I have great regard for Peter Jackson and his filmmaking partners, which is why it pains me to say that I found The Hobbit incredibly boring. As in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson and his WETA team have raised the bar for visual effects and created some stunning set pieces…but when they exist in the context of a drearily repetitive story, that can only be called a Pyrrhic victory. As for the much-vaunted 48 frames-per-second presentation, it’s an interesting novelty, but I fear it may have made me bored twice as fast.
Not being a Tolkien reader, I can only judge the film on its own terms. It starts out well enough as we meet an older Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) at his home in the Shire, then flash back in time as he tells the story of his amazing adventure. When Gandalf the Gray (Ian McKellen) insists that he join a group of dwarves on a quest to help Prince Thorin (Richard Armitage) regain his rightful home from a marauding dragon, Bilbo is understandably reluctant. Brought to life by a well-cast Martin Freeman, he’s a homebody who loves to sit by the fire and read. He has no thirst for adventure.
The point of The Hobbit is to show how this unassuming fellow finds his inner courage. That shouldn’t take three feature films, let alone a first installment that runs two hours and 45 minutes. We get the point early on. Instead, Bilbo and the dwarves—whom I found indistinguishable from one another—embark on their perilous quest, only to encounter a group of hideously ugly monsters. Result: an elaborate battle scene. After recovering, they continue on their quest until they run afoul of another group of gruesome creatures. Result: an elaborate battle scene. Allowing for some r&r, when the journey resumes they run smack into another horde of monsters, which can only lead to another battle. And so it goes.
Are the creatures amazingly rendered? Yes. Have we seen their lifelike equal onscreen before? No. Did we have to slog through nearly three hours to sample these moments? I wish I hadn’t.
As for the 48 frames-per-second format: the result is hyper-real, like watching the Super Bowl on a large-screen 3-D television set. It doesn’t look like film at all. That is Jackson’s stated goal, to offer moviegoers something exciting and new. In that he has succeeded; it will now be up to filmmakers, studios, and audiences to decide if they want to embrace this technology. If it is suited to anything it is the world of fantasy depicted here, yet I’m just old-fashioned enough to be comfortable with the look and feel of film—even if that “film” is now digitally created.
What bothers me more than this experiment is the bloated nature of the storytelling on display. Why has a single book been expanded to three films? Or, to quote an old World War II catchphrase; was this trip really necessary?
More is not better. More is simply more, in this case.
If Tolkien aficionados revel in the distended Hobbit, and look forward to more of the same, good for them. I wouldn’t try to dissuade or discourage anyone from doing so. I can only report my honest reaction.