Mania Review: The Hobbit -

Mania Review: The Hobbit

Mania Grade: B

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  • Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellan, Andy Serkis, Ken Stott and Hugo Weaving
  • Written by: Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and Guillermo del Toro
  • Directed by: Peter Jackson
  • Studio: New Line
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 166 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: The Hobbit

Sometimes, those who wander *are* lost.

By Rob Vaux     December 13, 2012

Disappointing prequels? We’ve been there before. And “disappointing” isn’t the same thing as “bad.” Peter Jackson’s new version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has a lot going for it: a continuing affinity for J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, a lovely lead performance from Martin Freeman, and an honest-to-god fire-breathing dragon. Old friends like Ian McKellan and Andy Serkis remind us why we loved them so much, while the locations (both real and virtual) continue to evoke the majesty of Middle Earth.

At the same time, it’s a little draggy: something we never said about The Lord of the Rings, but which grows increasingly undeniable as the movie continues. Blame probably lies with the folks at Warner Bros, who witnessed the end of both the Harry Potter series and the Christopher Nolan Batman films in the past 18 months. In response, they pushed The Hobbit to three movies instead of just two to continue their box office fix. Frankly, they didn’t even need two. Rankin-Bass told the whole story in 78 minutes; Jackson could double that time and still do justice to Tolkien’s marvelous run-up to The Lord of The Rings. Instead, he torturously stretches a three-hour story out to eight… and sometimes with this first chapter, you can feel every moment of it.

Then there’s the issue of Jackson’s vaunted 48 frames per second technique, which reportedly adds considerable detail but renders the image more like a videotape than an actual piece of cinema. (Disclosure: I’ve seen samples of 48 fps, but watched the movie in the garden-variety 24 fps format. It looked fine and I suspect I didn’t miss much.) Such technical aspects run the risk of overwhelming the story: a sideshow that the already stressed narrative simply doesn’t need.

As a result, we end up wading through a lot of superfluous material that really belongs in the DVD extras file. The action constantly diverts into cul-de-sacs, starting with an early appearance by Ian Holm and Elijah Wood who quickly stay far longer than they should. Jackson then tacks on a burgeoning subplot considering the Necromancer in Southern Mirkwood: an early incarnation of Sauron whom Gandalf (McKellan) must eventually unseat. Tolkien’s text cheerfully glossed over the specifics, and Jackson could have emulated him… or even better, saved the story for a stand-alone movie and let The Hobbit take care of business. Instead, Gandalf’s fellow wizard Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) crashes the party with dire warnings, and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) hosts another gathering of VIPs to determine what’s to be done about the future big-ass eye.

Jackson struggles to connect those moments to his central subplot: the dragon Smaug and his occupation of the Lonely Mountain. It used to be the seat of a rich dwarf kingdom, but Smaug’s arrival displaced the inhabitants and stripped them of their wealth. Now, sixty years later, prince Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), vows to return… despite rallying a mere twelve other dwarves to his side. The ever-crafty Gandalf railroads Bilbo (Freeman) into accompanying them, adding a lucky fourteenth to their number and bringing the intangible assets of hobbit-dom with him. Bilbo isn’t sure he’s up for the task and neither is Thorin. That drives the film’s emotional conflict and lends weight to the characters who might otherwise be overwhelmed by the visual effects. It also helps The Hobbit skirt its vague wanderings and ultimately deliver the goods like we expect.

Indeed, as long as Jackson sticks to the book, the film works wonders, as Bilbo and his companions face a trio of hungry trolls, the meddling of Elrond’s elves and the goblins of the Misty Mountains on the first part of their quest. A certain incompleteness lingers, but the scenes themselves carry the same magic that The Lord of the Rings did… especially the vaunted riddle contest with Gollum (Serkis), which rescues a third hour in dire need of a boost.

