Hobbit, The: Jackson’s New Franchise, Based on Tolkien’s Book

After years of preparation, and change of directors along the way, Peter Jackson’s eagerly-awaited “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” finally arrives and the results are decidedly mixed.

The first chapter of a planned trilogy, based on the enduring masterpiece “The Hobbit,” by J.R.R. Tolkien, lacks the magic, epic sweep and compelling narrative that defined Jackson’s Oscar-winning trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings,” released in 2001, 2002, and culminating in the Oscar-winning “The Return of the King.”

On September 21, 1937, Tolkien published the children’s book “The Hobbit, or There and Back Again,” which has sold more than 100 million copies and has been translated into some 50 languages. In 75 years, it has never been out of print.

Though the book has inspired adaptations in various media, from stage productions to comic books to video games, “The Hobbit” has never been fully realized on the big screen.

On its own terms, Jackson’s ambitious “The Hobbit” is a decent but ultimately unexciting film, one that suffers from excessive running time, uneven pacing, and most important of all, a tale that’s too episodic and fractured, lacking the narrative pull and emotional investment that each of the three segments of “The Lord of the Rings”(especially the first and last one) had.

It would have been interesting to see what a different director, like Guillermo del Toro, who had worked on “The Hobbit for over one year, would have done with it. In this picture, del Toro is credited as co-writer, along the trio of writers responsible for “Lord of the Rings”: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Jackson himself.

Shot in 3D 48 frames-per-second, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is being released in High Frame Rate 3D (HFR 3D) in select theaters, other 2D and 3D formats, and IMAX.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is the first of three films about Middle-earth, set 60 years before “The Lord of the Rings.” The adventure follows the journey of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), swept into a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome Dragon Smaug. Approached by the Wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Bilbo joins a company of thirteen dwarfs led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield
(Richard Armitage)

Their journey takes them into the Wild through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins, Orcs and deadly Wargs, and a mysterious sinister figure, known as the Necromancer. Their goal is to reach the East and the Lonely Mountain, but first they must escape the Goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets a creature that will change his life forever, Gollum.

Alone with Gollum, at an underground lake, Bilbo Baggins discovers ingenuity and courage he himself did not know he possessed. Equally important is his possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that, we now know, holds unexpected qualities. It’s a simple gold ring, tied in many complex ways to the very fate of Middle-earth.

What offers much needed continuity between “Lord of the Ring” and “The Hobbit” is half a dozen actors who reprise their roles”: Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf the Grey, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Ian Holm as Old Bilbo, Christopher Lee as Saruman; Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Elijah Wood as Frodo, and above all, Andy Serkis as Gollum.

As a book, “The Hobbit” evidences more pronounced humor than “The Lord of the Rings,” and some of the characters are more vivid. But in Jackson’s version there is not much humor, and while the figures are colorful, all right, they call too much attention to themselves, often at the expense of our involvement in the narrative which, despite plenty of actionful events, lacks the momentum that any of the segments of “Lord of the Ring” had.