? Most likely. Are they all disposable? No. In fact, the chance meeting of Bilbo and Gollum (and the precious Ring) is one of the highlights of the film. Yet, overall, the film coasts on fandom fumes and fails to connect with general audiences.
Oh, and remember how I said “One of two major blows” a few sentences ago? Right, well the second problem is Jackson's choice to shoot this thing at 48 frames per second (versus the industry standard of 24fps) and making it the first feature film in cinematic history to be shot and projected at 48fps. To give credit where credit is due: The man has proven himself an innovator of film technology in everything he's done. And he indeed does some things effects-wise in The Hobbit that will give you a Wizard boner; the “so organic it's scary,” photorealistic motion capture performance of Andy Serkis as Gollum, the entire goblin cave sequence and the epic rock 'em sock 'em Stone Giants fight are just a few of these. But those moments can't fully be appreciated long enough when you're taken right out of them by the distracting technology Jackson employs throughout the film. At times, it feels too real for a film like this with the sets and the effects exposed. At other times, it feels not real-looking at all, coming off far more like a video game than a film (I'm looking about you, Troll Fight Scene).
Sure, a movie of this scope and scale should feel cinematic — something Jackson achieved in the original trilogy quite perfectly. It should create a world and bring you into it, connecting you to the characters and their surroundings.
It should not feel like you're watching a History Channel reenactment of The Hobbit or The BBC presents Masterpiece Theatre: The Hobbit on PBS.
Jackson may have thought Middle Earth was ready for 48fps. But the world is not.
All in all, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a film that should still be seen on the big screen — just not in 48fps and not in 3D. It's not an outright unwatchable film like some have said. It's an event film, just not the main event that we were all hoping for.
Save for some peppered performances and action sequences, The Hobbit does not stand tall as a film. And it doesn't really do anything to make audiences anticipate the next two.
Rating: 2 out of 5 beards.
Also in theaters around town this week…
Hyde Park On Hudson
Director: Roger Mitchell.
Writer: Richard Nelson.
Studio: Focus Features.
Cast: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Colman.
Where's It Playing? Only at The Angelika Dallas.
The winner of the most boring movie title of the year goes to — seriously, I fell asleep just thinking about typing it out. It should be called Hyde Park on Hudzzzon. Whatever. I'm sure it's great. After all, it has Bill Murray as FDR and centers around cousin love. And it's from the guy who directed Bowie's “Buddha of Suburbia” music video (and Notting Hill, too, but we'll ignore that).
Any Day Now
Director: Travis Fine.
Writer: Travis Fine.
Cast: Alan Cumming, Garret Dillahunt, Isaac Leyva.
Where's It Playing? Only at The Magnolia.
Winner of the Audience Award at this year's Tribeca Film Festival (and nine other film festivals around the US), Any Day Now tells the dramatic true tale of a gay couple in the '70s who must battle a biased legal system and fight for custody of an orphaned, mentally handicapped teenager they foster. Feel-good movie of the year?
The Loneliest Planet
Director: Julia Loktev.
Writer: Julia Loktev.
Studio: IFC Films.
Cast: Gael GarcÃa Bernal, Hani Furstenberg, Bidzina Gujabidze.
Where's It Playing? A one-week run only at The Magnolia.
Another festival favorite, this thriller centers around an engaged couple on a backpacking trip through the Caucasus Mountains. The thing turns from adventure to horror when they cross paths with another traveler. A perfect double feature option in case you haven't had enough movies about walking to, around or in mountains after seeing The Hobbit.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Director: Steven Spielberg.
Writer: David Koepp.
Studio: Universal Pictures.
Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum.
Where's It Playing? Friday and Saturday at midnight, only at The Inwood.
An adventure 65 million years in the making! Steven Spielberg's now 19-year-old, groundbreaking film still stands the test of time and holds true to be one of the single greatest films ever made. Come on, be a clever girl or boy and make it out to this one. You owe it to yourself to revisit and re-experience this on the big screen! From that first note of John Williams' chill-inducing score to the T-Rex chase to The Goldblum, this really shouldn't be missed.
The Jerk in 35mm (1979)
Director: Carl Reiner.
Writer: Steve Martin.
Studio: Universal Pictures.
Cast: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Catlin Adams.
Where's It Playing? Thursday through Sunday, only at the Texas Theatre.
That's all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, and this magazine, and the chair. Oh, and I need The Jerk, one of the greatest comedies of all time, in 35mm at the Texas Theatre!
Wake In Fright (1971)
Director: Ted Kotcheff.
Writer: Evan Jones.
Studio: United Artists.
Cast: Chips Rafferty, Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond.
Where's It Playing? Friday through Sunday only at the Texas Theatre.
Long considered Australia's “lost film,” this cult classic from 1971 saw a resurgence in 2009 when it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival (where it had premiered 38 years prior) and it hasn't stopped finding audiences since. Widely considered a prominent piece in the Ozploitation movement that gave way to films like Mad Max (see the documentary Not Quite Hollywood for more info here), this is a must see for any cinephile or fan of '70s counter culture cinema.
Holiday Classics at the Angelika Plano: White Christmas (1954)
Director: Michael Curtiz.
Writer: Norman Krasna.
Studio: Paramount Pictures.
Cast: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney.
Where's It Playing? Every Thursday in December, only at the Angelika
Last week, Angelika Plano kicked off its Thursday night series of screening classic holiday films with a more recent yuletide favorite, Love Actually. Last night, they showed the iconic A Christmas Story. Now they're kicking it old school with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney in 1954's White Christmas. Next week, it's It's A Wonderful Life.