The Hobbit: An Unexpected Movie Rant (Movie Review)

Did the world really need this?  Is the world even ready for this?  Wasn’t 10+ hours of theatrical cuts enough to sit through back in the day and again on Blu-ray?  Are we ready for three more consecutive years of a tale that’s mainly self-contained in one book and a few appendices?  Of course we are!  We’re talking J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings after all.  It’s like Star Wars and crack mixed together for fantasy nerds and geeks alike, including myself (not that I have ever partaken in the use of the said recreational drug).  So prepare to usher in three butt numbing sessions in 2012, 2013 and 2014…there’s a new adventure hitting the silver screen…an unexpected journey…in an unexpected frame rate.  Of course I’m talking about Peter Jackson’s new, three-part, life consuming project, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  Surely you heard of it.

There were some that never believed this day would ever come.  There are others that were perfectly fine with their childhood memories of the cartoon (and its South Park spoof – thanks Jeremy).  But the majority of us all said SURE…MORE Lord of the Rings…BRING IT ON.  And that’s exactly what the movie studios did with their last minute decision to make the children’s book, The Hobbit, span across three features.  I mean you have Harry Potter and Twilight films that capitalized off the success of two-parters – so why not top it with three?  Who can blame the studio?  Money talks.  And let’s face it…Lord of the Rings sells.

But perhaps the most controversial thing about Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit was not Del Toro’s departure, the decision to break it up into three separate films or even the alleged animal abuse, BUT the choice to shoot it in a higher frame rate, that cursed 48 FPS terminology you’ve all been beaten to death about as of late.  And I hate to break it to you folks, but it looks horrible.  It looks fake.  Everything you have read about it is TRUE.  It took me out of the element so many times.  Movies are about the suspension of disbelief.  But when you throw a stone at me, I expect it to look like a stone, not a sponge ball.  I expect the movie sets to look real, not look like “actual” movie sets.  If this is the future of movies, then I want radio serials brought back.  There’s a reason why 24 has been the magic number, Mr. Jackson, for more than 90 years.  People like it.  I don’t hear many people raving about 48 nowadays, do you?  Sure I can accept your argument that it makes for more detail in quick motion, but at what cost?  Isn’t a little motion blur a necessary evil to keep people from nitpicking every fake strand of your set or actor’s wig?  However, I will say this…bravo on the exceptional and correct use of 3D here.  It looked like a million bucks in that category…well a lot more than that!

So as the story goes, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first in the three-part film adaptation of the 1937 novel The Hobbit by Tolkien.  The 2013 and 2014 sequels are titled The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again.  And in our tale, set some sixty-years before the adventures in The Lord of the Rings, the peaceful, home-loving hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is visited by the wise wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and asked to sign a contract to become a burglar in the company of thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), to reclaim their home from you guessed it…Smaug the Dragon.  The journey takes Bilbo away from the safety of the Shire and ultimately proves that hero’s can come in the tiniest of packages.  So therefore, size doesn’t matter.  Or does it?

It’s also on this journey that Bilbo runs into the one creature who will forever change his and Frodo’s life with a single piece of simple gold jewelry.  If you guessed that creature played by Andy Serkis, then ding…ding…ding…you are right!  Gollum steals the show here.  Of course there’s also your numerous everyday run ins with the those hordes of countless Orcs and other creatures that go bump in the night too.

An Unexpected Journey also reunites us with cast favorites reprising their Lord of the Rings’ roles such as Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett.  While the legendary Mr. Lee is looking a bit rough around the edges, understandably so, I’m certainly happy to see him back and not some recasted actor.  Kudos to New Line and MGM for managing to bring all the big names back.  That gets big points in my book, for what it’s worth.

So all in all, besides explicatively long narratives, The Hobbit unfortunately feels like three hours of nothing but running away from Orcs.  I could think of worse ways to spend time, but these Orcs aren’t as cool and menacing as the ones in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, they’re mostly computer generated.  I guess my only problem I have with the CGI Orcs is their leader, Azog.  He looks like they took the lead character from the God of War series and basically “Orcified” him.  He just looked bad, in my opinion.  It’s almost like not enough time was spent on him or something.  Sadly, that broke my suspension of disbelief, err…I mean what was left of it after that ungodly frame rate.  However, not everything is mundane in this new universe.  And yes…I’m talking about him again.  Gollum!  He was the character who really captured my attention and managed to ground me in the film.  His performance and interaction with Bilbo saved the movie, in my opinion, and broke up the monotony of running away from Orcs.  I don’t know the rest of The Hobbit tale, but I sure hope that’s not the last we see of him in the next two installments.  Please God.  Please!

