Mary Poppins Returns
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Peter Jackson's return to Middle-earth is an earnest, visually resplendent trip, but the film's deliberate pace robs the material of some of its majesty.
Peter Jackson's return to Middle-earth is an earnest, visually resplendent trip, but the film's deliberate pace robs the material of some of its majesty.
All Critics (289)
| Top Critics (48)
| Fresh (187)
| Rotten (102)
| DVD (4)
It frequently seems as though Jackson was less interested in making The Hobbit than in remaking his own fabulously successful Lord of the Rings series.
My first thought in watching The Hobbit was: Do we really need this movie? It was my last thought, too.
To its own narrative detriment, "The Hobbit" works hard to lay the framework for what will follow. Certainly that's one way to set out on a trilogy, but it's surely not the best.
There's no denying the majesty in Peter Jackson's visuals but he's taken a relatively slim children's book and stretched it beyond the limits.
The repeated iterations of fight, flight and respite here get wearing. Especially perhaps because, with Jackson's fetish for detail, they take more time to watch on screen than to read about.
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" has finally arrived, not on wings of gossamer fancy but with a hairy-footed thud.
Bret MacKenzie returns as FIGWIT and it's about as jarring as Ed Sheeran in Game of Thrones but it's still good.
It makes sense for Peter Jackson to want to fill out his canvas. Film can show certain things that prose cannot (and vice versa, obviously).
The Hobbit feels like a mere rehash of The Lord of the Rings, with just a number of different characters.
We've got a lot of road to travel before we'll know if the quest was worth it. But I'm willing to go along on the journey, so that's something.
What could have been a breezy, thrilling stand-alone film is instead a long, sometimes tedious, excursion.
An adequate filmmaking exercise that strikes most of the same beats as Lord of the Rings without any of the importance, epic scope or je ne sais quoi.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is such a milestone in fantasy filmmaking that any attempt to re-approach the Tolkien universe was bound to generate anxiety. As more stories about The Hobbit's production came to light, it seemed increasingly unlikely that the end result could ever come close to matching Peter Jackson's original trilogy. An Unexpected Journey is very much a flawed first part, but it is still enjoyable and balances out its flaws with enough nice touches to justify some of its running time.
In returning to Middle Earth, we have to deal with two diametrically opposed feelings. The first is nostalgia for The Lord of the Rings, films which shaped many of our childhoods and which still hold up as a near-perfect trilogy. The danger here is that we could over-praise The Hobbit simply because it feels so good to be back in this beautiful cinematic world; we feel so warmly towards Jackson that almost anything could be offered up and we wouldn't care how good it was in its own right.
The second danger, which flows from the film's production history, is cynicism. We resigned ourselves to Guillermo del Toro's departure on the grounds that Jackson was taking over and we were therefore in safe hands. We raised eyebrows at the 3D and 48 frames per second, doubting their necessity but giving Jackson the benefit of the doubt (neither turned out to be essential). But extending the films into a trilogy has been the straw that broke many a camel's back, and it is now very easy to regard Jackson as a mercenary who has completely lost his storytelling marbles. We might even conclude in light of this that we were all wrong about The Lord of the Rings too.
Both of these viewpoints are, of course, absurd when taken to their respective extremes. On the one hand, the filmmaking culture which produced An Unexpected Journey is very different to the one which took a chance on a seemingly un-filmable trilogy back in the late-1990s. If New Line Cinema was to go for The Hobbit at all, they would look to milk it as much as possible regardless of what Jackson or del Toro wanted. On the other hand, the source material is very different to Tolkien's later work, and so merely expecting more of the same is to deceive oneself.
Being that as it may, one of the big problems with An Unexpected Journey is its tonal uncertainty. Its attempts to recapture the epic scale and spirit of The Lord of the Rings are frequently at odds with the lighter, simpler story of The Hobbit. While Tolkien conceived of The Lord of the Rings as a mythical pre-history, with meaty subtexts about industry and warfare, The Hobbit is at its heart a children's adventure story, a trial run for something bigger and more ambitious.
Jackson's strategy of dealing with this is to consciously integrate the story of The Hobbit into the wider Tolkien continuity. The script adds in elements from The Lord of the Rings Appendices, directly hinting at or passing parallel to scenes that we recognise. We begin with Bilbo as an old man on the day of his birthday party - a scene which ends with Frodo walking down the hill, off to his first meeting with Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring. This isn't so much part one of The Hobbit as 'the first volume of the rest of the history of Middle Earth'.
Having familiar characters turning up is a double-edged sword. It gives an impression of the story being part of a seamless whole, something that a del Toro adaptation might not have achieved. And there is something charming about Sir Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett returning as the characters only they could play.
