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The Phantom Menace of The Lord of the Rings

Movie Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

Few can deny the significance The Lord of the Rings trilogy has had on film as a whole. It’s a lost art in terms of the way movies are made – model sets, props, makeup, costumes, and as many real actors as possible. The trilogy is an incredible achievement, sporting a level of craftsmanship and quality that very few films can match. Regrettably, the first chapter of a new prequel trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, contains little of what made the Lord of the Rings so magnificent.

Hobbit PosterI went back and watched The Fellowship of the Ring before I saw The Hobbit, and to this day I’m still blown away by the excellent photography and art direction. The real outdoor scenes, the beautiful lighting, the gorgeous crafted models – all of this is what makes the film so memorable. These choices earned the trilogy multiple awards and recognition from critics worldwide, something The Hobbit is unlikely to achieve.

It’s baffling to me that the same director, Peter Jackson, and cinematographer, Andrew Lesnie, are responsible for both An Unexpected Journey and The Fellowship of the Ring. All those actors who played orcs and goblins are now merely CGI creatures, and those wonderful model locations have been replaced with green screen and CGI effects. Everything looks dramatically different, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Since many cast members of Lord of the Rings reprise their roles in The Hobbit, some care should have been taken to make sure the films look and feel similar. You really have to search for the few moments of greatness An Unexpected Journey has in order to find much resemblance to the rest of the series.

To put it bluntly, The Hobbit just has too much damn CGI. There’s one scene where the ring falls out of Gollum’s pocket and bounces off the stone floor of a cave; they actually used computer imagery to create the ring. Come on, Peter Jackson, you couldn’t film a real ring falling to the floor?

To make matters worse, none of the multitude of computer-generated creatures looks particularly great. As much as it pains me to say it, sometimes the overwhelming computer effects make the photography look downright bad. The Hobbit often resembles Narnia more than it does The Lord of the Rings – a poor stylistic choice.

The series has lost its sense of presence; that feeling of reality brought on by having actors and model sets is gone. Sadly, this also means that the emotional impact The Lord of the Rings has on audiences is nowhere to be found in An Unexpected Journey. The touching moments – the moments designed to bring about love for the characters – all fall completely flat.

I didn’t care much about Thorin Oakenshield’s quest, and I didn’t feel bad that Bilbo was homesick. This is by no means the fault of the actors – the cast is great. The problem here is that the script is working against their performances.

Because the story is so uneven, it never really feels like Bilbo and the band of dwarves even go on an adventure. Nothing our heroes experience fits together into any coherent story, and the entire film seems like it takes place in only a couple of days. An Unexpected Journey takes several unexpected side-steps from the main plot to introduce unnecessary characters or tell an untold tale of Middle-earth. Doing so is nothing but detriment to the narrative as a whole, which lacks any meaningful moments to speak of.

This is all the unfortunate result of spreading a story too thin. The Hobbit could easily have been told in one two-hour film; stretching the adventure into a trilogy is nothing short of madness. The epic tale I loved as a kid has never felt so weak.

Having read The Hobbit more than once, I’m well aware that this is supposed to be a children’s fantasy story. I don’t have any problem with the shift in tone nor the emphasis on humor employed by Jackson during some of the battles. All of these changes would be fine if the CGI didn’t make me feel like I was watching a Saturday morning cartoon.

I admit to being a Lord of the Rings fanboy, but I still can’t bring myself to enjoy this adaptation of The Hobbit. Everything I loved about Jackson’s trilogy is gone. An Unexpected Journey is The Phantom Menace of The Lord of the Rings – it’s an unnecessary prequel that fails to capture the magic of the original.

I remember reading about Peter Jackson waiting for it to rain before he would film the Helm’s Deep battle scenes in The Two Towers. It’s admirable that he took the time necessary to make the movie look as perfect as possible, and the result of his patience shows in the final product.

I’m not sure the same level of care went into making The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a movie that turns out to be one of the biggest disappointments of the year. I hold out hope that the next two parts of this new trilogy can shine bright but, considering this first chapter isn’t very good, that may be an unrealistic expectation.

About Chad Michael Van Alstin

Chad is an award-winning libertarian opinion columnist. He's done with that now.Having earned himself a B.A. in Mass Communication, Chad now spends most of his time as a wage laborer, killing the pain by consuming as many video games and movies as possible.Follow him on Twitter: @ChadVanAlstin

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2 comments

  1. Actually all the people who criticise the movie are also the ones who actually read the books. Only those who didn’t read it thought that it was good. The article is 100% right, the CGI was just the result of pure laziness and having too much budget. That scene with the mountain giants? That was Peter Jackson literally saying “we’ve got too much money!”. The CGI ruined the movie as did the slapstick humor and poor actor choice for Radagast (and his retarded CGI bunnies). Seriously, this was Narnia, not Middle-Earth.

  2. I only saw it just now, and while I liked that it had a different and lighter approach to the universe than the LOTR films before it, I completely agree that the chosen cgi’s were not working in the movie’s favor.

    There are several reasons for this, and it is not that I don’t like cgi, it’s the way it was deployed in this movie that bugs me. The main reason is that that they all appear almost completely detached from reality. I mean it is a fantasy story so things not adherent to reality is bound to happen at some point, but the thing is, even with that premise accounted for, I still don’t believe any of it when I see it. When cgi is used to depict settings and motion that are not supposed to be magical, then it should also try to appear as down-played and normal as possible, which isn’t the case in this movie.

    The cgi’s in this movie, as in many others, are way too neat and explicitly choreographed. It’s like the director tossed his brain out and let the geeks take over for the better part of it. Gravity does not seem to weight in. Actors can fall hundreds of feet, down apparently bottomless abysses and not break as much as a bone. Everything fall into place, at the exact right moment, in one ridiculous chain of events after another. They are all so perfectly timed and over the top that the scenes are more reminiscent of perfectly played-through levels of a computer platform game, than anything plausible in what is supposed to be a semi-real world. By all means, it all looks great, it just don’t look believable.

    I never thought that the Hobbit deserved as much reverence and thoughtful commitment as the LOTR in the first place, so I wasn’t shocked or disappointed by the excessive use of cgi. I only wished they’d been smarter and more mature about it, that they’ve made it look more seamless and natural. Of course the excellent performance of the cast managed to reign in what was left of this run-away wreck of computer wizardry and made it a quite enjoyable watch despite, but still, I doubt I’ll be seeing it again.