Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An Elongated Return to Middle-Earth

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey       Final Cut Score 88%

2012 has been defined by peaks and valleys within individual films. From The Dark Knight Rises to Life of Pi to Zero Dark Thirty, few projects have been able to string together a streamlined consistency  –  there’s equal time spent soaring and slogging along.

Add The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to the list, packed with crescendos and crap-outs, Peter Jackson’s mega-bloated beginning to Bilbo Baggins' pilgrimage across Middle-earth to Lonely Mountain both awes and bores.

Setting forth from his Shire after a musical number that runs nearly a fortnight, Baggins (a brilliant Martin Freeman), his wizard buddy Gandolf (the staff-wielding Ian McKellen) and 13 dwarves aim to take back the little dudes’ mountain fortress from a flame-throwing, gold-adoring dragon – don’t mess with blokes consumed by a Napoleon complex.

With a horde of bloodthirsty orcs hunting them down, the motley crew come across all manner of beasts: trolls, rock giants, more trolls – the effects are both spectacular (yes, Gollum is even more lifelike) and distracting. Shot in revolutionary 48 FPS (frames per second) technology with specially outfitted RED Epic cameras, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey resembles a video game commercial, the look of each scene has an artificiality to it whether it be digitized or not – it's oddly inorganic.

The initial sensation is akin to watching a colorized, View-Master version of The Great Train Robbery – actors' movements appear to be sped up. It took me roughly two-thirds of the film for the visuals to become less jarring than they initially are. That said, seeing it in any format other than the way Jackson intended is like listening to Beethoven on an AM radio – don’t bother.

At 310 pages, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is shorter than any of the books in the LOR trilogy but Jackson made the call to splinter the story into three films. It’s clear from the first of the trio, elongation is a result of that decision. From the get-go, scenes overstay their welcome before eventually trudging on. The 166-minute runtime is a case of self-indulgence on Jackson’s part – and final cut over the studio.

There's no question Jackson has delivered an otherworldly orgy of visual opulence. But he’s also been bewitched by a nugget of wisdom dispensed by Gandolf: “All good stories deserve embellishment”. Or in Jackson’s case, extreme narrative protraction.