Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

If ever there was a movie that was virtually critic-proof, it is "The Hobbit." 

But maybe that's not quite true - when a film is made from a property as beloved as "The Hobbit," a filmmaker is, in some ways, just asking for trouble.  And when that filmmaker is Peter Jackson, the man responsible for one of the grand achievements in the annals of recent cinema, an achievement based on a different beloved property by the same author, that's what you call doubling down on the risk.  And when that filmmaker decides that he's going to turn the new work into a trilogy, roughly eight hours of film for a book that's roughly two hundred pages long, that's called going all in.

From an artistic standpoint, I think Jackson's decision to make a trilogy was a strategic error - compared to "Lord of the Rings," "The Hobbit is a relatively light work, one that lacks the grand and epic scale of the three books that would follow.  Even accounting for the "backstory material" contained in the appendices of LOTR, it was hard to imagine how the new work wouldn't feel bloated and overwrought.

Overall, I'm of two minds about the whole enterprise - In turning a 200-page novel into three movies, I think Jackson is on a massive ego trip that's much more about "Jackson" than it is about "Tolkien."  On the other hand, I enjoyed the movie a great detail, and it never flagged at any point during the entirety of its nearly three-hour running time.  At this point in his career, there's no question that Peter Jackson knows how to make an epic movie featuring characters written by J.R.R. Tolkien - and he does that here, getting the story off to a rollicking start.  But it's also true that for all the spectacle, the most arresting 20 minutes of the film is a scene that is very quiet, as Bilbo and Gollum play their little game of riddles.

In the end I don't see this trilogy being as artistically successful, or as celebrated, as its predecessor.  But Jackson still has two chances to prove me wrong.

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