Thursday, December 20, 2012

Jimbo Goes to the Movies: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” Review

The long-awaited prequel to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is here and…well, it isn’t as good as the first three movies, but it’s still kinda’ all right, I guess. 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Director: Peter Jackson
Runtime: 169 minutes
Rating: PG-13 

Well, I caught “The Hobbit” last weekend, and while I didn’t really dislike it, I can’t say that I was a huge fan of the flick, either.

The funny thing is, I actually read “The Hobbit” over the summer - a really old copy, too, with an airbrushed cover featuring a Gollum that somewhat resembled a Martian vampire stalking Bilbo Baggins (as played by a chubby Martin Short, of course.) And while I’m no expert on Tolkien lore, I’m pretty sure that a good 80 percent of the shit that went down in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation WASN’T in the book that I read back in July.

Let’s start off with the obvious thing here, which is the length. By and large, “The Hobbit” is a pretty short read, and you could probably adequately cover the entire thing in a flick that’s a little under two and a half hours. Well, “An Unexpected Journey” clocks in at a little under three hours, and what do you know? Inexplicably, Jackson and company have decided to turn Tolkien’s 200 page prequel into a full blown trilogy, meaning that you could probably read the entire book TWICE in the same amount of time it takes to watch the first two movies.

Now, I’m not saying the movie is necessarily formulaic, but there’s really nothing here that you didn’t see in the first three movies. While “The Hobbit” as a literary foray was a little more subdued than Tolkien’s “Totally-Not-At-All-A-Parable-For-World-War-II-Not-Even-Remotely” series, Jackson and crew decided to stick with what made ‘em rich and Oscar-y the first time around, so if you’re expecting a blithe, lyrical romp, you’ll probably think otherwise around the third all-out ogre war sequence.

For the most part, the film kinda’ stays close to the source material, in the fact that, yes, most of the characters are here, alongside tons of “Lord of the Rings” mainstays that just HAD to get a cameo in this one (despite not appearing at all in Tolkien’s “Hobbit.”)

If you want action, than yeah, you’re going to get you some action, all right. Decapitated heads fly through the air, ogres get stabbed a bajillion times like bosses out of “Ninja Gaiden,” and at one point, a gargantuan frog-jowled king (which didn’t remind me of ANYTHING out of “Super Mario Bros. 2") has his stomach heroically slit open by one of the eight zillion protagonists, whom all share proclivities for eating cheese, drinking excessively, smoking what is probably weed and killing the hell out of a lot of demon monsters that, if I didn’t know any better, probably represented J.R.R. Tolkien’s subconscious fear of black people.

Thematically, it’s been-there-done-that territory, but the acting is pretty decent (despite some fairly hammy lines, including, if you can believe it, a testicle joke anchored around the game of croquet) and the special effects are downright spectacular. And because I’m not allowed to enjoy anything at face value, I like the fact that the movie is really secretly anti-Semitic, with the dwarves serving as stand-ins for Jews.

So, things I liked about the movie: I don’t know where in the hell it comes from (it certainly wasn’t in MY copy of “The Hobbit), but the part where the giant rock monsters throw rocks at each other? Well, that was pretty cool. I also liked the fact that they went all “Jaws” on us and never really show us what Smaug (the gold-loving dragon antagonist of the book and soon-to-be-trilogy) looks like. And also, it gives un unexpectedly heavy handed environmental subtext, with everybody in the movie running around talking about how “Smaug” is such a threat to modern society. And of course, there’s Gollum, who steals the movie, as expected. And along that same vein, has anybody else noticed just how much Gollum looks like an anthropomorphic version of Ren Hoek from “The Ren & Stimpy Show?”

Admittedly, I’ve never really been a big fan of the whole fantasy/sorcery genre (well, outside of playing “Golden Axe 3” on the Sega Genesis, anyway), but the movie - for all of its excesses - remains pretty fun and enjoyable, and even though it drags on for a couple of weeks, it never gets too dull at any one spot in the picture.

Is “The Hobbit” sure-fire Oscar-bait this time around? Absolutely not. Is it worthy of a “Best of 2012” list? Once again, I would say no. But, if you’re looking for a decent way to kill off half an evening, and you don’t mind having to stare at Ian McKellen’s alligator purse face for upwards of 40 minutes at a time, you probably won’t hate it.

And hey, did I mention that the entire Tolkien mythos may or may not be unintentionally racist?


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