What do you mean “two more movies?”

14 12 2012

By Kleinz 57

Hobbit Bilbo Baggins fireplace Gandalf

We come to it at last. The great three-part children’s fantasy novel adaptation of our time.

If you were one of the two people left in America who had no idea The Hobbit and all of its unexpected journeys bore any relation to that Lord of the Rings shit, a strung-out Elijiah Wood and red, swollen Ian Holm are here to set you straight on this. And let’s just say Peter Jackson’s use of familiar faces in his retcon is where the problems begin on this long, long, seriously-why-is-this-three-hours road.

Know that this road has many pitstops — pitstops of exposition. Much in the same way Fellowship sets its grandiose stage, another voiceover gives the backstory behind the dwarves of Erebor, their ancient kingdom of riches, and the dragon that royally fucked their shit up. The problem is An Unexpected Journey wants to believe a tidy little treasure story is as important as the complete enslavement of Middle-earth, and it’s damn persistent in that by furiously drawing connections across stories. Characters will rephrase exact line readings they had in the previous trilogy; Howard Shore self-plagiarizes his old scores like a madman; and random figures pop in for little reason. Saruman! Galadriel! Radagast…? That familiar but different twinge of regret feels the exact same here as it will when Michael Scott inevitably pops his head in Scranton one last time. It’s just sad, and the endless stream of references and cameos don’t even account for the shoddy character work.

Believe it or not, this four-way gangbang of screenwriters on Tolkien’s source material did little more than show PJ, Phillippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh were just fine until Guillermo came and mucked everything up. Characterization is swapped for one-note schtick where each dwarf, if he’s lucky, has a single defining trait. Of course Bombur is a chubby incompetent doodle bug, but HOW is he a chubby incompetent doodle bug? We learn so little about these dwarves as people. Er, dwarves, I guess. Everyone just seems to be going through the motions here, Ian McKellan especially. His makeup never quite looks right and his return to ‘Ole Mithrandir has a faint tinge of obligation to it.

Perhaps if this version of Middle-earth felt more realized, that level of dedication in the production would’ve spread to the cast, like some kind of magical, inspirational ear virus of love. Jackson has made it clear he doesn’t need miniature models and practical effects this time around to deliver, and on face value, the product is there. Cameras dash through digital sets at breakneck speeds, as if intentionally shying the lens away from the glare of CGI gloss and polish. A once beautiful marriage between practical and computer effects work has quietly fizzled out with a prenup, and WETA Digital’s taken everything except the goddamn kids.

An Unexpected Journey’s one saving grace might be its fantastic realization of the famed “Riddles in the Dark” chapter. Bilbo’s brush with Gollum is faithfully adapted, and Andy Serkis is just as genius as ever in portraying his frail doppelganger. From the cave’s deadened color pallette to some hilarious line readings, the scene is a perfect blend of lighting, writing, acting, and joint-FX work that truly enlivens its time-honored source material. It’s a lot like entire The Lord of the Rings trilogy in that way.

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