Don't get me wrong. I came into The Hobbit screening believing I was going to be seeing one of the best films of the year. I loved all three of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies and expected to wholeheartedly embrace the first Hobbit movie. I'd even given the 48 frames per second aspect a thumbs up after catching a 15 minute preview of The Hobbit at CinemaCon where Jackson and Warner Bros debuted the clips in that ratio for theater owners to check out. Sure, I was a bit skeptical when Jackson announced he'd added a third film to the Hobbit series. But I trusted Jackson to not only satisfy Tolkien fans with his ability to bring the source material to the screen as faithfully as possible but also to craft an entertaining movie that could be enjoyed by those who'd never picked up a Tolkien novel. However, perhaps this time around Jackson has tilted the scale toward the hardcore fans and away from making the best movie experience possible for casual fantasy filmgoers.
Jackson and co-screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro bogged down The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with so many minute/unimportant details that the pace in this - unlike his LOTR trilogy - is glacial. How many times do we need to see the motley crew of dwarves, a Hobbit (played by Martin Freeman), and Gandalf the Grey walk through valleys and forests and around hills and mountains? Yes, the scenes do look absolutely gorgeous in 48 frames per second, but that alone is not reason enough to include them in the movie.
Also completely unnecessary is the inclusion of Radagast the Brown, an unkempt, crazy wizard with bird poop down his face and nothing of importance to contribute to the plot that couldn't have been summed up some other way in far, far fewer minutes. And who thought it was a good idea to include a couple of scenes of the dwarves singing? Maybe a snippet or two, but talk about annoyingly intrusive musical numbers...this is not The Hobbit: An Unexpected Musical.
Now, not everything about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey goes wrong. The dwarves are well cast and it's great to see Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, and Cate Blanchett back in the world of Hobbits, elves, dwarves, and wizards. The sets are first-rate and the costumes and makeup are top notch, as you'd expect from a Peter Jackson production. And when Gollum (Andy Serkis) finally appears nine hours into the film, it's not only a welcome respite from all the walking but also a crucial scene that's well-written, shot, and acted, and a scene that effectively ups the film's pace.
The Bottom Line:
If sluggish pacing and scenes that do little to further the story are what we can expect from The Hobbit 2 and The Hobbit 3, then Jackson and company have not delivered on their promises. Just because you can do three movies doesn't mean you need to do three movies, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: There and Back Again are going to have to live up to the work...make that surpass the work...Jackson and his team did on Lord of the Rings if they want to woo back those disillusioned after sitting through this first entry in the new franchise.
The Hobbit: An Unfinished Journey was directed by Peter Jackson and is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.
Theatrical Release: December 14, 2012