But there are two problems with this. The smaller problem is that we have older actors playing younger characters; while Galadriel looks the same, neither Elrond nor Saruman are entirely convincing, both looking older and/ or heavier than their later incarnations. The bigger problem is that the more these scenes and characters turn up, the more we respond in a manner which takes us out of the main narrative. We are either irritated by them as a distraction from the actual story of The Hobbit, or are left nostalgically longing for the relative meatiness of The Lord of the Rings in the face of something more childlike and playful.
Whichever way you look at it, An Unexpected Journey is too long and very baggy. Even without its status as the first part of a trilogy, there are whole sections in the first hour-and-a-half that could have been sped up, shortened or cut. There are several moments in which the film mirrors Fellowship, with the goblin fight being akin to the orc battle in Moria, the scaling of the mountain similar to the journey over Caradhras, and of course the similar scenes in Rivendell. But while Fellowship took a little while to reach Rivendell, everything that happened up to then felt weighty and significant, and you couldn't say the same for everything that happens in The Hobbit.
That being said, there is still much about An Unexpected Journey which needs to be celebrated. First and foremost, it is every bit as beautiful and spectacular as The Lord of the Rings, with the only real differences in quality lying in marginal improvements in visual effects. Jackson's eye for composition and the superb attention to detail puts paid to any arguments about the film being entirely an exercise in cashing in. Put bluntly, no cash-grab has ever looked this good.
On a performance level, the film also comes up trumps. Whatever the wavering fortunes of his counterparts, Ian McKellen does convince us that the Gandalf we are seeing is somewhat younger. Sylvester McCoy is typically eccentric as Radagast, and is so enjoyable that it almost doesn't matter that his scenes are largely irrelevant.
Most of all, Martin Freeman excels as Bilbo Baggins, even if the film doesn't centre around him as much as it could or should. In his first few scenes, it can feel like we have wandered back into his take on Arthur Dent, complete with stuttering British politeness and a dressing gown. But once the quest begins he starts to fire, taking the best from Ian Holm's performance and making the character his own.
The best scene in The Hobbit by a country mile is the confrontation between Bilbo and Gollum in the cave. This scene encapsulates the tone that Jackson was aiming for, the subtle improvements in effects and the on-going brilliance of Andy Serkis. It also demonstrates the terrifying tragedy of Gollum as a character, showing him to be capable of great violence but also utterly broken. Serkis described Gollum as an addict in interviews, and as the tense scene wears on we understand clearly what he meant. The way that Gollum changes from fearful to angry, and pathetic to vengeful so quickly breaks our hearts even as we are compelled to run away.
After this scene, The Hobbit plays its final trump card, namely its entertaining battle sequences. Having gone through a slow and plodding 90-odd minutes we are treated to battles with the same energy and invention that Jackson displayed throughout The Lord of the Rings. The monsters are more overtly cartoonish in their grotesque natures, with the goblin king being both gruesome and ridiculous. But whatever else has changed about him, Jackson still know how to construct a battle sequence, using sets and props wisely to create fights that both thrill you and make you laugh.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a film which leaves you wanting more even though all its flaws are in plain sight. While it is far too long and tonally unsure of itself, it contains many of the aspects that made The Lord of the Rings so special, particularly in the visuals and performances. In short, this is a decent beginning, with much room for improvement and just as much to keep us entertained.
Well what a rather disappointing continuation to the amazing Lord of the Rings trilogy!
Waiting nearly 3hrs for the movie actually to go somewhere was slow, boring and accomplished nothing in 3hrs, at least with Lord of the Rings it accomplished something before the end of the movie! Disappointing.
Well here we go again with another overly long grandiose epic based on some small unknown tale courtesy of a fat Kiwi. The much anticipated prequel trilogy (yes trilogy, don't get me started) to another somewhat well known literacy tale by some bloke called Token?
'Far over the misty mountains cold, to dungeons deep and caverns old'
Yep this gorgeous line pretty much gives you the perfect clue to what to expect in this adventure, many caves and many caverns, dwarf country. From the off we are back in the Shire and on very familiar ground as old friends are soon in the fold and we get another very useful eye catching prologue. The visuals straight away are much like an old pair of shoes, it all just slips back into place, you can see its a Jackson film, only sweeter this time.
Plot? errr its kinda simple, bit like LOTR, Bilbo Gandalf and a bunch of dwarves march off across Middle Earth (yep we're doing that again) to Lonely Mountain, the old home of the dwarves. There they will kick out the nasty dragon Smaug (dragons have personal names? aren't they just creatures?) who took over the mountain dwelling from the dwarves in a really quite violent and unfriendly way. Why? beats the heck outta me, cos the dwarves had tonnes of loot inside the mountain and Smaug wanted it all. Why would a dragon need tonnes of gold and jewels? is he going to buy himself a nice car? in fact why does Gandalf care? on with the review!
