One of the major perks of living in the jungle (which I do) is that poorly thought-out technology doesn’t reach you until everyone's already having buyer's remorse, so I didn’t watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 48 FPS, which seems to be a major point of contention against the flick amongst early reviewers. As a result, the visual aspects of the film didn’t give me any grief. Sure, the CG is starkly uneven, and it all sometimes looks like a video game cut scene in Christmas-special soft blur, but this is the standard for blockbusters these days so I’ll let it slide.
I do have a major beef, however, with the fact that someone appears to have uncapped director Peter Jackson’s head and poured a heaping dose of Dramamine right into his brain before he started filming it. The movie feels like a three-hour-long chemical stupor that they could very well use to allay some of the patients in the psych ward of a hospital. It’s not that it drags, mind you, it’s that it conveys as much emotion as eating two cream crackers on your way home from work to tide you over for dinner. The film has been bludgeoned with the bland stick.
On top of all that, this film is in dire need of some ADHD pills — there is absolutely zero focus. For a movie called The Hobbit, there’s very little of the Hobbit to be seen. As much as Martin Freeman does a pretty impressive job of bringing Bilbo Baggins to life, the character is an incidental addition to the plot, at best. The little guy is more of a cameraman shadowing Bear Grylls than an adventurer per se. Like The Phantom Menace before it, this film makes the mistake of having no clear protagonist, and that’s a pretty glaring movie making 101 faux-pas right there. Is it Bilbo? No, as I said he's more an observer than anything else. Is it Gandalf (Ian McKellen)? No, he's just a mysterious presence whose function is to offer guidance to the other characters. Is it Thorin (Richard Armitage)? Well, almost, but he also gets too little screen time to be called a protagonist.
The main characters, however — or “main-ish” characters, for that matter — are all well-rounded, in a way that this lack of footing doesn’t really become a deal-breaker. It’s just boring and befuddling.
Some scenes seem to come out of nowhere just to be sucked back into the purposeless vacuum they came from. There’s a bit where we’re introduced to a sort of naturalist nut-case hobo that for some reason is considered a wizard and I was legitimately confused not only as to what the purpose of that scene was, but also as to how it connected to the scenes that came before it. Was it a flashback? A dream-sequence? Was it actually happening? It was like someone changed the channel abruptly on me. It was only about 10 to 15 minutes later that I was able to fit that scene into a coherent context. It’s been quite a long time since that’s happened to me, so either I’m becoming more and more of an idiot, or this movie just doesn't know how to tell a story.
All of these flaws can be traced right to the film’s most obvious handicap: it is a part of a trilogy. They're going to have to pad the crap out of the plot if they want to stretch this into three movies. Unlike The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit is a relatively short and uneventful book. Not much in the way of epic-ness happens throughout the tale. It’s more of a road-movie than a fantasy opera: A bunch of little guys start walking and when they finish walking there’s a dead dragon and some gold. Short and sweet. So to turn that into a trilogy, the makers had to crowbar in a lot of nonsense that wasn’t meant to be in the original story and doesn't really jive with the rest.
Not even those extraneous moments were enough to stretch the film to trilogy-size. A lot of stuff that does happen in the book is tortuously depicted in every little detail, to milk as much of the source as possible. When I was watching the riddle scene with Bilbo and Gollum I started looking around me to see if anyone was uncomfortable as I was. Was that really happening? Were they really doing the whole shebang just like in the book? I swear to God, it was as if the director of Casino Royale decided to throw in the entire game of poker between Bond and LeChiffre in the finished cut, rather than just a few key parts. I get it, yo: You do a riddle, he does another. Whoever gets it wrong loses. You don’t need to repeat the same routine six times. Especially because the conflict never escalates. The odds are always the same for every riddle. It’s not like they double-down on their bets at any point.
In the end, The Hobbit would probably be a pretty awesome film if it shaved about one-hour off the top and told the whole story in one go. There are some epic scenes in there, but they are all buried in the cinematic equivalent of triple-spacing your homework to make it seem bigger. The whole thing ends up feeling like you are eating a dozen appetizers before ever getting to the main course. When the main course finally arrives, you already lost interest.