Monday, January 7, 2013

Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The cast waited patiently while Martin checked his contract for an escape clause.
Now I know why Peter Jackson wanted Guillermo del Toro to direct The Hobbit: Peter was bored senseless at the idea of going back to Middle-earth and couldn't wait to pass the director's chair to someone else. The most shocking thing about The Hobbit is how flat and pedestrian it is. The whole film just; as though Jackson was trying to rush things along to get the damn epic over with.

The lengthy opening section at Bilbo Baggins' house in which the dwarves are introduced and their plan revealed is a warning of the bad filmmaking to come. The dialogue, as written, is often wooden, and the dashes of humor used to leaven the exposition feel like material from a 1960s Disney comedy. Even the acting is off-base, with Martin Freeman coming across as more contemporary English middle-class than a hobbit of Middle-earth, and Richard Armitage as Thorin emoting and frowning in a way not seen since the biblical epics of the '50s. Neither actor is helped by dialogue that ranges from flat to portentous, and I get the feeling that Jackson was always happy with the first take: several scenes feel more like rehearsals than proper performances. Even the camerawork is poor, with every non-CGI shot framed as though it was being done for the local news.

Once the action leaves the Shire things get worse. Jackson throws one action sequence after another at us and they're all terrifically bad. The main problem is overkill. When Bilbo and the dwarves are going through a mountain pass they almost end up being crushed by fighting giants. In the book this scene is a brief one, and the giants are simply a hazard the trekkers are anxious to get away from. In Jackson's hands it turns into a farcical, overblown brawl between giants the size of Godzilla. This is not what Tolkien had in mind. But this scene is only a warmup for the sheer idiocy of what's to follow. The group enters a cave for shelter and from that point on, apart from the riddle sequence between Bilbo and Gollum, Jackson appears to have taken complete leave of his senses. The action is non-stop and it all seems to have been designed and choreographed by CGI nerds whose imaginations have been formed exclusively by theme park rides and Mario Brothers video games. Yes, it's that bad. It's The Phantom Menace bad. The rule of thumb for the SFX people seems to have been that if the script describes something as "big" make it huge, and if something is called "enormous" make it so gargantuan it has its own gravitational field.

 It's not like we shouldn't have seen this coming. Jackson's King Kong was equally fatuous and overblown, but, unfortunately, at this stage of his career there's no one who's going to tell him that he's going wildly off the mark. There clearly isn't enough material to spin this story out over three films so that means we're undoubtedly looking forward to two more equally dire films.

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