And some of the new material actually feels right at home so long as it keeps its eyes on the prize. The backstory of Smaug’s arrival kicks things off agreeably, and Jackson adds further flourishes like the origin of Thorin’s name and a nasty orc named Azog (Manu Bennett) to provide some immediate villainy. It all works… it just doesn’t work quite as well as it once did. The Lord of the Rings blew us all away. This time around, we’ve become accustomed to Middle Earth’s confines, and it has in turn lost some of its ability to dazzle us. Add to that the unnecessary running time, and The Hobbit ultimately settles for something less than brilliant. Jackson may just be gearing up to knock our socks off in the next entry. But the very fact that we need to wait for it speaks to an intrinsic problem with this production. It doesn’t ruin the experience;, though it does demand some lowered expectations: accepting simple entertainment after they promised us another masterpiece.


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SarcasticCaveman 12/13/2012 2:49:19 AM

 For the record, the Rankin Bass animated movie did not tell the whole story.  I suggest you reread the book before making a statement like that.  I'll have to decide for myself on the possible drag factor - I'm willing to not dismiss this out of hand just because the book is far shorter than the Lord of the Rings series, even with the 150 plus pages of Tolkien's notes that they are incorperating into the movie - but to be honest, I thought there were parts in LOTR, especially The Two Towers, that dragged a bit...and I still love them.  

Just a thought...yeah, The Hobbit is shorter than LOTR, and 3 movies may be a little overkill...but for what it's worth, The Hobbit is longer than the few chapters of the Bible that Mel Gibson used to make a 126 minute torture and death scene.

Wiseguy 12/13/2012 5:10:07 AM

I've read that it drags from multiple sources. I'm a big fan so I don't think I'll see it that way but folk that are just middling fans may. Just like the ones that complained about the length of the LOTR trilogy films which made me just want to slap them

CyanideRush 12/13/2012 5:14:43 AM

@Wiseguy, if you prefer the extended editions of LOTR, you won't have any issue with the length and spread of The Hobbit.  -Chuck

Wiseguy 12/13/2012 5:23:27 AM

Love the extended editions, when I watch them on dvd they're the only choice. My theater cut editions are now just paper weights.

SarcasticCaveman 12/13/2012 5:31:21 AM

 Love the extended editions them at least once a year...hey people, if you want a good laugh (seriously, I actually DID laugh out loud watching it), go to youtube and do a search for Honest Trailers - The Lord of the Rings.  You could definitely start your day out worse.

karas1 12/13/2012 5:41:03 AM

The theatrical cut of Fellowship just missed too many things.  It's worst sin IMHO is that it made it seem like Frodo and co set out after Gandalf right after he left.  The extended cut made it seem like years had passed, just like in the book.

Looking forward to seeing The Hobbit very much.

DarkXid 12/13/2012 5:44:52 AM

 Gadzooks, I love the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but I don't need to see EVERY dang part of the books or implication realized.  Rankin and Bass did alright, they hit every important piece of the book.  

Beorn who plays a roll in the book, and even could be said to play a modest part of the story, was successfully cut out of the R&B version.  LOTR starts at like 178K words and drops to about 135K.  The Hobbit was 95K words.  

I am a fan of money, and am okay with studios making a little, but the bloating of the Hobbit into three movies seems excessive.  Actually, very much so.  

This should have been one movie and at most two.  

Wiseguy 12/13/2012 5:59:27 AM

SC that was pretty funny though not as funny as the  TDKR one. The funniest part to me was the sounding off of complicated names and ending with Sam

Someone suggested to me somerandomguy youtube channel or google Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Batman in the Justice League Movie (Parody)  that cracked me up. You probably saw it already but it is funny.

Anyway checking out the HFR 3D format first. I always like new and different so I like to reward it if possible

Iridan 12/13/2012 6:01:39 AM

More of the Hobbit is all good to me, at least in theory. I'll reserve judgment until tomorrow.

By the way, why aren't Hobbits fat in these movies?

monkeyfoot 12/13/2012 6:57:04 AM

Not even reading this or the comments. Just looked at the report card grade. I'll see it this weekend. Hopefully, in 48fps.

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