What to say about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (using its full title)? Three hours is a very long time and I shall confess from the outset I am among the handful of creatures on this level of Earth who was not entranced by the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Now you know the awful truth. Yet, much to my infinite surprise, I more than survived the running time of Peter Jackson’s newest, already world-wide blockbuster release, and perhaps, owing to my initial trepidation, actually had fun and was wowed many times by the sheer visual splendor of it all. I did not see the 3-D or Imax or other super-duper versions offered to film-goers. Plain old 2-D was good enough for me.
Much was been written (too much for my taste) regarding the traditional 24 frames per second format (my choice), but I had no problems with the technology on screen. Resplendent scenes of verdant fields, waterfalls, caves, chutes, assorted avian creatures fluttering about were feasts for the jaded eye after the Rings trilogy onslaught of already almost a decade ago.
The Hobbit as a novel predates the Rings trilogy but introduces us to its protagonist Bilbo Baggins (the wonderful Martin Freeman) and sets up the landscape that is now familiar terrain for devotees of this and the later Tolkien novels. My major quibble (echoed by countless other critics before and since the release of the current film) is that Jackson’s ego and bank account have become swollen with dreams of another financial win fall. Whereas Lord of the Rings justified its three-film marathon running time, Hobbit is one 300 page novel, easily condensed into one film of reasonable length, not deserving of the two additional ones to come.
Far before the second hour running time, one gets the point, the endless uproarious feasting and drinking, the camaraderie of the dwarfs going to battle the dragon, the jauntiness juxtaposed with the sagacity of Gandalf—here again the estimable Ian McKellan—become tiresome and repetitive.
Only the role of Gollum, performed to perfection by a CGI-enhanced Andy Serkis, stands out as a marvel of controlled excess. The Frodo of Elijah Wood remains charming. He's an expert host in his little hut with round doors, round everything in fact, especially in an early scene rife with assorted comically-bearded dwarves, feasting at a bacchanal buffet to bolster them nutritionally for the battles they are about to undertake to restore peace to the kingdom of the hobbits.
Given that The Hobbit is properly a prequel to the already released LOTR, there is sadly, not much new here that was not served with much more innovation and wonder in that trilogy.
Tolkien fans will no doubt rejoice at once again having total immersion in the world of magic and fantasy that is middle-earth. With “our” world on the precipice of destruction (according to the Mayans), I suggest you go post-haste to your nearest theatre to catch this while you can.
Jeff Klayman is an award-winning playwright whose works have been produced in New York, Los Angeles and London. He also wrote the screenplay for the independent film Adios, Ernesto, directed by Mervyn Willis.