Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit (3D - 24FPS)

Middle Earth, Ring-ing Hollow And Redundant

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's epic adventure "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey".  Warner Brothers


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, December 14, 2012

Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth, this time in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", the prequel to his Tolkien-based trilogy "The Lord Of The Rings".  (I saw this film in the conventional 24 frames per second format not the dizzying 48 that seems to have thrown some off.)  Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) a hobbit, has a more outgoing personality than Frodo (Elijah Wood) did from "Rings".  The gaiety and frolic consumes much of the first hour of an epic film that takes far too long to get going.

The film spends inordinate time with Bilbo and a motley crue of dwarves trudging through the mountains on a quest to wrest the dragon Smaug's grip from the kingdom of Erebor.  The group will face challenges, doubts, dangers and high-wire adventures, some of which are fierce, most of which are tame.  Mr. Jackson's film feels like a trek -- and not in the positive sense -- an arduous journey with no moorings or invigoration.

"The Hobbit", which clocks in at two hours and 49 minutes, gleams like a newly-minted one dollar coin.  It is polished -- perhaps too polished -- for the rougher terrain that Tolkien depicts in his books.  Where the grit and ruggedness of "Rings" was one of the atmospheric staples of Mr. Jackson's prior trilogy of cinematic Tolkien, "The Hobbit" is caught in lavish, golden splendor, which, while looking astoundingly beautiful and rich, feels synthetic.  (Admittedly I am not the most avid fan of Tolkien but greatly enjoyed the "Rings" trilogy.)

While a visual extravaganza, the main problem with "The Hobbit" is that the passion and zeal Mr. Jackson typically brings to large-scale endeavors like the grand man-boy bonding sojourns he chronicles is replaced with a lack of discipline in many scenes of this new film.  The director captures scope well but on a scene-by-scene basis is content to let things spiral and wander.  While it is true that the journey, not the destination, is more important, Mr. Jackson lives by that axiom a little too much in "The Hobbit" so that by the time the third hour arrives there is little incentive to even follow along anymore.

At no point was I ever really interested in taking the journey that Bilbo embarks on -- simply because the director himself appears to invest in little more than a reliance on the goodwill brought by "The Lord Of The Rings" series and Mr. Jackson's (and Tolkien's) tried-and-true fan base to fill in the gaps rather than invigorate a prequel that by turns is far more relaxed and sunnier at times.  Prequels can sometimes backfire ("Star Wars Episode One: Phantom Menace", "Prometheus".)  Often they unfold more deliberately.  Yet appetizers are needed to galvanize such films -- especially epic ones.  With "The Hobbit" Mr. Jackson serves up a golden platter but it comes without any appreciable trimmings until the magical final 30 minutes, where I was left wondering, "why didn't they get to this sooner?"

There's a gravity to the latter stages of "The Hobbit" that gives fans and uninitiated viewers a mouthwatering anticipation for the more galvanizing stories in the films that are expected to come in this prequel series.  "The Hobbit" was written by Mr. Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo Del Toro, and some of the gothic styling of Mr. Del Toro's films were on my mind as I watched this one.

The familiar Tolkien characters Gandalf and Gollum are the film's saving graces.  The former character making his presence felt through Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf so effectively and effortlessly, and the latter, Gollum, is rendered crisply by Andy Serkis, who continues to engineer fine vocal performances in films.  Gollum appears sparingly and "The Hobbit" works specifically when less is more.  It's too bad that the director himself didn't adhere to this rule for the film overall.

Also with: Richard Armitage, Ian Holm, Graham McTavish, Hugo Weaving, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Christopher Lee, Barry Humphries.

"The Hobbit", available in IMAX 3D and HFR 48fps formats, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.  The film's running time is two hours and 49 minutes.  

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