Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012]

Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Aidan Turner, Ken Stott, Andy Serkis
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Rating: General
Comment: "About as entertaining as James Cameron's Avatar [2009], which is to say it's all flash with little substance..."

Taking place before Frodo's (Elijah Wood) own epic adventure, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) recounts his younger days when he too, embarked on a journey that was much bigger than he was, both figuratively and literally. It all started just like any other day, until a wizard by the name of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) came knocking on his door. He brought along with him a band of thirteen spirited dwarves, under the leadership of the dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Together, they marched to the former dwarven kingdom located at the Lonely Mountain. They vowed to reclaim it from a dragon named Smaug, or die trying.

What to Expect
1. More walking
2. To be more LOTR than LOTR (I'll explain)
3. Beautiful set pieces and visuals
4. One-note characters
5. Deus ex machinas
6. Everybody's a scumbag

What NOT to Expect
1. Tight pacing
2. Injuries
3. Andy Serkis to disappoint
Good enough for what it was, no less no more.
I don't usually review a sure-fire box-office smash hit because, well, for a franchise this big and this well-known, people have no trouble making up their minds whether or not they'd go for it. So I don't know what purpose this review is going to serve. Still, I felt compelled to say something, so here we go. I saw The Hobbit the day it came out, and I must say I've already forgotten much of it by the time I sat down to write this review.
Now, I have to confess that this time around, I may have not been as objective as I usually try to be. The Game of Thrones television series may have spoiled me for all fantasy-oriented stories to come. Yes, I understand that LOTR is a horse of a different colour, and The Hobbit shouldn't be penalised for not having a plot as wonderfully crafted as the said TV series. After all, the source material is a children's book. Therefore it only makes sense that the adaptation would be much lighter in tone.
But my problem with The Hobbit was not that it wasn't "dark" enough. More on this in a minute.
Before I proceed, I must stress that I don't mean to turn this into another one of those book vs. film debate. I for one, don't believe in it. I will say this though; I have read the book, and I liked it better than the LOTR novels. Alas, if you want my opinion, The Hobbit only sounds good on paper. The people behind the movie are aware of this, hence why they had Peter Jackson do everything in his power to distract the audience from the story.
Instead, much of the focus was on the visuals and special effects. Which in turn rendered The Hobbit simply as a glorified (and much higher budgeted) version of Percy Jackson or any of its ilk. While it didn't automatically make it a bad thing, it did raise the question of why do we need to revisit Middle-earth.
Essentially, the whole franchise is about people walking, as film-maker Kevin Smith cleverly pointed out. If this first installment is any indication, looks like they're just gonna rehash everything they've done in the original trilogy, and water it down. Not to mention nothing new was brought to the table. But I digress. It's only the first one, after all. There's a good chance that things are only gonna get "less-kiddie" from here. Kinda like how Harry Potter aged with the audience. Maybe.
If we're talking about An Unexpected Journey alone, I'm gonna have to say that it was like a meal with too little meat, and too much seasoning. Nice to look at, sure. In fact, Middle-earth was much more beautifully-imagined this time around. All the things that made the original LOTR so easy on the eyes were there, but they took it up a notch or two. High marks for that. I remember taking my eyes off the characters oh-so-many times during the movie to look at the trees, the mountains and the sky.
Had I seen it in IMAX 3D, I might have not bothered with the characters at all. I know Peter Jackson didn't. Instead, they just made everybody a scumbag. I mean that in the meme sense of the word.
"Gandalf, you son of a-..."
Immediately noticeable was how The Hobbit was not really meant to be seen in 2D. It was like they made full use of the 3D technology, and trying to prove that the experience of watching movies in 3D doesn't have to suck.
I don't think that's a bad thing at all. Perhaps they just want people to be excited about seeing films on the big screen again. The camera was almost never static, everything was shot in all these fancy angles, and at least an hour's worth of tracking shots that can make some people nauseous. I can't speak from experience on this one, but I'm guessing it was all meant to make it easier for the audience to immerse themselves in the movie. It was kinda like a feature film version of those 3D rides at Universal Studios.
No exaggeration here. One particular sequence felt so shoehorned in there, I could have sworn that it was added into the screenplay as an afterthought. It probably went like this;
I know I sound like a grouchy old man incapable of taking pleasure out of anything. It's even fair to point out that it's only The Hobbit, what's the point of taking it all so seriously? The thing is, I didn't. And despite sounding like I've been ripping on this movie, I'm not suggesting that it's devoid of any entertainment whatsoever. All I'm saying is, it was about as refreshing to me as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides [2011]. Which is to say, they have nothing new to offer to me.
If I sound like I'm sending out mixed signals, perhaps I can better clarify it this way; The Hobbit was indeed good entertainment. But a good film, it was not.

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