Movie Review: 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' -- 2.5 stars
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" offers the exact experience you'd expect from Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth. But the inspiration is gone.
That doesn't mean this first "Hobbit" is a bad film, or even that much of a disappointment. After all, Jackson exhausted so much creative capital on "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, producing billions of dollars in grosses and multiple Oscar wins, that it's fair to wonder what was left. At the same time, "The Hobbit" is a single 300-page book being bludgeoned into a trilogy, so a fair amount of dramatic padding is to be expected when the first movie alone is just shy of three hours.
The film is a visual wonder, with the familiar swooping vistas, gargantuan battles and otherworldly landscapes. Seen in 2-D and the conventional 24 fps projection rate, "The Hobbit" offers the sort of full-scale immersion into fantasy terrain that Jackson perfected in the earlier movies. Martin Freeman acquits himself well as Bilbo Baggins, offering the sturdy mix of bravery and innocence that we've come to expect from hobbits, and Ian McKellen is at his wizened best as Gandalf.
Gandalf hires a reluctant Bilbo help a group of Dwarves reclaim their homeland at the Lonely Mountain, which has been taken from them by an evil dragon. The quest involves encounters with trolls and orcs, visits with elves and the usual tests of heroic fortitude. The unforgettable Gollum (Andy Serkis) and his "precious" ring turn up as well.
It's all so familiar, though, and glacially paced. This "Hobbit" is missing the stark drama and deeply-felt character arcs that characterized Frodo's journey the first time around. The movie hits the same dramatic beats, Howard Shore's score feels like a retread and save for the heoric Thorin (Richard Armitage), the Dwarves are virtually indistinguishable. In "The Lord of the Rings," Frodo had to save the world. Bilbo's "Hobbit" task pales in comparison.
Jackson is a grand storyteller, a master of film's epic form. "An Unexpected Journey" delivers the basic goods, because its maker couldn't craft a rotten Middle Earth movie if he tried. It's just a shame to see him treading water when there are so many new cinematic horizons worth exploring.