I know this goes against critic code, but I found a quote that pretty much sums up how I feel about this film.  Robbie Collin of The Telegraph gave the film a 2 out of 5-star review.  He said “Thank heavens for Andy Serkis, whose riddling return as Gollum steals the entire film. It is the only time the digital effects and smoother visuals underline, rather than undermine, the mythical drama of Bilbo’s adventure.  As a lover of cinema, Jackson’s film bored me rigid; as a lover of Tolkien, it broke my heart.”  He went on to say that “so stuffed with extraneous faff and flummery that it often barely feels like Tolkien at all – more a dire, fan-written internet tribute.”  Sadly, I can’t disagree with Robbie.  I wanted to LOVE The Hobbit as much as I do the original trilogy, but my worst fears were proven.  This film felt as stretched thin as could be as could be with unnecessarily long narratives, dialogue and ridiculous scenes that I thought were swept under the rug with the fourth Pirates.  Sure there are moments of emotion and the protagonist’s recognition that he can be a hero despite his small size and having never swung a sword before, but those moments get lost most of the time behind the paper thin plot.  Why now do the dwarves need to reclaim their home?  What was their sense of urgency?  Smaug is asleep.  Why wake him?  Yet…it sure felt good to be back in Middle Earth again.  I’m split, and since we are talking about the beloved Lord of the Rings franchise here, my score will err on the higher side of the scale.  I hope to revisit Middle Earth early next year again on the Blu-ray format, but in a more normal frame rate.  Maybe I’ll enjoy it more.  That’s usually the case.  And no worries, for those of you who want to hear even more useless dialogue and see more sweeping pans of mountains, Warner Bros. has already confirmed that they would release an extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on Blu-ray and DVD in the fourth quarter of 2013.  Jackson stated an extended edition of the film had already been cut and is approximately 20 minutes longer than the theatrical cut of the film.  Yippee!  Sadly…The Hobbit won’t be on my Top 10 list this year, but check it out for yourself at a theater near you everywhere tomorrow.


Thanks to my fabulous Cleveland marketing team for the following fun Hobbit numbers.  Enjoy!

1          Hobbit

1          Gollum

1          Dragon

1          crew member whose sole job on set was to look after prosthetic hands

2          filming units

2.6       average days shooting on a given set

3          Wizards

3          Trolls

4          tons of silicon used to generate the facial prosthetics

5          complete hair, make-up, prosthetics and wardrobe for each of the 13 Dwarves

5          average number of doubles used for each main character, including scale, stunt and riding doubles.

7 km    length of toupe tape, which attaches beards to faces, used on the production

10kg    human hair for wigmaking

10.4     average days it took to renew a studio with a new set

13        Dwarves

14        tons of silicone used to mold all of the armor and weapons for all cultures

60        2nd unit studio crew

65        number of people it took—actors, doubles and stunt men—to portray 13 Dwarves

91        wigs created for the Dwarves

99        studio sets built

100+   Hobbit feet for Bilbo

100      total 2nd unit location crew

266      shooting days

300      bottles of spirit gum used in the production

350      off-set crew

450      main unit studio crew

547      traveling weapons for the 13 dwarves

700      main unit crew on location

800      crew traveled on location between 2 units

860      bottles of isopropyl alcohol (to remove prosthetics)

600-700 wigs.  Nearly everyone in the film is wigged

2100    approximate number of VFX shots in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

8900    number of continuous hours the art department to build, decorate, and tear down sets.  This involved different crews working 24/7.

11,862  prosthetics made


Owner/Writer/Reviewer/Editor, Dreamer, Producer, Agent of Love, Film Lover, Writer of Screenplays and a Devoted Apostle to all things Ford Mustangs (the real ones with V8's!). Some of my favorite films include FIGHT CLUB, MOULIN ROUGE, THE DARK KNIGHT, STAR WARS alongside television shows such as SEINFELD, 24, SANFORD & SON and even the often loathed in the geek community BIG BANG THEORY. Outside of my three lives I live I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend and our three girls (of the furry kind).

2 Responses to “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Movie Rant (Movie Review)”

  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Yes, the whole Gollum sequence really was the best part.

  2. Gregg

    Agreed. The movie was boring and the CGI was deplorable in most cases.