Friday, December 14, 2012
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey wasn't made for me. It wasn't even made, strictly speaking, for fans of The Hobbit, but for Tolkeinites who want more of the Middle Earth they saw in Lord of the Rings. It was made, in other words, for the homespun Viking at my screening who corrected a guy's pronunciation of "Balrog."
I'm a fairweather Tolkein man, myself–I've seen the movies a few times and read both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, but I couldn't tell you the history of Middle Earth, and I certainly can't speak Elvish. My sense, though, is that Tolkien never sewed his two stories together to the extent that Jackson does with his new trilogy. Here, Smaug the dragon's attack on the dwarve's subterranean treasure isn't just bad luck or the major conflict of the series–it's a portent of Sauron's return 60 years in the future.
And that's fine, I guess, but Lord of the Rings this is not, and nor should it be. An Unexpected Journey deserved a lighter touch. And I don't mean that it needed more humor–it has that. What it needed was a director more in love with the original story than his own personal vision. Jackson indicated, during the interim between Lord of the Rings and this first movie, that he wasn't the man for the job, and he should have listened to his own advice.
But that's not to say An Uexpected Journey is wholly unenjoyable. The much-anticipated meeting between Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) is everything it should be–whimsical, creepy, and oddly touching. Plus, you couldn't ask for a better Bilbo than Freeman, both in terms of how he looks and his ability to play the exasperated, put-upon everyman. He's built a career out of it, in fact. The only major difference between his part here and his parts in Sherlock and The Office (the original one) is that he's smaller and has hairier feet.
It's also nice to see familiar faces again: Ian McKellan is back, of course, as are Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, and Christopher Lee. But honestly, with the exception of McKellan (who's integral), their parts could've been saved for the extended edition. Here, they're dead weight in a spectacle already overstuffed with too much walking, talking, and running. What could Jackson possibly add to an extended edition, besides the other two movies?
Length is just the more glaring issue, though. The other big oliphant in the room is the frame rate. I understand Jackson's reasoning and I applaud his adventuresome spirit, but I couldn't adjust to it. You go to a movie expecting a certain look, and that look usually isn't "History Channel reenactment." The action is clearer, but if that's the only improvement a higher frame rate gives us, I'm not sure how much more experimenting we need to do. Like Bilbo at the outset, I'll gladly stick with what's familiar.