‘The Hobbit’: A bit much for an adaptation of a simple children’s story

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is the odd hobbit out while traveling with a band of dwarves in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

Peter Jackson applies the same level of grandeur and heft to his adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Hobbit” that he did to his previous triumph, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The problem is the source material for the new film — shot in 3-D at a doubled speed of 48 frames per second — doesn’t deserve such epic scope. But more on that in a moment.

First, the technical: Jackson bets the lot on 48 frames per second, and he loses. Before your eyes adjust to the higher frame rate, everything seems to be moving too fast. Once it’s settled down, though, the footage often looks somewhere between a super-high definition 1980s BBC miniseries and a video game, and it just feels utterly un-cinematic. The biggest crime, though, is that the sweeping shots of the gorgeous New Zealand landscape look fake.

As for the content of the film, “The Hobbit” has the same fine acting, cinematography and art direction of “The Lord of the Rings” films — but much more of the bloat. This is the first of three films adapted from a single slim volume, and it’s nearly three hours long. What should be a lighthearted children’s story — a Hobbit (Martin Freeman) helping a band of dwarves outwit a dragon — is instead presented as if the entire fate of Middle Earth were at stake. And Jackson milks every opportunity to remind the viewer that this story precedes the “Rings” trilogy, even souring the movie’s best scene — featuring a phenomenal appearance by Gollum (Andy Serkis) — with an overwrought, foreshadowing ending. It’s a bad habit running through the film that grows tedious. Perhaps like George Lucas with the “Star Wars” prequels, Jackson’s success with his first trilogy meant consequently that there was no one to tell him something might not be a good idea in the next. In any event, we’ve got nearly six more hours of “The Hobbit” left to find out.

If you go


‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis

Rating: PG-13

Grade: 3/5


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