Entertainment: The Hobbit: The Unexpected Sequel

movie poster courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter

Grade: B-

Tolken’s seminal work, The Lord of the Rings, was a long and complex epic. The Hobbit, on the other-hand was a single volume children’s book with a much more straightforward goal (but shhh, we wouldn’t want to let the makers of the movie adaptation know that).

The series follows the title character, Bilbo Baggins, who, convinced to leave his home in the shire by Gandalf the Grey, joins a group of 13 dwarves on their quest to reclaim the dwarf Kingdom Erebor. Many generations ago Smaug, the great Dragon, conquered Erebor killing thousands of dwarfs and humans alike. Now it was prophesized that the legendary dwarf warrior and rightful heir to Erebor, “the king under the mountain,” Thorin Oakenshield, seeks to reclaim the Arkenstone, which would allow him to unite the 7 dwarf kingdoms under his rule and take back Erebor from Smaug. Bilbo, or  “Master Burglar,” after finding his “courage” and a certain ring in the goblin caves in the first installment, is along to steal the stone from the great troves of jewels guarded by the dragon, and to provide perspective on the  growing danger of their quest and a parallel to the corruption Thorin must battle in himself (Arkenstone … one ring….).

The visuals are truly spectacular. The costume and make up artists deserve a kiss from Galadriel herself. The reconstructions of town life evoke the best paintings by Breugel. The dragon, visually speaking, was superbly done (as for the voice …. well Bennedict Cumberbatch did his thing). And we all got something pretty to look at when Legolas showed up (funny I didn’t remember him being in the book) along with a sexy bad-ass she-elf love interest.  But two and a half hours later, I wanted to be looking at more than a pretty picture. The actual plot covered in the movie could have been fitted into about 40 minutes, 20 if you only take parts actually from the book.

While no attention was played to the laws of physics or probability, the ork legion at least followed the hallowed laws of fantasy bad guys, namely that there is an inverse relation between each soldier’s effectiveness as a fighter and their total numbers. Moreover as soon as a bad guy gets a speaking role, he becomes considerably harder to kill. (This of course applies 10 times over with good guys, especially if they are as fun to look at as Orlando Bloom.)

Yes the movie was too long, but I enjoyed watching parts of it. As I said it was visually breathtaking, the acting was good, and the movie had its cute moments. Plus seeing… well hearing…. Sherlock Homes and Watson (Cumberbatch, and Freeman) playing opposite each other as the Dragon and Bilbo will certainly give fans of the popular BBC show a kick.  My main complaint though is what I felt to be a lack of real suspense. When one elf (equipped with an apparently bottomless quiver) can take out a couple hundred bad guys and come out with nothing more than a bloody nose you start to lose some of your anxiety for the well being of the characters. While this is a fantasy series, some internal realism needs to be maintained if the character’s struggles are to have any emotional impact.

After the addition of installment three next year, we are looking at, cumulatively, at least 7 solid hours of The Hobbit.  My suggestion: maybe read a summary then watch an hour somewhere along the way.