Friday, December 21, 2012

Movie with Abe: The Hobbit

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Directed by Peter Jackson
Released December 14, 2012

It’s hard to forget the “Lord of the Rings” film series. Based on the popular novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, they clock in at 178, 179 and 209 minutes each, respectively, making for one very long saga. Nominated for a collective thirty Oscars, the trilogy earned its due with a whopping eleven wins, including Best Picture, for its final installment. Director Peter Jackson, who also took home a trophy in 2003 for the third film in the series, has decided that he’s not done with Middle Earth just yet, and, in fact, he’s just getting started with the unsurprisingly lengthy “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

Set before the events of the trilogy, the novel “The Hobbit” chronicles Bilbo Baggins’ first adventures with Gandalf and a bunch of dwarves. What the film version does differently is insert the older Bilbo and his younger cousin Frodo, to provide some sort of context for the story Bilbo is recalling that comes to cinematic life as a prequel to the preexisting films. The forced comparison that occurs as a result diminishes the impact of this earlier tale, which, to its disadvantage, isn’t nearly exciting as the ring-centric journey to Mordor that encompasses the trilogy. It also presents the unique problem of having actors now a decade older portray their younger selves, which proves especially tricky in the case of Christopher Lee, now 90, who plays the wizard Saruman.

What sets “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” apart from the “Lord of the Rings” films more than anything is its emphasis on humor. There are dramatic moments to be occasionally found in this new film, but most scenes features a much more comedic approach, painting Bilbo as a silly idiot who, despite his best efforts to fight it, gets inexplicably sucked into a seriously dangerous mission to overcome impossible odds. Martin Freeman, whose straight man sensibilities served him well in the original British version of “The Office” and in films like “Love Actually,” plays Bilbo broadly, far too comic and overstated for his own good. There are in fact no tempered performances aside from those reprising their roles to be found in the entirety of the film.

Instead, what ensues for almost three hours is a long, almost painstaking trek through obstacle after obstacle to reclaim the dwarf kingdom on the Lonely Mountain. Jackson, who is never in much of a rush, has decided to partition the novel into three parts to make yet another trilogy, which means that, predictably, the first film ends on a cliffhanger, having resolved little and instead just several hours into the extensive adventure. The effects are still impressive, as are the New Zealand landscapes, but the awe-inspiring feeling created by the original trilogy is missing. This journey certainly is unexpected, but that’s mainly because the greater production has already been completed.


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