On the road to nowhere: “The Hobbit”

December 21, 2012

The_Hobbit _An_Unexpected_Journey_74

So, I finally saw The Hobbit, and the delay should probably tell you a little something about my excitement level for this movie. I saw the other LOTR movies opening weekend—hell, I saw Return of the King at 12:30 AM opening day—but The Hobbit was tough to get excited about. I kept flashing back to 6th grade, when we had to read the book. I got to the first page, realized the main character was named “Bilbo,” and said, essentially, “screw this!” I don’t remember what I did instead, but I basically phoned it in for Hobbit-time in class. I had, essentially, the same reaction at various points during this film. It’s not a bad film, just an unnecessary one that reminds you of how much better the original trilogy was. It was also needlessly expanded into three parts—making it roughly as long as the original trilogy—despite being sourced from the slimmest novel of the bunch. I’ve seen transvestite Thai hookers with less padding than this movie.

The whole Lord of the Rings trilogy occupies an odd place in American cinema. The films were beloved, massively-popular, and technical marvels. They all but redefined scope and epic in the post CGI-age. And yet barely ten years after the first installment, they’ve all but faded from public consciousness. Unlike the Star Wars or Matrix movies, popular culture has remained largely unpenetrated by them. Sure, people may do a decent Gollum impression, but that’s pretty much it.  Because of this The Hobbit has a tough row to hoe. It essentially has to reestablish the series’ bona fides—only this time with a lot less material. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite manage this feat.

These are some main characters, so you'll want to prepare for that...

These are some main characters, so you’ll want to prepare for that…

Basically, in this movie, a bunch of dwarves—those are the grubby, smelly dudes played by John Rhys Davies in the other films—had this really great city with a huge stash of gold. Unfortunately, a dragon named Smog (or whatever) attacked and basically evicted them all so he could get the gold. There’s something disappointing about a dragon who’s just greedy. Anyway, Gandalf shows up at Bilbo Baggins’ house with thirteen dwarves and a plan to retake the city from Smog. This, as we find, will take about nine hours of storytelling.

Again, it’s not a bad movie—but its liabilities easily eclipse its virtues. What is it that went wrong? Let’s have a look:

* The stakes are low: The LOTR trilogy was about the rebirth of a great evil—one that calls for the very world to transform and do battle with it. In The Hobbit…well, uh, basically some dragon invaded a dwarf city and is now doing a Scrooge McDuck with their treasury, and a bunch of dwarves want to evict him. That’s…that’s not really quite as pressing.

Pictured: possibly a dragon (in Tolkien's world)

Pictured: possibly a dragon (in Tolkien’s world)

* The characters are annoying: Remember how, in the original trilogy, we were following Viggo Mortenson, who was kind of like a Middle Earth Han Solo? And he was teamed up with Sean Bean (until he got killed, because, well, he’s Sean Bean). Hell, even Orlando Bloom was a badass. Yeah, in this movie, basically, we have a bunch of dwarves. If you recall, they were the comic-relief in the originals. Only now there are thirteen of them. It’s sort of like a movie totally comprised of annoying sidekicks. On top of that we have former-Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy as a weird wizard who’s covered with bird shit and basically living in a tree like that hippie-chick from the 90s. Unfortunately, he channels all the worst elements of his performance as the Doctor. When he gets stoned and goes all cross-eyed…well, again, I had the flashback to sixth grade.

Even the wizards in this movie suck.

Even the wizards in this movie suck.

* The characters are pretty much indistinguishable: The original trilogy kept the cast light, but this one gives us 15 main characters, front-and-center. As a result, they pretty much become discernible as: Gandalf, Bilbo, the king Dwarf, the dude who was on Being Human, the dwarf that looks like an old, Jewish merchant, and the rest.

* There is too much CGI: I know, I know—the originals had plenty of CGI as well. Indeed, that was part of their great success: they taught Hollywood that we could use this new technology not to alienate viewers, but to create realistic vistas and mo-cap characters so real, they’re more human than most actors (think Keanu Reeves). Unfortunately, this time ‘round, the CGI seems oppressive and smothering. Yeah, the Elves’ capital city of, um, Riverdance (whatever) looks great, but the underground goblin lair seems overly-fussy and as one-dimensional as anything George Lucas put on screen. Hey, while we’re on the subject…

This is how George Lucas sees other people...

This is how George Lucas sees other people…

* Everyone is hungry, stupid, or both: Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. The dwarves eat like college freshmen home for winter break. When they’re captured by goblins, the goblins try to make satay out of them. When they’re captured by (more) goblins, those goblins dick around and take orders from some sort of goblin king with a giant ballsack on his face, while Bilbo confronts Gollum…who wants to eat him. There isn’t a brain cell or full stomach in the entirety of this movie. In the first three movies, the Hobbit lead-character was sensible, but also clearly in over his head amid capable and motivated warriors. He was not (I repeat not) the voice of reason in the whole affair.

* The Dwarves sing: It doesn’t make them go down any easier.

Memorize their names, there's a quiz later...

Memorize their names, there’s a quiz later…

* This movie draaaags:  So, about a half hour in—long before anything had actually happened—I fell asleep. The dwarves were still messing up Bilbo’s house and trying to convince him to go on their quest to usurp Smog. I woke up to find that Bilbo was still in his freaking house! That was when my inside voice shouted, “Jesus donkey-humping Christ, will something happen please!” That happened a lot in this movie. The scene with the mentally-retarded goblins who want to eat the dwarves takes for-freaking-ever to be resolved and it…well, does nothing for the film.

Well, that’s enough about The Hobbit. Like I said: it’s not a bad film, but it is disappointing, lightweight one. Sort of like if someone made a prequel to a great film series, and populated it with annoying, CGI characters, who…oh…aw crud.


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