Sunday, December 16, 2012

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" - a case of Been-there-Done-That...

Awright! We get to go back to Middle Earth! Like pretty much all of my geek brethren, that was my initial reaction when Peter Jackson finally got his desire to film The Hobbit pushed through the nightmare of lawsuits between Warner Brothers and MGM over film rights, and then MGMs bankruptcy proceedings.  Yay!  Then came the news that the adaptation would actually be a pair of movies.  Okay, I guess with some stuff from Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings” appendices and a little creative license, two average-length movies could come from the novel.  Then, we get word that this simple little adventure story would be stretched into THREE films, and three-hour “epics” at that!  Geez, Louise, how thinly can they possibly spread a pat of butter over so much bread???

Well, the finished product is finally here, so with a little bit of reservation, I went to see the first installment of this new trilogy yesterday.  For the sake of brevity, I’ll assume that you, dear reader, are among the hundreds of millions of folks who’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies, and thus won’t waste your time elaborating on the “adventures” about which Bilbo told Frodo, and which are depicted in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (and the next two movies…).

The first third of the movie dawdles a bit, with a very-padded prologue leading off things showing older-Bilbo beginning to tell this tale to Frodo.  We see thirteen dwarves showing up in separate pairs at Bilbo’s doorstep, raiding his pantry and making asses of themselves, but at least they have the good manners to do the dishes afterwards (don’t bother with trying to keep up with the thirteen dwarves - I won’t say it’s impossible to do so, but it’s not entirely necessary, as Jackson does a pretty good job of having whatever dwarf is important in any given scene identified in the course of that scene).  The show finally does get on the road, so to speak, and while there are a couple of sequences in the second and third acts that go on a bit longer than I think necessary, the final two-thirds of the story on the whole moves along fairly well, thankfully. 

If you’ve read “The Hobbit,” then you’re aware that, unlike the trilogy of books that followed, it is primarily a children’s story, and as such, the movie that comes from it certainly has a different tone than those three monstrously-successful movies from a decade ago.  Maybe that explains how the three Lord of the Rings films had a… I started to say “majesty,” but perhaps that’s a bit over-the-top.  Then I thought “originality,” but that’s being a bit too harsh on the new film.  Whatever the term for which I’m searching, there’s some sort of sense of wonder lacking from The Hobbit that was present in the Lord of the Rings.  Perhaps it’s just something as simple as the settings and effects not being new to us anymore, or maybe it’s The Hobbit’s story being a little bit less about the End of the World and more about one short guy overcoming his agoraphobia.

I realize that this is sounding a bit negative, but that’s not actually my intent, as there are good things about the movie, starting with the cast.  Martin Freeman as Bilbo was a good choice.  He is his usual put-upon, underdog-self here, a personality type he always seems to play so well (see Love, Actually and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and I liked how Ian McKellen played Gandalf with a different slant than he did in the Lord of the Rings flicks, conveying the character at an earlier stage in his life.  The multitude of dwarves are actually quite funny, and there are even appearances by some folks who pop up in the Lord of the Rings, so we do get the sense that all of this is building to something, which seems a good thing. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is this first installment of this Hobbit trilogy left me with a little bit of a feeling of “been there, done that.”  I liked it okay, but unless it grows on me in the coming months after I see it again on home video a time or two, I’m not going to be in a very big hurry to get to the theater next December for the second one.