So here is my summary of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: a dragon steals gold from the dwarf King; the dwarfs want to get back the gold and the home; they embark on a journey (hence, the title); in about two and a half hours of screen time they reach the dragon; the dragon opens its eye; the end. (Well, the end of this installment; there are two more coming.) And no, it’s not enough to just boast that it’s in 3D at 48 frames-per-second, which should be crispier, better and cooler, but is actually just a little more hysterical. But yes, sadly, most of the people will pay the price of the ticket to see the difference, which can explain the crazy box office figures ($238 million worldwide and counting). Sigh.
Why does Peter Jackson want to ruin what was once a wonderful series? The answer is clear: money. And the emptiness of his motive is mirrored by the emptiness of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. As the themes are getting smaller, the pomp is getting bigger. A very short book by J.R.R. Tolkien is blown up into three pretentious films that are as tedious as the plot I have outlined, but have budgets of $270 million, spent on makeup, settings, effects, and faster 3D. I left the theatre crushed; it was like Avatar all over again – lots of pretty gimmicks and no substance (and yes, both feature imaginary languages, how innovative).
The opening of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is ripe with opportunity and hope, especially with Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins – a perfect character for a perfect adventure in his majestic hobbit surroundings. Unsuspecting Bilbo is approached by Gandalf the Grey Wizard (Ian McKellen) for a tricky job of getting the gold from the mighty fire-erupting dragon, and even though the shy hobbit declines the offer, he is stuck with the job when twelve dwarfs invade his house and his life. From then on, the magic of the hopeful opening is lost.
Despite the quickness of the 3D, all actions in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey are very slow and each one is milked to maximum capacity (as if literally retelling the book page by page). The same jokes are constantly repeated and there are two songs in only one cinematic space, which are time fillers and plunge the whole theatre into one giant awkward moment.
Soon enough, it’s clear that the movie is mere eye candy with no substance at all: here are the big-nosed dwarfs who aren’t entirely all that pleasing to look at; here are the beautiful elves, especially the ethereal Galadriel (Cate Blanchett, who is here for the cheque and to show off her surgeon’s beautiful work); then there are the abominable orcs, led by Azog (Manu Bennett); and of course there is Gollum (Andy Serkis) to look at as well – just in case the above-mentioned creatures aren’t enough ‘wow’ factor for the spoiled audiences of nearly 2013.
Even though the rating of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is PG-13, a lot of very grown people were cringing and covering their faces with bags of chips at the viewing I went to, and the violence in the fight scenes (bizarrely full of bloodless beheadings) is unsuitable for young children (who would otherwise enjoy this film immensely). The hobbit’s hairy feet, Gollum’s mouth with only nine teeth and Azog’s dead-white skin that seems to smell through the screen, all make the creatures of this movie so ugly that I swear I would run towards the first zombie I saw for a passionate embrace.
Most of the movie is a series of quiet moments for snoozing and battle scenes (with a different type of ugly villain each time) for getting a migraine from the 48 fps technological marvel. The best bits of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey are the game of deadly riddles in the cave between Gollum and Bilbo, and the fight between anthropomorphic mountains that behead and beat the crap out of each other.
The rest of the plot by Guillermo del Toro, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh is simply laughable. If Gandalf can send a magic butterfly for help, why are any of the characters in danger at any time of the narration? And what’s the conflict, exactly: the dwarfs vs. the orcs? Searching for meaning here is futile, which is a shame, because the acting is superb. The whole of the cast is great (as well as the makeup artists who toiled for hours to do their faces), which hurts because no matter how talented they are what matters in cinema are the results, and the results with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey are very poor.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a great case in point to the eternal argument of fidelity in adaptations, and it proves that movies have no business ‘translating’ every sentence of the original material onto the screen. Movies have to be movies; whatever it takes for books to become films should be performed ruthlessly and without mercy. But Peter Jackson completely chickens out, afraid to be stomped by an army of Tolkien purists, but I am not sure even they will be pleased this time.
Verdict: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is bloated, theatrical, sad, literal, boring, cheesy, ugly, tedious and uninspired. It’s one of those movies people will hate or love, but most will go and see just to form their own opinion, which is what the studio is hoping for, because, believe it or not, once you have bought the ticket, you have contributed with a ‘yes’ vote in box office terms. Take my word for it: if you really love cinema, go to a movie that was actually produced with love and wonder and don’t be duped into paying just to be disappointed, like I was.