On the whole the entire film is pretty much as before with wonderful bold colours and imagination bursting from the screen in some sequences, and with dark shady doom and gloom in others. The detail again is superb with every last item you can see, location work is stunning (tourism on the up again) whilst makeup, sets and props are lavishly rustic and genuine. Weaponry stands out in this film as we see many nice swords displayed which do make you wanna own one yourself. But overall its most definitely a much much crisper, tighter, sharper affair all round, looking much better than the LOTR trilogy as you would expect with time. Really I don't need to talk much about the visuals as its business as usual to be honest...but I will.
The only downside as usual with all these films is certain sequences involving the dreaded CGI monster. Yes skies, sunsets, landscapes, Rivendell, the Lonely Mountain and hordes of orcs all look good in this format, but some things never change. The sequences involving the Warg riding orcs still looked pretty rough and clearly fake just like the last time we saw them. These sequences really do look hokey to me I can't deny, like something outta 'Underworld', the same could be said for the sequences within the Goblin caves and the awful looking Goblin King.
I don't want to moan too much about this film as it was a solid entry but you can't help but find small issues. The whole Goblin caves section was pretty much another Moria sequence really, it felt too much like deja vu. Plus the escape from the caves was really totally over the top with some quite ridiculous action sequences, very much like a videogame at times. Remember the elephant surfing Legolas in ROTK? yikes! Did I mention how bad the Goblin King looked? oh yeah...what the hell was THAT about!? like an early concept for Jabba the Hut...really!
Didn't really like the whole tree climbing escape sequence towards the end either, that felt as though they had written themselves into a corner. Unsure how accurate this film is to the books seeing as I've never read 'The Hobbit' but that part really seemed kinda dumb. I'll just pop in that Azog the orc chieftain looks more like a vampire outta 'Underworld' also, yes...I'm using 'Underworld' as a reference again.
To be brutally honest there are other elements that just seemed...pointless? The character of Radagast the Brown wasn't really explored much with no real reason to be there. A minor quibble as I reckon he'll be back with a chance for more explanations. The stone giants sequence seemed a bit irrelevant, unsure if its in the book but it felt like they needed something to fill that gap and add a touch of excitement. Oh and we have eagles saving the day again, boy those eagles are bloody handy to have around huh.
On the plus side apart from the visuals the dwarf company is handled well, cast well and perform well. I liked the variation on the characters even though 'Willow' crept into my mind. Was surprised to find out Graham McTavish was a dwarf seeing as the guy is about 6ft! his character was one of few that was a hardass, the others tended to be a bit dweebish, looked a bit goofy. What is it with the Scottish accents though? why are most dwarves Scottish? am I missing something on dwarf legend here?. Its just amusing that in these fantasy films its always Scottish or cockney accents hehe no problems, just an observation. I liked the dwarf names too, nice, very...dwarfish, but there should of been a mohawk dwarf in the company.
'dwarf scum'...'rebel scum' heh.
Gollum is back unfortunately, but hurray! he finally looks realistic apart from his Disney eyes medical problem, man that decision really mucks up his supposedly creepy looks. Some great facial expressions going on this time, really was impressed with the advancement there, but he's still annoying as hell with that fudging voice.
I must admit I feared the worst, I was reading the film is dull and stretched but I didn't feel it. I actually enjoyed this film more than a lot of the original trilogy. I guess it felt more adventurous as I had no clue what happens, never seen anything of it visually despite knowing how it would look after LOTR. Its not quite as dark as LOTR, feels a wee bit more for the kids, hated the fact no dwarfs bite the dust (some must do eventually!!) but the fact technology has progressed is evident and makes most of the film truly memorable. Kinda makes you wanna whip out your Games Workshop miniatures and play, or Dungeons & Dragons, which ever way you role.
Still, the thought does spring to mind how on earth they will stretch it out over two more films. The first was gonna be sufficiently packed but I fear the second may well be reeeeally stretched seeing as the company is close to Lonely Mountain as it is!. Lets remember this is only about walking to the dwarves old home and fighting a dragon, some films do that kinda thing in a standard 1hour 30 minutes. We will see, yesss we will see.
There is so much to love about "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," and sometimes that particular fact overshadows what are a few minor problems with the film. It is a simple story, told in a very grand scale, about Dwarfs, accompanied by a Hobbit, who are on a quest to reclaim the Dwarfs homeland. Along the way, he comes across as mysterious ring, and the climax unfolds. This film has a very dark tone to it, with very excessive images, but the things that truly bugs me is the fact that it shifts back and forth from dark to comical too quickly, taking away some of the mood. Still, I highly enjoyed watching this film and the cliffhanger is incredible. I cannot wait for part 2 of this trilogy. It is no match for "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, but on it's own, it really has something going for it. It was also nice to seem some pretty awesome cameos from familiar faces. Overall, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is far from perfect, but definitely earns it's welcome.
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