YEP – “All good stories deserve embellishment, ” Gandalf tells Bilbo Baggins the night before they set off on their adventure. An adventure director Peter Jackson embellishes for a near three-hour slog through the woods and crags and mildewed landscape brought to life out of the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit – the fantasy novel that started it all.
It’s been nearly a decade since the Lord of the Rings trilogy concluded. Most of us thought the book was closed. The story told. The ship long sailed.
Jackson’s only half way through with this make-believe world, apparently.
Enter The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
So, what is the journey? Can’t say I really got a full grip on that. Something about avenging a dwarf king’s dead father, finding a map, and returning him to his rightful home. Which has a bunch of gold. And is really far away.
Along the way, Bilbo, Gandalf, and a colorful gang of dwarves bolt from the Hobbit’s hood – aka The Shire – and run head on into some horse thieving campfire trolls with bad intentions, a wizard who commutes behind a pack of well-trained rabbits, some rock formations that come to life and hurl boulders at one another, a flock of giant carrier eagles, and oodles and oodles of ill-tempered orcs and goblins led by one particularly menacing super orc who just so happens to also be the demon who thrashed the Dwarf King’s dad back in the day. Oh, they also stop off at the scenic unicorn stabled sanctuary where the guy from The Matrix lives with Cate Blanchett.
Two hours into the embellishment Bilbo finds himself in a damp cavern with a familiar face. The franchise. The one adults love to hate but insist on mimicking. The one small children fear at bed time. The precious one – the schizophrenic mad man turned mutant we’ve all come to know as Gollum.
Andy Serkis once again steals the show as the obsessed cave dweller, ping ponging back and forth between his two personas so deftly we are left not knowing if we are pulling for the little creep or longing to see his cranium crushed.
Unfortunately, Gollum is a mere footnote in this far too long adaptation misfire.
We chose not to see it in 3D. The thought of sitting through a film this long with those God awful glasses on just wasn’t working for us. So, I’m not sure what we missed out on in the visual fx department.
What we did see was impressive. Jackson has yet again created another world, courtesy of the South Island of New Zealand.
It is not, however, a faithful adaptation of the novel.
The Hobbit is the only Tolkien book I actually read as a teen – this film did not capture the whimsical poetry I remember. Tolkien’s clever use of language gets lost in Jackson’s script. Lost, also, is the wisdom of the central character who is portrayed more as a nuisance who rises to the occasion rather than a necessary balance to the universe. This is more of a collection of seemingly random battle sequences on a trail to nowhere. The relationships are thin and the stakes not all that high; unlike the Lord of the Rings trilogy which built, albeit arduously, toward a rewarding death-defying climax. And a culmination Best Picture Oscar for Return of the King.
With ten nominations now in the Best Film category, The Hobbit is a pretty safe bet to be acknowledged. But this embellishment is too precious by half and dwarfed by its predecessors.