Wednesday, July 23, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Review: ‘The Hobbit’ suffers from story bloat

Film Review The Hobbit

This film image released by Warner Bros. shows Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in a scene from the fantasy adventure "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." (AP Photo/Warner Bros., James Fisher)

By
From page B1 | December 07, 2012 |

Judging part one of Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” prelude “The Hobbit” is a bit like reviewing a film after seeing only the first act.

Yet here goes: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is stuffed with Hollywood’s latest technology – 3-D, high-speed projection and Dolby’s Atmos surround sound system. The result is some eye candy that truly dazzles and some that utterly distracts, at least in its test-run of 48 frames a second, double the projection rate that has been standard since silent-film days.

It’s also overstuffed with, well, stuff. Prologues and sidestepping backstory. Long, boring councils among dwarves, wizards and elves. A shallow blood feud extrapolated from sketchy appendices to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” to give the film a bad guy.

Remember the interminable false endings of “The Return of the King,” the Academy Award-winning finale of Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings”? “An Unexpected Journey” has a similar bloat throughout its nearly three hours, in which Tolkien’s brisk story of intrepid little hobbit Bilbo Baggins is drawn out and diluted by dispensable trimmings better left for DVD extras.

Two more parts are coming, so we won’t know how the whole story comes together until the finale arrives in summer 2014. Part one’s embellishments may pay off nicely, but right now, “An Unexpected Journey” looks like the start of an unnecessary trilogy better told in one film.

Split into three books, “The Lord of the Rings” was a natural film trilogy, running nearly half a million words, five times as long as “The Hobbit.”

Jackson and his wife, Fran Walsh, along with screenwriting partners Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro – who once was attached to direct “The Hobbit,” with Jackson producing – have meticulously mined Tolkien references to events that never played out in any of the books (stuff the filmmakers call the “in-between bits”).

With that added material, they’re building a much bigger epic than Tolkien’s book, the unexpected journey of homebody Bilbo (Martin Freeman, with Ian Holm reprising his “Lord of the Rings” role as older Bilbo).

Bilbo has no desire to hit the road after wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen, grandly reprising his own “Rings” role) and a company of dwarves turn up to enlist him on a quest to retake a dwarf mountain kingdom from the dragon that decimated it.

Yet off he goes, encountering trolls, goblins, savage orcs and a grisly guy named Gollum (Andy Serkis, re-creating the character that pioneered motion-capture performance in “The Lord of the Rings”). Improved by a decade of visual-effects advances, Gollum solidifies his standing as one of the creepiest movie creatures ever. And as big-screen prologue moments go, Bilbo’s acquisition of Gollum’s precious ring of power may be second only to Darth Vader’s first hissy breath at the end of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” prequels.

“An Unexpected Journey” resurrects other “Rings” favorites, some who didn’t appear in “The Hobbit” (Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, Cate Blanchett as elf queen Galadriel, Christopher Lee as wizard Saruman) and some who did (Hugo Weaving as elf lord Elrond).

Richard Armitage debuts as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield, ennobled from a fairly comical figure in Tolkien’s text to a brooding warrior king in the mold of Viggo Mortensen from the “Rings” trilogy.

The filmmakers also pluck orc bruiser Azog out of Tolkien’s footnotes and make him Thorin’s sworn enemy. Azog’s a bland antagonist, adding little more than one-dimensional bluster.

While there are plenty of orc skewerings and goblin beheadings, the action is lighter and more cartoonish than that of “The Lord of the Rings.” Still, much of it is silly fun, particularly a battle along a maze of footbridges suspended throughout a goblin cave.

The potential sea change with “The Hobbit” is Jackson’s 48-frame rate. Most theaters are not yet equipped for that speed, so the film largely will play at the standard 24 frames a second.

Proponents, including James Cameron, say higher frame rates provide more lifelike images, sharpen 3-D effects, and lessen or eliminate a flickering effect known as “strobing” that comes with camera motion. I saw the movie first at 24 frames a second and then at 48, and they’re absolutely right that higher speeds clarify the picture. Strobing noticeable at 24 frames is gone at 48, providing a continuity that greatly improves the action sequences. And the panoramas are like Middle-earth actually come to life, as though you’re standing on a hill looking down at the hobbits’ Shire. If Cameron’s “Avatar” was like looking through a window at a fantastical landscape, “An Unexpected Journey” at 48 frames is like removing the glass so you can step on through.

But with great clarity comes greater vision. At 48 frames, the film is more true to life, sometimes feeling so intimate it’s like watching live theater. That close-up perspective also brings out the fakery of movies. Sets and props look like phony stage trappings at times, the crystal pictures bleaching away the painterly quality of traditional film.

