The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The sparkiest scene in Peter Jackson’s eagerly anticipated return to Middle Earth is a battle of wits between Gollum (Lord of the Rings' tragic, ring-coveting schizophrenic, voiced and performed again by mocap master Andy Serkis) and title character Bilbo Baggins (uncle to Frodo, the pint-sized hero of the later adventures, and played with oodles of charm by Martin Freeman). Here’s a riddle worthy of their encounter: what’s twice as fast but feels twice as slow? The answer is this film, where Peter Jackson flashes digitized frames on screen at a rate of 48 per second — 24 frames per second being industry standard – but turn’s Tolkien’s slender fantasy novel into an inert slog.
Like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this is a bucolic road movie about a band of short-arses shlepping to a big rock. It’s 60 years before Frodo and co. trekked to Mout Doom. Bilbo, a home-loving fusspot, is recruited by wizard Gandalf (Ian Mckellen) to help a baker’s dozen of dwarf refugees reclaim their homestead, an impenetrable fortress within Lonely Mountain. The only problem is that it’s occupied by a ferocious dragon who’s rather keen on bathing, Scrooge McDuck-style, in the lake of gold at the heart of the castle.
Dragon, you say? Castle full of treasure? Merry band of dwarfs? Sounds like a hoot. It should have been. The joy of Jackson’s previous Tolkien adaptations was that he made those convoluted tales move at a whip. No sooner had the fellowship defeated one hoard of orcs there was a brace of ringwraiths to outrun or a battlement to defend. The Hobbit, by contrast, feels empty, with its few — admittedly impressive — set-pieces as spaced out as Shane MacGowan’s gnashers. This leaves a lot of down time to hang with Bilbo and his travel companions, who range from annoying to anonymous. The only one to make any significant impression is dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage), but he's so dour that I can’t see kids rushing out to replace their Legolas and Aragorn action figures this Christmas. As for the dragon, he’s asleep for the full 169 minutes running time, and who can blame him.
There are other problems besides the snail’s pace. Peril, mild or otherwise, is absent. Whenever things get too hairy, be it three trolls planning a dwarf BBQ, a goblin king with a double chin that resembles a scrotum, or a one-armed albino orc with the complexion of Gordon Ramsay, Gandalf sweeps in with some enemy-vanquishing magic before you can say deus ex machina. No wizardly intervention could save the new-fangled 48fps cinematography, though, which has the unfortunate effect of making the Shire look as phoney as the Teletubbies set.
Towards the end of the film, with Lonely Mountain still a speck in the distance, Bilbo exclaims: “the worst is surely behind us.” With two more Hobbit films on the horizon, we can only hope. [Jamie Dunn]