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Mordor? More Like Bored-or!

Peter Jackson’s bloated Hobbit sucks the magic from Middle Earth




THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. My paperback copy of The Hobbit, circa 1989, runs to 304 pages all told. This movie (part one of three!) clocks in at an astonishing, almost unbelievably protracted 169 minutes. Right: just shy of three hours, and we don't even get to the dragon or the giant spiders.

To the Peter Jackson faithful, this criticism will likely be dismissed as pedantic and impatient, and I get that. For them, the more time basking in the computer-generated splendor of Middle Earth the better. But Jackson's vision of Tolkien's world didn't draw me in the first time around, and now, with the novelty of that vision gone like Bilbo's second breakfast, there is only the story to sustain me.

To Tolkien's credit, The Hobbit remains concise yet richly detailed, heartfelt, suspenseful and yes, a little bit magical. By blowing out the proportions of his novel as they have, Jackson and Co. have somehow reduced the saga to far less than the sum of its parts.

For the handful who don't know, The Hobbit is a sort-of prequel to The Lord of the Rings saga. Decades before the events of that story, a young Bilbo Baggins (played here by an excellent Martin Freeman) is persuaded by gray wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to help a bunch of dwarves steal back their gold (and their ancestral lair) from a dragon. The adventure is -- no spoiler -- fraught with peril and orcs and many, many beards. Along the way, Bilbo discovers his inner hero but also confronts the darker aspects of hobbit nature when he stumbles upon and steals The One Ring.

It's been decades since I read the novel, but I still have sense memories of the delicious detail and rousing action. I can only assume that Jackson had a different reaction to the book, as he seems to have found more impact in the vastness of Tolkien's imagined world than in the authenticity and nuance of his characters, or the taut thread of plot tying everything together. In Jackson's version, the action moves lazily from long, dull dialog sequences to frenetic, gigantic, almost indigestible battles and back again. Much walking takes place. The villains, though terrifically ugly and thus obviously very bad, fail to make much of an impression.

The baker's dozen of dwarves, whose story is really being told here, are nearly indistinguishable from one another. Aside from slight variations in their beard hair and appetites, they could be interchanged, scene to scene, with no one the wiser.

As I mentioned above, Freeman makes as much as he can of Bilbo with an affably frustrating blend of hesitation and hard-headedness. McKellen does what you'd expect, which is generally pleasant and satisfying. But regardless of charm or talent, neither actor could ease the oppressive itch of boredom that set in at around hour two, maybe before.

As in the LOTR movies, Jackson has created a vast, pretty and complex world. But he seems too pleased with his own creation, and misguidedly content to let the characters just wander around in it. The story can't sustain the scale he envisions for it. The characters, the vital subtleties, the tension and emotion dissipate against the backdrop and all but disappear. PG13. 169m.

--John J. Bennett


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-- Ryan Burns

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