'The Hobbit' – A Most Disappointing Journey
To say that there were huge expectations on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey would be a gross understatement. And all director Peter Jackson had to do was to repeat what he did with The Lord of the Rings trilogy to continue his own fantasy hat trick. The Hobbit would have been a huge success and Jackson would forever be in the fantasy film hall of fame. So why did he change the concept?
This is the first in a long line of questions that come to mind after seeing The Hobbit. Did we get what we expected? Do we feel the scent of a hobbit over the grunts of trolls and goblins? Can 15 beards, a pair of hairy feet and two pointy hat wizards ever be anything but a comedy? There is no way of assessing this fourth fantasy flick set in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth without comparing it to the previous Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Thirteen dwarfs and a hobbit clearly constitutes a great basis for a comedy, but there is too much comic relief through tripping and slipping, and this silliness doesn't really appeal to the adult audience. The straw that finally breaks the pony's back is when Radagast, here the Mad Hatter of wizardry and Gandalf's equal in power, rides a sleigh pulled by rabbits and finds bird dropping in his hair. The goblin king is a most unworthy opponent to Gandalf, who slayed a Balrog, the worst in The Lord of The Rings. In fact, the movie is only a few goblin decapitations from losing the PG-13 rating, dropping into PG or even G. The Hobbit is an action comedy, suited for a younger audience, whereas the trilogy was unadulterated fantasy drama adventure.
Bilbo, played by Martin Freeman, may lead you to think: Where have I seen this guy before? He looks a lot like a Took with his golden locks, and he is the true comedian of the set. He is, after all, the only actor who can show any facial expressions. And he does it well, having to subtly play the reluctant down-below-earth adventurer in a throng of blunt, bearded berserks with baby manners. Gollum (played by Andy Serkis in a wet suit) is the familiar, nasssty, Popeyed-face we've longed to see for nine years and the dwarfs are as hard to keep track of as the characters in a Russian novel. Balin (Ken Stott) and Dwalin (Graham McTavish) are the ones that stick in your mind, beside Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), who's even got a last name to recognize him by. He uses his trademark blue eyes to their full potential in his part as the dwarf heir to the throne.
Gandalf (Ian McKellen), more of a kindergarten teacher than he ever was, is excellent as always, behind the furrowed brows and bushy beard. He is the father we all wished for: tall, protective, all-knowing, comforting, wise and compassionate. When will he be knighted by the Queen of England?
A large part of the experience is enjoying the scenery and magic of the fantasy world Tolkien has so graciously sketched, which Jackson so truthfully interpreted and painted for us in the trilogy. It's the silliness of Jackson's controversial new filming technique — using 48 instead of 24 frames per second, that finally drags this film down into the bottom of a hobbit's hole. The experience doesn't correspond to our expectations after that spectacular, magical gloom of the trilogy. When it comes to frame count, less appears to be more, in terms of magic.
Jackson defends himself by saying it brings the audience into the world of the characters. But do we really want that? The answer is no. We want the magic of Middle Earth, not the reality of it. It looks more… fake. There, I said it. Or is it too real? Bag End looks newly renovated and almost smells of fresh paint, the aqua color orc leader looks like his own bobble-head action figure and the lighting reminds us of how it used to look in the Star Trek movies back in the 80s. Sadly enough the 3D does very little to enhance the magical experience. There are parts that still gleam like hidden mithril chainmail under the silly comedy cloak. In Rivendell, the misty magic is still very much present.
But it's not like the last time I left Middle Earth, with glassy eyes, still roaming the grasslands of Rohan in my mind, picturing the white city of Minas Tirith gleaming in the twilight sun, seeing the darkness scattered and blown away far to the East. There was a sense of finality and completion. I would gladly have wandered all the way through the depths of Moria and the Dead Marshes for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Hobbit only makes me want to stay relaxing in Rivendell. This was most unexpected, but I guess Peter Jackson fell a little short in the long run.