About a half hour into “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) runs away from his peaceful shire, yelling at the top of his lungs, “I am going on an adventure!”
“The Hobbit,” however, is not an adventure. In fact, I’m actually quite uncertain if this scene happened 30 minutes or 30 days into the film. Because yes, it moves that slowly.
“The Hobbit” is a sluggish trek, a grueling viewing experience, and an exhausting ordeal that goes on and on and on with very little plotline.
It makes sense this comes from director Peter Jackson, who once again helms the rights to Middle Earth and travels back to the familiar territory seen in his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I didn’t necessarily dislike the “Lord of the Rings” films, but I’m no fan of them, either. Still, Jackson’s previous movies were not the simultaneously overstuffed and empty combination that makes “The Hobbit” feel like it is being delivered straight from obligatory franchise hell.
Jackson’s last film, “The Lovely Bones, was nearly as bad, however, as he butchered the wonderful source material provided in the book by Alice Sebold. The movie implied that when you’re a young girl raped and murdered at age 14, the rest of your days will be spent in an over-stylized CGI playground version of heaven.
“The Hobbit” equally sacrifices the basis of its story in order to show off new toys Jackson has tucked away in his mammoth-sized, misdirected ambition. One of these toys is the decision to shoot “The Hobbit” in 48 frames-per-second and to display this version on approximately 200 screens in the country.
Thank goodness this isn’t happening everywhere, because the experiment failed. If ever I see another movie projected this way, it still will be too soon.
The unnatural ugliness of 48fps resulted in the biggest headache I’ve had in theaters this year. Yes, it makes images crisper and clearer, but only when both the camera and the images are static. This means that still-shots of landscapes look lovely; everything else made me want to scoop my eyes out with a melon baller.
Whenever the camera or characters move, the result is a hideous blend of abnormal fluid motion and sped-up visuals. Much of the film looks like an overly adjusted, cranked-to-the-max HDTV on display at department stores showcasing the latest video game.
Every action scene feels like it is missing the “Benny Hill” theme playing over the soundtrack. I could never get used to this technique. And it frightens me to think it could become the future of filmmaking aesthetics. About an hour in, two theater-goers tore off their 3D glasses and stormed out of the theater. I wanted to join them. A colleague actually did leave mid-movie -- presumably to vomit.
Since this technique is being shown in “select theaters,” the majority of audiences will be spared at least the 48fps agony. And yet, “The Hobbit” isn’t worth seeing anywhere. The fact that it runs just short of three hours makes matters much, much worse.
“An Unexpected Journey” is only the first film in yet another planned trilogy. And the book is only 320 pages, so Jackson fills the story with unnecessary subplots, along with constant winks and nudges at past films, though this is intended to be a prequel.
The wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) returns in a role where his powers are selective. In one scene, he, Bilbo, and a gathering of dwarves run for their lives from a small army of Orcs (you know, those ugly things). Yet in another scene, Gandalf rescues the entire crew from goblins simply by slamming his staff into the ground.
The source of his amazing powers seems to be that of screenwriting convenience.
The only plus I would grant the movie is seeing the origin tale of Bilbo and the schizophrenic creature Gollum brought to life. This at least gives the movie its few moments of interesting vitality -- two hours in. Yawn. After that, the film ends essentially where the action of any other movie would begin to pick up momentum. And at this, Bilbo looks to the distance and delivers the ironically appropriate final line, “I believe the worst is behind us.”
God, I hope so.