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STUDIO New Line Home Video
RUNNING TIME 169 minutes
– New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth
– 15 Video Blogs
A Not-So-Unexpected journey that takes far too long to get going.
Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott
Our epic journey follows Bilbo Baggins as he is swept away to help a merry band of dwarves reclaim their home from the fearsome dragon, Smaug. Based upon the book of the same name, this film is the first in a trilogy that will act as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings films.
The Lord of the Rings films were modern day epics; films that will most likely stand the test of time. That’s a large burden to place on The Hobbit, which is much more children’s tale than fantasy spectacle. Be that as it may, all three Hobbit films will be compared to The Lord of the Rings, just as the new Star Wars prequels are compared to the original films. Sure, The Hobbit has the advantage of being based upon a pre-existing book, but it’s still a similar scenario.
The biggest problem facing The Hobbit, and the one I want to get out of the way as it’s been talked about ad-nauseam, is the fact that it’s a 300-page book being split into 3 films. The initially planned 2 film split was still pushing it, but this is ridiculous. None of these films had any hope of not feeling like a chore to sit through, as we all knew they were going to be around 3-hours to help The Lord of the Rings comparisons. It’s a shame, as underneath all of the fat, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a much better film than I ever expected it to be.
Bilbo’s journey is one of self-discovery, a rather relatable tale about a rather relatable fellow. Bilbo isn’t some warrior off to save the world. He’s a simple hobbit who wants to sit down for a nice, quiet dinner alone. His character arc over the course of the novel is perfectly paced and brilliantly executed, and there is certainly some semblance of that here. We see Bilbo become a bit more sure of himself by the end of the film, but it isn’t enough. By taking a main character whose arc could be explored in one film and stretching it out over three, you hurt the overall bond with the audience. If I cared about anything happening to Bilbo, it was due to having read the books or my relationship with his older iteration in The LOTR. Not because of anything that occurs during The Hobbit.
The reason we don’t get much time to develop Bilbo as a character is because he’s always too busy looking exasperated at everything going on around him. The dwarves who accompany Bilbo on his journey are certainly fun, but by the time they sing their first song I was about ready to get a move on. I’m the kind of guy who thought the fart scenes in The Nutty Professor movies were funny. I enjoy some good old-fashioned bodily humor, but it simply doesn’t fit here. Too much of the films running time is devoted to endearing these dwarves to us through antics rather than real interaction. It takes about 50 minutes for our cast to finally get out of Hobbiton and begin their adventure, and that is far, far too long.
Once the journey begins the film begins to fair a bit better, though almost every sequence could be shaved by about 2-3 minutes. The escape from the goblin caves, for example, is a thrilling set piece that overstays its welcome and becomes a bit too similar to a few sequences in The LOTR films. It’s also overpopulated with some below-average CGI work. The LOTR films managed to balance CGI with live action to great effect. Here, it’s blatantly obvious when something isn’t real, and frankly it looks surprisingly cheap in some places.
It’s worth sitting through these overstuffed scenes, however, as we get one truly classic sequence out of it. Bilbo’s run-in with Gollum is a joy to behold, as Andy Serkis seems to be having more fun here than I’ve ever seen him have in a mo-cap performance. This is where Martin Freeman shines the most as well, as he’s finally given something to do that doesn’t involve running away or complaining.
I could go on and on detailing the little problems that lie within The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but I’m willing to assume you’ve either read them before or you’ve come to the same conclusions. I will say that – despite the length, the overabundance of CGI, the lack of almost any characterization save for a few dwarfs and characters we’ve met before, and the padding of the film with unnecessary sequences – there is a good film hiding here. I did enjoy large chunks of The Hobbit, and that’s probably the best we can hope for at this point. When all is said and done, maybe somebody will edit the trilogy down to one, digestible film. Then, we may have a deserving prequel to The Lord of the Rings on our hands.
With all of the fuss surrounding The Hobbit and its 48fps fiasco, I was curious to see how all of this would translate to a 24fps blu-ray. I’m happy to report that it really hasn’t made much of a difference at all, which is to say that the transfer looks about as glorious as you’d imagine. Our last trek though Middle Earth was breathtaking at times, and this film is no less impressive when it comes to the scale and sheer beauty of it’s locations. The audio is also reference-quality,and will sound good on just about any set-up.
The Video Blogs included here are really the only true extra in the set, but they’re worth checking out. Providing over 2 hours of footage, they take you behind the scenes with Peter Jackson as he takes you through the entire shoot, all the way up to the films red carpet premier. There’s also a featurette about New Zealand that’s rather lovely, as well as a bunch of trailers that you’ll probably never end up watching. The lack of a commentary track is supremely disappointing, though I’m sure they’re saving it for the extended editions we’re bound to get in a few years.