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Ten Word or Less Review: A, Long, Repetitious, Unoriginal Journey.  

Somewhere in the second hour of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Bilbo and the troupe of dwarves are making their way across a dark and stormy mountain range.  They look up and to their shock a giant boulder is being flung in their general direction but they aren’t the intended target, the mountain they’re crossing is.  What threw the boulder?  Another mountain.  The mountains come to life and engage in fisticuffs with one another, our collection of height challenged protagonists doing their best not to be crushed in the granite clad fight club going on around them.  My wife turned to me with a look of ‘What the Hell is this?’ and all I could do was shrug.  I didn’t know why it was happening and sadly, I really didn’t care.  Thorough indifference had set in long before.

The story of The Hobbit is known to multiple generations of children’s lit fans.  If you happen not to know it the story is a simple one.  Home body hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) enjoys a life of quiet solitude in his nice, clean hole of a home, well stocked with provisions of course.  One afternoon with no warning the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) appears and attempts to entice Bilbo into going on an adventure.  Bilbo politely declines but none the less that same evening 13 dwarves come knocking on his door.  They pilfer his food stocks, dirty his dishes and then tell him of their plan to retake their native home, a gold filled mountain overtaken by Smaug the dragon, a vile creature which reigns down fiery death on any and all who would take his gold.  Gandalf wishes Bilbo to join their ranks as the designated burglar of the bunch.  Of course the hobbit with no taste for adventure doesn’t want to go, but alas through circumstance and subtle provocation he does.  One hobbit, 13 dwarves, a wizard and an adventure.  Pretty simple stuff.  No, not really.

For 75 years this story eluded many filmmakers.  Many grasped at the seemingly simple task of turning it into a feature film to no avail.  Even after the massive success of Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit has taken another decade to get to the screen and lost it’s first director, Guillermo Del Toro, in the process.  Now finally brought to fruition, I would say the most overwhelming sensation one experiences watching The Hobbit is deja vu, followed by more deja vu, topped off with yes, deja vu.  Instead of treating Tolkien’s original fantasy tale with a different touch or a new coat of paint, Jackson has taken out his LOTR tool kit and painstakingly rebuilt his Middle Earth from a decade ago, no stone unmoved or modified.  Nothing looks or sounds any different.  The action moves in all the same ways.   Even the music hits all the same cues.  I surely expected a sense of the familiar to hangover the story but the absence of Del Toro as director feels particularly painful at this juncture.  I’m sure that mad Spaniard would have delicately blended his own style of imaginative filmmaking to the existing world Jackson built, but with Jackson back in the saddle there’s nothing new to behold.  One can view The Hobbit as a technically achieved and accomplished film, mostly, but it cannot shake off the weight of being just more of the same.  A lot more of the same.  With a whole lot more to go.

Jackson’s decision to turn Tolkien’s sparse narrative into three epic sized movies seems like a needless idea fairly quickly.  His first LOTR feature was just one of three movies but it stands on its own feet very well.  Part one of The Hobbit holds no such distinction.  Characters come and go, things smash and quake and destruction reigns down on so much, back stories are built followed by more back stories, but a complete movie it never is.  It feels like narrative padding stitched together under the promise of getting to better stuff later.  Where as The Fellowship of the Ring was abundant with colorful characterizations, no one bouncing around Hobbit  feels vital, important or interesting.  And that’s the biggest blunder of all.  Jackson doesn’t seem to care that this story is called The Hobbit because it’s about everything accept the furry footed adventurer of the title.

Early in the movie Gandalf justifies the presence of Bilbo to the dwarves by stating that hobbits can blend in and disappear seemingly at will.  This is something Jackson apparently took to heart because poor Martin Freeman is completely swallowed up by his surroundings.  Between the noisy dwarves, the cavalcade of monsters, orcs and goblins, the rock throwing mountains, the wizard on a sled being pulled by rabbits, the cameos from LOTR alumni and everything else, little, unassuming Bilbo Baggins cannot compete.  Freeman can make no dent anywhere.  He’s constantly at odds with the enormity of everything around him and in the end you eventually forget he’s there.  Only towards the end, when Bilbo has his famous riddle battle with the beloved Gollum (Andy Serkis), does the film feel like the kind of adaptation we expected and wanted.  It’s the first time Freeman has felt like part of the story and it’s one of the few scenes that doesn’t feel both overblown yet equally underwhelming.  But when he puts on that precious cursed ring that turns him invisible, it suddenly strikes you like a ton of bricks that he’s been invisible the entire time.

Jackson looks to have gone and done the one thing no one really needed him to do, turn The Hobbit into more Lord of the Rings.  We’ve already had 11 hours of that Pete, it was enough.  Some people will be perfectly fine with this adventure.  The mere existence of this feature, inevitably all three of them, will make some hearts soar no matter how much it feels like microwaved left overs.  This adventure has two more films and I suppose there’s a small chance things could improve, but Jackson has made it quite clear what he’s up to with this unneeded trilogy.  He’s going to meticulously repeat his glorious success from a decade ago, beat for beat, in some cases shot for shot, and wish to be thanked wholeheartedly for the experience of doing the whole thing over.  If the the next two installments fulfill that pledge then he will get no thanks from me.



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