Wednesday, January 28, 2015
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

  • Recent Articles

  • Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • .

    Solano News

     
    Youngster battles brain cancer a 2nd time

    By Susan Winlow | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    2 Solano road projects get green light

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A1

     
    Rush Ranch seeks docents

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A2

    Health officials report 1st Solano flu death

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A3, 5 Comments | Gallery

     
    Kroc Health Fair offers free screenings

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

     
    Fairfield police to offer parenting class

    By Ian Thompson | From Page: A4

    Frazier schedules coffee in Suisun City

    By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

     
    Vacaville police to offer law enforcement academy

    By Ian Thompson | From Page: A4

    Vanden to host science fair

    By Bill Hicks | From Page: A4

     
    Woman with Solano ties caught up in tax fraud case

    By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A4

     
     
     
    Coalition members review tobacco control report card

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A5

    Vacaville Toastmasters welcome guests

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A6

     
    Chipotle fundraiser to benefit Armijo newspaper

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A6, 3 Comments

     
    American Legion Post schedules head-shaving fundraiser

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A6

     
    Dramas, thrillers lead week’s box office openings

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B8

     
    Fairfield police log: Jan. 24, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

    Suisun City police log: Jan. 26, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

     
    Suisun City police log: Jan. 25, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

    Suisun City police log: Jan. 24, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

     
    Fairfield police log: Jan. 26, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

    Fairfield police log: Jan. 25, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

     
    .

    US / World

    Gold nuggets stolen in smash and grab

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

     
    CSU chancellor looks to increase graduation rates

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

    Officials lose track of billions in funding

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

     
    Bill would treat e-cigs the same as regular cigarettes

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

     
    NTSB: Systemic flaws in safety oversight of gas pipelines

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

     
    Catholic church in San Francisco to phase out altar girls

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

    Military has wide discretion on Bergdahl charges

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14, 1 Comment

     
    Gunmen storm Libya hotel, killing American, 9 others

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

    Famed civil rights protesters to have arrest records erased

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

     
    Secret talks in Jordan try to win release of hostages

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

    ‘Wicked storm': Blizzard drops 2 feet of snow on New England

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

     
    .

    Opinion

     
     
    .

    Living

    Community Calendar: Jan. 28, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

     
    Today in History: Jan. 28, 2015

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Horoscope Jan. 28, 2015

    By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B6

     
    We live close to my nephew but he chooses to remain distant

    By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B6

     
    10 Things: 10 fresh takes on Super Bowl guacamole

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

     
    .

    Entertainment

    Christina Aguilera to perform ahead of NBA All-Star Game

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    Common, John Legend to perform ‘Glory’ at Academy Awards

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    Katie Holmes to guest on ‘Ray Donovan’

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    .

    Sports

    Lynch at Media Day: ‘I’m here so I don’t get fined’

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

     
    Falcon boys drop 69-61 SCAC loss to Bethel

    By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Local Report: Armijo boys roll past Napa 69-41

    By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B1, 1 Comment

    Nadal loses; Sharapova to play all-Russian semi in Australia

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

     
    Belichick and The Beast talk but don’t say much at Media Day

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

    Deflated topic: air pressure in footballs

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1, 1 Comment

     
    Rose’s shot lifts Bulls over Warriors 113-111 in overtime

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Golfer Allenby stands by story, says truth will come out

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Tony Stewart returns with a swagger not seen in 2 years

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Shooters find not every basketball is same in college game

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Patrick heads into 2015 in final season with team, sponsor

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Manfred hopeful of A’s getting new ballpark in Oakland

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Christina Aguilera to perform ahead of NBA All-Star Game

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Super Bowl, Tiger make Phoenix center of sports universe

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Long after Twitter feud, Revis, Sherman pledge respect

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    The distinctive international flavor of Super Bowl Media Day

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Serena Williams advances, Venus out of Australian Open

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Getting fired from New England led to Carroll’s reinvention

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Sharks in ‘dogfight’ to secure playoff berth

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Jury convicts 2 ex-Vanderbilt players of raping woman

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Rio official says there’s ‘no plan B’ for Olympic sailing

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    This date in sports history for Jan. 28, 2015

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

     
    .

    Business

    US home price gains slow in November on weaker sales

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

     
    FTC clears Albertsons’ purchase of Safeway

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

    .

    Obituaries

    Joseph Phillip Raiff

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

     
    Clarence E. Morgan

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

    Don Johnson

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 9 Comments

     
    Dzhon Athanc

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

    Julia P. Tan

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

     
    Woodrow Allen Oakley

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

    Donald Wesley Johnson

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Beetle Bailey

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

     
    Baby Blues

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

    Frank and Ernest

    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

     
    Blondie

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

    Dilbert

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

     
    Rose is Rose

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

    Get Fuzzy

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

     
    Wizard of Id

    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

    Garfield

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

     
    Sally Forth

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

    For Better or Worse

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

     
    Pickles

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

    Bridge

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

     
    Word Sleuth

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

    Sudoku

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

     
    Cryptoquote

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6