‘The Hobbit’ barely survives overblown production

British actor Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first in a three-part series of movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images

The first question on many fans’ minds when director Peter Jackson announced he’d be filming The Hobbit as a follow-up to his nine-hour Lord of the Rings adaptation, was: Will this one be produced on a smaller scale? After all, it’s only one book.

Did we really need to ask?

At 169 minutes, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey covers fewer than a hundred pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, his predecessor to the Rings trilogy. The rest will come in two more movies, at a total budget of about $450 million. Gasp.

Martin Freeman plays Frodo Baggins’ uncle, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, in his younger days. An unambitious fellow, Bilbo is enjoying his quiet life in the Shire when the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) shows up with a band of 13 dwarves, on a quest to reclaim their kingdom from the evil dragon, Smaug.

Partly against his will, Bilbo is enlisted to join the quest and they soon set off on horseback through the mountains of Tolkien’s fantasyland, Middle-earth. Several dangerous clashes ensue with man-eating trolls, goblins, wolves and stone giants. We also learn the dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) has a sworn enemy in Azog, an “orc” warrior who killed his grandfather.

There are chases, ambushes and battle sequences galore, all of it restricted to a PG-13 level but perhaps too intense for very young viewers—particularly in the 3-D, ultra-high-definition version shown in some theaters (a process that’s so sharp, it resembles a video game more than a movie).

For all the action, though, there isn’t as much at stake as in The Lord of the Rings, where Frodo and his friends save all of Middle-earth from the Dark Lord Sauron. At times Mr. Jackson seems aware of that fact, throwing in bits of humorous banter and even a few whimsical songs; at other times, his approach is too solemn and lethargic, with too many shots of the characters trudging through mountain ridges to the strains of Howard Shore’s soaring background music.

That said, the story does take an intriguing turn when Bilbo meets Gollum, the hobbit transformed into a miserable wraith by his lust for the all-powerful Ring. As in the Rings trilogy, Gollum is a CGI character voiced by actor Andy Serkis, who earns our sympathy and revulsion in equal measure.

And Bilbo develops nicely as a protagonist, rescuing the dwarves from a few harrowing scrapes and, consequently, earning their respect. By the end, he feels homesick for the Shire but recognizes that the dwarves are separated from their home, too; helping them return, Bilbo says, has given him a new sense of purpose.

On that note, we can rest up for next year’s (perhaps less bloated?) installment.

bfentum@umr.org

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Bill Fentum, Former UMR Associate Editor

Bill Fentum

Bill Fentum was a dedicated employee of The United Methodist Reporter from 1985 to 2013, serving as the associate editor. Bill continues his work in journalism in a variety of positions as an independent journalist.

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