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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Chore

Stretching out a simple children's story into three epics?

by
John Boot

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December 14, 2012 - 7:00 am
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How do you top the Lord of the Rings trilogy? The answer seems to be: with quantity. The medium-length novel The Hobbit is now apparently going to inspire more hours of big-screen film than any comparably-sized book ever.

Originally scheduled as one film, then two, and now three, J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 juvenile fantasy book, which begins 60 years before The Fellowship of the Ring, finally comes to the screen after decades of legal disputes, in a bloated two hour and fifty minute production that left me thinking: So what?

It’s not that the movie is bad, exactly. It has as many magical creatures and thrilling battle scenes as you could want. Its special effects are seamless and amazing. It’s just that its structure takes on a numbing, repetitive feel. After nearly an hour of preliminaries, the title little guy Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman; Gandalf the Grey, played by Ian McKellan; and their associated band of 13 dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield, played by Richard Armitage, head off to fight for the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor, which has been terrorized by a dragon called Smaug.

So it’s march, battle, discuss the next stage, repeat. For nearly three hours, at the conclusion of which our band of friends spies their destination in the distance, which they figure to reach only after another five and a half hours of such slogging.

Bilbo, the uncle of Frodo (Elijah Wood), is the character through whom we first encounter the One Ring to Rule Them All, in a scene where he meets Gollum (Andy Serkis) that is among the creepiest and most compelling in the film. Bilbo is a mild-mannered little hobbit who had no interest in adventure when a sudden visit from the wizard Gandalf was quickly followed by the unwelcome intrusion of the 13 rambunctious dwarves sworn to repel the dragon from their homeland. Bilbo, tapped by Gandalf to be the “burglar” of this adventure, is at first not interested, but being dismissed as unadventurous seems to bring out the daredevil in him. Bilbo grows as the film goes on, outwitting Gollum for “the precious” and gradually turning into an unexpected, if quiet and mild-mannered, action hero.

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