The first of Peter Jackson's long-awaited prequels to the Lord of the Rings trilogy is here — but some critics are resisting this journey back to Middle-Earth
After a long, troubled production process that was breathlessly tracked by fans of the Lord of the Ring's trilogy, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is here — but some critics say it's an unexpected disappointment. Though each of the first three Lord of the Rings films scored more than 90 percent on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey currently sits at 67 percent — not an unqualified failure, but well off the pace. (Watch a trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey below.) Here, 5 reasons critics are cautioning moviegoers to lower their expectations for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — which, remember, is only the first part of a projected three-film adaptation of the Tolkien source material:
1. It's a wholly unnecessary prequel
"Given the scope and grandeur of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings epics, we enter the theater justifiably expecting his new Tolkien adventure to thrill our socks off," says Colin Covert at the Star Tribune. But unfortunately, Jackson "has caught George Lucas disease": the compulsion to "revisit beloved franchises and louse them up with maddening prequels" that fail to live up to the original films, or deepen our understanding of them. The Hobbit is just as disappointing as the Star Wars prequel trilogy: A "husk with the superficial features of a Rings movie but none of the energy and wit."
2. It tries too hard to be Lord of the Rings
"The problem with The Hobbit isn't that it fails to be Lord of the Rings," says Laura Hudson at Wired. "It's that it tries so unbelievably hard to be when it isn't." After the massive success of his Lord of the Rings books, Tolkien himself once revisited The Hobbit and tried to rewrite it as a darker tale before realizing that the result "just wasn't The Hobbit" — and Jackson hasn't succeeded where Tolkien failed. While the Lord of the Rings trilogy concerns the fate of all of Middle-Earth, The Hobbit is about a bunch of dwarves trying to recover their treasure from a dragon. "It's an adventure quest worthy of a D&D campaign, to be sure, but hardly the end of the world."
3. It drags out Tolkien's simple story to interminable length
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey "betrays Jackson's mercenary motives," says Tom Charity at CNN. In book form, The Hobbit is around 350 pages long, which makes it the shortest and simplest installment in Tolkien's fantasy oeuvre, and the book is "hardly crying out for the 10-hour magnum opus treatment (but three films are so much more profitable than one!)." The first film takes almost 3 hours to reach chapter seven of the book, and "'sluggish' doesn't begin to do justice to the way Jackson has padded out his narrative." Unexpected Journey is forced to repeat scenes from Lord of the Rings, expand on characters barely mentioned in the original novel, and invent new storylines outright. In the 1977 animated adaptation of The Hobbit, notes Tasha Robinson at The AV Club, the directorial team Rankin-Bass "was able to cover most of the novel's high points in under 90 minutes."
4. It's too violent and prolonged for kids — but too simple for adults
Peter Jackson "seems to have forgotten that — unlike the intricate, epic Rings trilogy — The Hobbit is a children's story," says Mark Mohan at The Oregonian. But the film's extended length will be too much for most children, and "the intensity of the violence earns the film a legitimate PG-13 rating." I don't know who this movie is supposed to be for, says Emily Yoffe at Slate. "It's not for kids — there are too many grotesque, wart-covered, slavering beings getting their heads and limbs loped off." But what adult could be drawn into a story in which it's obvious that "no matter what happens, Bilbo Baggins and his pals would come out just fine with the help of Ian McKellen's wizard magic"?
5. It looks terrible in 48 frames per second
"You've heard the grumbling from CinemaCon, you've read the lukewarm early notices, but nothing can prepare you for just how horrendous — how flatly, distractingly uncinematic — The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey looks in 48 frames per second," warns A.A. Dowd at Time Out Chicago. By shooting the film at twice the normal frame rate, Jackson has given The Hobbit "the too-smooth, hyperreal luster of a daytime soap," in which costumes are obviously costumes and makeup is obviously makeup. If you still plan to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in theaters, make sure you visit one of the theaters that isn't playing the film in the new frame rate.
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