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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Jackson, 2012)

Submitted by on December 13, 2012 – 12:00 am4 Comments

I’ve never been a Peter Jackson fan.

I’ve tried perhaps more than striven to revisit, to cultivate a taste for The Lord of the Rings franchise, mostly for friendship’s sake or with the dull resignation akin to the non-sports fan who finds himself immersed in a local culture rabidly following the beloved team to a championship. When the last of that trilogy took home eleven golden statues, I was almost happy for my friends who enjoyed extended cuts, movie marathons and snarky comments about the Rankin-Bass cartoons that I secretly preferred.

Given that back story, the most surprising part of my Hobbit experience was my complete and utter lack of schadenfreude.

The Hobbit is a dreary affair, made more so by the realization, about ten minutes into the film, that there will be nine more hours over the next three years. Over at The Thin Place podcast, Todd Truffin and I have done the dull but necessary drudge work of itemizing the worst of Jackson’s offenses against J. R. R. Tolkien’s book for those whose cinematic judgments are dependent upon a devotee’s insistence that when it comes to literary adaptations, “getting it right” is a phrase that can have actual meaning, so I won’t repeat the litany here.

Neither will I spend too much time lamenting the seemingly curious decision to use a franchise centerpiece to experiment (unsuccessfully, in my opinion) with projecting at forty-eight frames per second. Audiences may be resigned to pointless 3D in every other movie, but this is an artistic choice that dwarfs every other choice in the film, makes it nearly impossible to think about anything else on a first viewing. Maybe this is what the first audience that saw deep focus struggled with. The art design in the establishing shots looks sublime, but the second anyone moves it is like a painting moving around.

What I will say here is that given yet more set detail, Jackson appears to have yet more indecision about where and for how long to point the camera. If there is a coherent auterish vision for what this material should be and how this story should be told, it was not one that I could deduce. with so many angles, pans, and scene compositions appearing to be made to highlight some aspect of the set or show off some ability of the cinematography rather than tie scenes together with a coherent style.

Some of that stylistic pastiche must surely be the result of the decision to split The Hobbit into three films, necessitating the grafting of material from other sources. The first ten minutes of The Fellowship of the Rings is not only referenced, it is retold. Instead of the back story of the dwarves being parceled out in bits and pieces throughout the journey it is told in one prologue. A council at Rivendell comes across as an excuse to bring back actors from the trilogy rather than a meaningful part of this story.

No individual directorial or artistic decision in the nearly three hours is indefensible–okay, except maybe one involving a change in how Bilbo comes to find the Ring of Doom–but they all seem so random, so haphazard, as though each one were made in a vacuum and without consideration of any other one. Parts are camp comedy, parts CGI sword slashing, parts solemn intonations about fate and when not to kill. The closest the film has to a core is either the relationship between Bilbo and Thorin Oakenshield or the decision to present the the film as a diaspora story. The latter not only turns a children’s adventure story into a socio-political allegory but it completely fails to fathom why the book is called The Hobbit rather than, say, The Politics of Middle Earth, Volume 5: Dwarves–Allegory for Israelites or Palestinians?


  • Josh Evitt says:

    After my ‘wasted’ exhilaration over the first of the movies presented by Mr. Jackson as “The Lord of The Rings,” I have taken a more pessimistic view of his movies. I may watch “The Hobbit,” at some point, but I am reminded of my reason for writing about “Dune,” rather than “The Lord of The Rings.” I feel that while I recognized my love of Tolkien’s works enough to write poems, shorter essays, and the like about his works, I was too much fascinated by them to present anything that would be taken seriously. I think that Jackson has this same flaw without the ability to recognize and correct it. My reaction to what I have seen of the previews of “The Hobbit,” so far, is about the same as my reaction to a kindergartener’s joke. Yes, it is funny as the child laughs at it, but it gets worn thin very quickly.

  • Josh, I still have the paper; it was some great work. And I agree with you completely that having affinity for a book and having critical insight into it are two different things.

  • Stefan Landford says:

    I consider Lord of the Rings to be among the finest cinematic achievements in motion picture history. As for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the closest approximation is The Phantom Menace. I liked The Phantom Menace back in May 1999 and I still do (in defense of… ). But I now know exactly how those who disliked or hated Episode One felt on that fateful evening 12.5 years ago. I feel your pain, for now it is my pain as well..

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