Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Cinema File #65: "The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey" Review

Many will no doubt marvel at the technical feat of cinematic mastery that is, or at least is perceived by many to be, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Personally, I instead choose to marvel at the sheer biological feat of Peter Jackson being able to shove his head so far up his own ass in a scant three hour period. To put it another way...ugh.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey that unexpectedly won't end for two more movies, follows young Bilbo Baggins on the quest that will eventually lead him to become the halfling who possessed the One Ring to Rule Them All, which he will later give to his kinsman Frodo for his own quest to destroy the ring, as seen in Peter Jackson's previous Lord of the Rings Trilogy. After the last nine hour marathon of short people walking a bit, it might seem almost quaint to accuse Jackson's forays in Middle Earth of being somewhat self indulgent, but at least last time, the source material upon which the original films were based was arguably epic enough in scope to justify the time spent adapting it to the screen. This is not the case here, with the 300 page Hobbit prequel clearly straining against the tension of stretching its flimsy plot into another saga in what is blatantly a crass attempt to milk as much money from this franchise as possible. Purely from a narrative standpoint, this did not need to be told in three movies. This didn't even need the two movies that were originally planned before expanding it into a trilogy. If Rankin Bass could do a decent job in one, I think Peter Jackson could have pulled it off with ease. More importantly, the way in which it is dragged out made the experience, at least for a casual fan of this mythos, nothing short of unbearable to sit through.

First we gang bang the hobbit, then...adventure!

I am reminded of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as I often am when in the presence of long and boring movies, watching as the camera slowly pans over the skin of the Enterprise in space dock for what feels like an eternity, long past the point where any majesty was being invoked. So many moments in the Hobbit felt like the fantasy equivalent of this, with scene after scene given more than enough time to wear out its welcome. Editors exist for a reason. They are very good at what they do most of the time. Their job is to make sure that a movie is tight, focused, and to the point, with as little extraneous information as possible and everything included in the final product being important. This movie takes at least thirteen minutes to get to the titles, and before that is a prologue that exists only as an excuse for a quick Frodo cameo that has no baring on the plot. That's over ten minutes that can be excised from the movie completely, and it hasn't even started yet. That the guy who couldn't find a place for Tom Bombadil in nine hours last time went and made this is just astonishing. About a half hour or so before the end, when Bilbo picks up the ring in Gollum's cave, I'm so desperate for this thing to be over that I want it to freeze right there and have old Bilbo's voice over kick in and say "And that's how I found the ring, the end. Oh, and there were some dragons and stuff, go watch the cartoon if you want to see that shit."

And, we're walking...and we're walking...

That said, this is probably the most beautiful movie I've ever hated. The scenery is lush and genuinely fun to look at, at least until I inevitably get sick of it with every extended set piece, and no one can fault Jackson on visual style. I didn't see this in 3D or the new double frame rate gimmick, though much like with Rise of the Guardians, I can't imagine it adds much more than is already there. I can also say as a positive that, just as with the book, I find Bilbo here a much more interesting and worthwhile protagonist than that whiny bitch Frodo. I've always thought Bilbo had a sort of Arthur Dent quality to him, so I guess its fitting that they cast the last guy to actually play Dent, even if that movie and this one left much to be desired. And how do you leave anything to be desired from a three hour movie with a story as simple as this one? The endless parade of dwarves who are all given names that rhyme even though you will not and have no need to remember them all have three hours to be wacky and fail at being endearing, but is it too much to ask that in all that time spent with this cast of over ten main characters, that we get some character development on more than two of them? And what we get is so hackneyed. "I don't want to leave my house, but now I do for some reason." "I'm dark and brooding because I really hate this one Orc who I think is dead for most of the movie." Really? That's it? When the best part of your movie is the twenty minutes with the schizophrenic freak who I can't even understand half the time, something is seriously wrong here.

Name them all from memory, I fucking dare you.

Going back to my earlier comparison, the difference between Star Trek fans and Tolkien fans is that the former, even the most die hard among them like myself who will defend the extravagances of the worst of Trek, will always acknowledge that it is not for everyone. The Final Frontier might suck, but I still love it for personal reasons and think it is very underrated (also its over in two hours, which is always a plus). Fans of this franchise however, at least the ones that I talk to, are all too often very oversensitive when it comes to criticism of its esoteric nature, as if my inability to appreciate it is somehow a failing on my part, and not the movie's for not being more mainstream. Not that it has to be mind you, but I swear, you Ringheads wouldn't have minded a six part series, with the first movie all about the extended Baggins family in the shire, ending just as they leave for their 18 hour adventure. Maybe I'm not the one who needs to justify not liking this shit. This isn't the be all end all of the fantasy genre, and as far as I'm concerned, it fails to live up to the classic standards of my youth. Give me the Dark Crystal, The Labrynth, the Neverending Story, fuck even Flight of Dragons to this overly long exercise in nerd stroking any day. Or, just go back and read the original book, because I can pretty much guarantee you that when all is said and done, it will be quicker than watching this trilogy when its over with.

What was my name again? I know it rhymes with like five other ones, but that doesn't help.

Is that enough for a review, or should I extend this into three parts to increase my hit count? 

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