Subtitled An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth, The Hobbit, arrives in theaters with all the hype and expectations that come with a grand epic… especially one that serves as a prequel to one of the most well-respected (and profitable) series in film history.
And while The Hobbit delivers plenty of sweeping vistas and visual magic, it ends up feeling like a story your chatty, half-senile uncle would tell at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Moments that could be summed up in a few sentences (and were, in fact, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s original novel) take longer to tell here than if you were to write them out longhand with pen and paper.
It speaks volumes that The Hobbit is the shortest (by far) of author J.R.R. Tolkien’s books but is being stretched into a trilogy. Conversely, his longest book, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is nearly twice as long as The Hobbit, but its movie version is only a half-hour longer than this saga of epic loquaciousness.
Recounting the events that preceded LOTR, The Hobbit begins with a lengthy bit of introduction (and then backstory) about how Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, in a career-best performance) was approached by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan– stellar, as always) to join a band of dwarves on their quest to recapture their homeland, usurped decades earlier by a dragon.
Their journey takes them over hill and dale (and through forest, canyon, and mountains), where, along the way, they battle orcs, trolls, stone giants, and all manner of other obstacles.
There’s no doubting the fact that Jackson (and most everyone else on the project, for that matter) has a deep love for Tolkien’s work. From the stunning cinematography to the costumes to Howard Shore’s sweeping score, the superficial aspects of The Hobbit truly dazzle. It would actually be a very memorable film if so much of the story didn’t take far longer to tell than it should have.
Even though it admittedly lacks the grandeur and far-reaching storyline of LOTR, The Hobbit had plenty of potential. But it’ll be hard for people to exit the theater without thinking it’s anything more than an attempt to turn what should (and could) have been one, single excellent movie into just the first part of a cash-grab trilogy.