Review - The Hobbit: An Unexpectedly Arduous Journey
I've seen a fair few bad films over the past 12 months and I can unreservedly say that Peter Jackson's first Hobbit film, The Hobbit: Part One: Chapter One: Prologue: An Unexpected Journey, ranks among my most unpleasant cinema experiences of the year. Sure it's not as ethically discomforting as Act Of Valor or as insufferably distasteful as That's My Boy but it signals a high watermark for bloated empty spectacle that seems impossible to surpass.
Just under a decade ago Peter Jackson concluded his Lord Of The Rings trilogy in impressive fashion. Expanding his theatrical releases with extended DVD versions, the complete trilogy ultimately ran over 10 hours, fleshing out Tolkien's expansively detailed series of books which totalled over 1500 pages. Epic is most definitely the word to use here and Jackson's original trilogy (despite not having aged too well) was blockbuster event cinema at its most sensational.
Years have passed, legal battles have ensued, talent in front and behind the camera have shifted, and now we are finally seeing Jackson return to Middle Earth to take on Tolkien's earlier, much more humble novel, The Hobbit - a short, fast paced read, totalling little over 300 pages. Jackson in his eminent, autuerist wisdom has decided to expand this little 300 page story into not one 3-hour film, not two but a whole new trilogy of films promising each individual entry will nudge the 3 hour mark (extended DVD editions are already being mooted).
That's nine hours of cinema from one 300 page novel.
You can pretty much stop reading now because you should be able to guess why this first entry in The Hobbit trilogy was an interminable experience. Take the first 40 minutes of your favorite film. Now imagine those 40 minutes extended into 165 minutes.
You with me?
Now imagine spending 165 minutes only to reach the 40 minute mark of your favorite story before having it end and then being told you must wait a year and buy another expensive ticket just to get the next 40 minutes which will also be stretched out to nearly 3 hours.
The Hobbit is unquestionably bad cinema. It's bloated storytelling filled with random asides that add up to nothing. This entire first film (which comprises of only the first six chapters of the novel) consists of events that happen around the central group of characters, episodically distracting them from what essentially is just a long, leisurely walk.
The stakes are resoundingly low. This is no world saving quest but rather a story of a hobbit who has his house crashed by a bunch of rude dwarves that treat him like he is nothing yet still drag him along on this long walk to reclaim their stash of gold from a big dragon. They are also accompanied by a stoned wizard who barely knows what is going on.
By the time the film reaches the notably spectacular sight of two enormous mountain creatures fighting I was in such a state of bludgeoned apathy I could've just thrown some headphones on and enjoyed the pictures set to some music of my choice. The action was so irrelevant, so meaningless, so devoid of any narrative function that it felt like I was watching 150 minutes of weird Tolkien fan fiction.
Every shot felt like it was held for a second or two longer than necessary. Every time a character told a story the film would drift off into some flab-filled flashback that felt like a deleted scene from the first trilogy. I knew I was in for a torturous experience when it took the film 15 minutes just to get to the first line of the book. It almost felt like a sick joke when we finally got to see Ian Holmes as Bilbo sit down and pen the infamous, "In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit", before the film irrelevantly tangented again into the dramas of Frodo and Bilbo organising a party with wink wink appearances from Elijah Wood.
Unlike the prior trilogy which at least could lean on the books for giving each episode a definable structure, Jackson and his writing cohorts seemed unable to find a satisfying form to give this first film a sense of beginning, middle and end. The actual climax is simply an amped up set-piece from the book which culminates in what should be used as an object lesson in defining the term 'deus ex machina' aka: 'where the fuck did that come from??'.
Oh and on the 48fps thing...
Let me just say that I'm glad I saw it in 48fps because the bizarre HD video vibe of the format at least gave me something to think about during the stretches of dead time. Admittedly it looks pretty bad to my eyes but it did enhance the clarity of the image and the 3D was spectacular. Sadly it also made the "village" scenes look like an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation from 1991 but again, this amusing diversion at least enabled me to stay sitting in the theatre long enough to make it to the end credits.
The only positive thing to come from the experience was that whilst watching The Hobbit the word 'turgid' came to mind. I don't think I've ever used that word in my experience so trusting my instincts I sprang to a dictionary post-screening to look up the meaning. It turns out my sub-conscious mind must've sent me that word from deep within the recesses of my brain for it couldn't be a more appropriate term to describe this film.
1. swollen and distended; congested
2. (of style or language) pompous and high-flown; bombastic
[from Latin turgidus, from turgēre to swell]
Note: I am quite aware that this review could also be described as turgid. Either consider that a meta-comment on the film itself or be aware that I cut 500 words from this piece before publishing so it could've been worse.