Review: 'The Hobbit' suffers from story bloat
This publicity file photo released by Warner Bros., shows the character Gollum, voiced by Andy Serkis, in a scene from the fantasy adventure "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." (AP Photo/Warner Bros., File)
Judging part one of Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" prelude "The Hobbit" is a bit like reviewing a film after seeing only the first act.
Yet here goes: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is stuffed with Hollywood's latest technology — 3-D, high-speed projection and Dolby's Atmos surround sound system. The result is some eye candy that truly dazzles and some that utterly distracts, at least in its test-run of 48 frames a second, double the projection rate that has been standard since silent-film days.
It's also overstuffed with, well, stuff. Prologues and sidestepping backstory. Long, boring councils among dwarves, wizards and elves. A shallow blood feud extrapolated from sketchy appendices to J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" to give the film a bad guy.
Remember the interminable false endings of "The Return of the King," the Academy Award-winning finale of Jackson's "Lord of the Rings"? "An Unexpected Journey" has a similar bloat throughout its nearly three hours, in which Tolkien's brisk story of intrepid little hobbit Bilbo Baggins is drawn out and diluted by dispensable trimmings better left for DVD extras.
Two more parts are coming, so we won't know how the whole story comes together until the finale arrives in summer 2014. Part one's embellishments may pay off nicely, but right now, "An Unexpected Journey" looks like the start of an unnecessary trilogy better told in one film.
Split into three books, "The Lord of the Rings" was a natural film trilogy, running nearly half a million words, five times as long as "The Hobbit."
Jackson and his wife, Fran Walsh, along with screenwriting partners Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro — who once was attached to direct "The Hobbit," with Jackson producing — have meticulously mined Tolkien references to events that never played out in any of the books (stuff the filmmakers call the "in-between bits").
This publicity film image released by Warner Bros., shows, from left: Dean O'Gorman as Fili; Aidan Turner as Kili; Mark Hadlow as Dori; Jed Brophy as Nori; and William Kircher as Bifur, in a scene from the fantasy adventure "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." (AP Photo/Warner Bros, File)
With that added material, they're building a much bigger epic than Tolkien's book, the unexpected journey of homebody Bilbo (Martin Freeman, with Ian Holm reprising his "Lord of the Rings" role as older Bilbo).