This may be cinema’s future, and the results undoubtedly will improve over time. It’ll be an adjustment for audiences, though, and like the warmth of analog vinyl vs. the precision of digital music, the dreaminess of traditional film vs. the crispness of high-frame rates will be a matter of taste.

The technology may improve the story’s translation to the screen. There’s just not that much story to Tolkien’s “Hobbit,” though. Jackson is stretching a breezy 300 pages to the length of a Dickens miniseries, and those in-between bits really stick out in part one.

“I do believe the worst is behind us,” Bilbo remarks as “An Unexpected Journey” ends.

From a hobbit’s lips to a filmmaker’s ears. Let’s hope Jackson has the goods to improve on a so-so start. Otherwise, “The Hobbit” – subtitled “There and Back Again” by Tolkien – is going to feel like traveling the same road more than twice.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” released by the Warner Bros. banner New Line Cinema and MGM, is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. Running time: 169 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Fairfield labor pact wins City Council OK

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A1, 11 Comments | Gallery

 
 
 
Solano leaders feel left out of Delta decision-making

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A3

Polk first to file for Fairfield council

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

 
Dally seeks to retain seat on Vacaville school board

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A5

 
Carpenters training center set to expand in Fairfield

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A5, 6 Comments | Gallery

 
Governor signs 2 bills by Frazier into law

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A5

2 Vacaville homes hit by gunfire

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A6, 2 Comments

 
Library friends set spring book sale

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A6

 
Video chair exercise class returns to senior center

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A6

 
Man, woman, comic and dance contest primed for box office

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A7

 
Rockville Trails hike on August calendar

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A8 | Gallery

 
Mayor’s Commission on Crime hears from community

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A12, 12 Comments | Gallery

.

US / World

Dueling rulings: Courts split on health law clash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Assailants sought in fatal train platform beating

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Senate, House on collision course on border money

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
ACLU may fight for California migrant shelter

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9, 1 Comment

IRS employee charged with identity theft

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
George Harrison memorial tree killed by beetles

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10, 2 Comments

 
Gaza blockade key to any Israel-Hamas truce deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

Mexican-born professor eyed for state high court

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

 
Airlines ban flights to Israel after rocket strike

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

Board puts soda tax before San Francisco voters

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
AP source: Thieves got into 1K StubHub accounts

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

Obama nominee McDonald pledges to ‘transform’ VA

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

 
Body of missing S. Korean shipping tycoon found

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

Crews make gains on massive Washington wildfire

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

 
11 parents of Nigeria’s abducted girls die

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

Lax security at crash site hampers investigations

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
Plane crash bodies removed from war zone

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

.

Opinion

 
 
Walmart donation benefits Meals on Wheels

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 2 Comments

Batson’s column on Mideast peace is wrong

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 5 Comments

 
Fix our problems first

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 7 Comments

.

Living

Today in History for July 23, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: July 23, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

How to argue appropriately with your mate

By Barton Goldsmith | From Page: A2

 
A summer sausage roll with a triple dose of fennel

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

10 Things: 10 fresh ways to use fresh blueberries

By J.M. Hirsch | From Page: B6

 
Horoscopes for July 23, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B6

Bulking up the classic BLT without adding fat

By Sara Moulton | From Page: B6

 
I’m tired of my parents judging me because of who I date

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B6

.

Entertainment

‘X-Men’ VR experience coming to Comic-Con

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
‘Downton Abbey’ back on Jan. 4 for season 5

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B8

 
.

Sports

Raiders enter camp with ‘chip’ on shoulders

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
49ers start fresh after forgettable offseason

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Giants beat Phillies 9-6 in 14 innings

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

A’s agree to 10-year lease to stay in Oakland

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
AP source: Cavs to sign Andrew Wiggins to contract

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Paterno son, other former assistant sue Penn State

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Pyrenees please Nibali, Rogers in Tour Stage 16

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

Warriors announce Brandon Rush’s signing

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
CEO: Rivers to quit Clippers if Sterling stays

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3, 1 Comment

Racehorse owned by Britain’s queen fails dope test

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Mudcats score early, get 7-3 win over South Bay Storm

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B3

Seahawks start atop AP Pro32 rankings

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Selig still waiting on Tommy John report

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

.

Business

Ackman goes after Herbalife’s nutrition clubs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8, 1 Comment

 
China meat scandal hits Starbucks, Burger King

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Solid earnings drive more gains in US stocks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Microsoft 4Q earnings hurt by Nokia acquisition

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Apple post biggest earnings gain in nearly 2 years

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
One in every 25 New Yorkers is a millionaire, study says

By Los Angeles Times | From Page: B8

California firm issues nationwide fruit recall

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
.

Obituaries

John Klefstad

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6