Fans of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, pay no attention to that star rating in the box to the right. You are likely to love “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
That is to say, you are in for a heaping helping of more of the same.
Director Peter Jackson, a master of visual spectacle both digitally created and filmed live in New Zealand, unspools 2 hours and 49 minutes of a stalwart band on a quest to recapture a mountain full of gold from a fire-breathing dragon. (Really, is there any other kind?)
On the way they meet many challenges, including nasty trolls, orcs and goblins, combative mountain giants made of rock, a corrupt hobbit named Gollum and a creature called a necromancer who can summon the spirits of the dead.
Mythical swords, gigantic birds, a map with a secret code, some friendly elves, that mysterious and powerful ring of “Lord of the Rings” fame and more will come to the aid of our intrepid band, which consists of Bilbo Baggins (the hobbit), Gandalf the wizard and 13 dwarves led by Thorin.
You will also get flashbacks of long-ago battles pitting the dragon against the dwarves, the dwarves against orcs and I’m sure I’m forgetting some other epic, violent battle. There are so many, complete with graphic creature gore.
And each took place in a new fantastical setting, which was what I found most entertaining and wondrous about this movie. The scenery and digital effects are killer.
The storytelling was less satisfying than the visuals, no doubt in part because the slim volume of “The Hobbit” has been divided into three movies. If the next two are as long as this one, that’s more than eight hours of film.
This being the first, it is a journey that does not reach its destination. Indeed, it is barely glimpsed in the last moments of the movie from afar, though you get to see more of it in flashbacks.
The characters Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) all live to appear in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which is something of a suspense killer. Whatever tight spots they get into, you already know they’re going to find a way out.
The laws of physics and medicine (assuming they’re the same in Middle-earth) are repeatedly violated, and random acts of magic are called upon, to keep the brave band moving toward that mountain and in search of an invisible door. We get to see the key to the door in this movie. Maybe the door itself is in the next one.
Jackson takes his sweet time setting up the movie, establishing an aged Bilbo (Ian Holm) as narrator of the tale 60 years later. An extended scene in which the dwarves arrive unannounced at Bilbo’s door and eat him out of house and home also goes on too long.
Sword fights and nasty creatures are all well and good. Still, this can feel tedious — and long — if you’re not into the books or fantasy. There’s precious little point to the story’s first third, other than Bilbo learns life should be lived out in the world, not in his comfortable home. He also discovers it feels good to help someone without a home try to get it back.
That would be the dwarves, who lost the mountain to the dragon.
I’m left with nagging questions. Why would timid Bilbo go along on this dangerous venture? Why doesn’t Gandalf use his magic more often, and save his pals some trouble? What the heck is the significance of that glowing Arkenstone the dwarf king loses? How far can a hobbit or dwarf fall, land on rock and still survive?
I guess we have two more movies to figure it out.
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