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Where’s the MAGIC?

A few new tricks needed to add razzle-dazzle to The Hobbit

By PIERS MARCHANT SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published December 14, 2012 at 1:59 a.m.

gollum-performed-by-andy-serkis-in-the-fantasy-adventure-the-hobbit-an-unexpected-journey

Gollum, performed by ANDY SERKIS in the fantasy adventure “THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.”

'Give him the contract ...'

The dwarfs and Gandalf (played by Ian Mckellen) contract Bilbo (Martin Freeman) to be their burglar in this scene from "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." Clip courtesy of Warner Bros.
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— The subtitle of Peter Jackson’s latest trip to Middle Earth is “an unexpected journey” but it may as well have been “remembrance of things past,” so closely tied is it to his previous Lord of the Rings trilogy of the early aughts.

We are again in the realm of orcs, dwarves, goblins, elves and short people with very large and hairy feet and our story again involves a righteous quest that involves many dangers and encounters with hideously ugly creatures en route to quelling the growing darkness that has settled over the land. Given all that familiarity, I just wish Jackson could have dispensed with one other bastion of the first batch of films - a running time pushing three hours - but alas.

To be fair, that’s a long time to visit virtually anywhere, even a place as mystical and jaw-droppingly gorgeous as Jackson’s native New Zealand, which proves again to be the perfect geographic backdrop to all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s many flights of fancy.

At least we are reunited with the ever likable Gandalf (Ian McKellen), a powerful wizard who comes to the beautiful glade of the Shire to propose an adventure to his old friend Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a simple hobbit who spends his time cleaning his house and making well-furnished one-person dinners.

Before he knows what’s hit him, Bilbo’s place is beset by a gaggle of rowdy, hungry dwarves, eager to begin their journey. It seems they used to have a magnificent home city carved into a mountain filled with gold and jewels. Many years ago, a fearsome dragon, Smaug, rained fire on them, drove them away and has slept on their pile of gold ever since (dragons love gold, it turns out). These 13 dwarves have banded together behind their would-be king, Thorin (Richard Armitage), to take back their homeland by any means necessary. They need Bilbo to help them infiltrate the dragon’s lair, a job that the nervous hobbit reluctantly accepts only after a good deal of soul searching.

Thus ensues another long journey into Jackson’s heavily CGI-enhanced fantasy world. Rather than start with something that feels totally new and unexplored, Jackson has gone the opposite route, tying almost everything together with what he has already shown us. Thus, he has the opportunity to bring back many beloved characters from the first trilogy, including fantastical elven royalty (Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett), the irrepressible Gollum (Andy Serkis) and even a quick appearance by Frodo (an aged Elijah Wood, once again donning giant fake feet).

The continuity, while often welcome, speaks to one of the problems the film encounters: Much of it has a slightly played-out element, a sense that we’ve already been here and witnessed this. A bit like the second Star Wars trilogy, we’ve already seen the most dramatic and world-altering material of the series, so going backward for something a good deal less all- encompassing can’t help but feel anticlimactic. After the eventual fate of many of these characters, including Gandalf, Gollum, Frodo and, of course, the ring of power, watching them bandy about again feels a good deal less than necessary.

To that end, the film also suffers from a lack of engaging development of many of the new characters we encounter. One of the secrets to the success of the first Lord of the Rings installment was the way in which it quickly established a vibrant and memorable set of warriors, a thrown-together lot of men, dwarves, elves and hobbits that led to various tensions and intriguing character possibilities.

Here, few dwarves have much to distinguish them. There’s a super-obese one who always wants to eat, a bit of a simpleton who chooses to fight with a slingshot rather than a sword and the Dwarf King, who is filled with anger and honor and fights for the lives of his people in the most tedious way imaginable; you might as well have dubbed them Fatty, Simple and Hostile and let it go.

The question that hovers over the whole enterprise is why Jackson has come back to such a familiar place, to show us many of the same things, other than to add a few bizarre musical numbers to the proceedings (the dwarves are a deeply musical race, apparently). Cynics might suggest that the studio behind the series, New Line, is struggling following the financial and critical success of the first trilogy and can use the juice of a new triad. And an argument could be made that Jackson, who’s only made the disappointing King Kong and troubled The Lovely Bones in the decade since his greatest artistic triumph, also desperately needs to rekindle the magic of the first trilogy.

In that sense, Jackson’s on his own quest of sorts, a way back into the good graces of critics, mass audiences and dedicated fanboys the world over. For now, let’s just say this new “unexpected journey” has started out with more than a few stumbles.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 82 Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis Director: Peter Jackson Rating: PG-13, for fantasy violence Running time: 169 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 12/14/2012

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gespurr says... December 14, 2012 at 3:30 a.m.

"Rather than start with something that feels totally new and unexplored, Jackson has gone the opposite route, tying almost everything together with what he has already shown us."
The whole article makes me wonder if the writer has even READ the Hobbit. It seems apparent that the writer doesn't realize that the whole story is a PREQUEL to the trilogy. It's like being upset that the "Fourth" Star Wars movie from the 90's repeats the Obi-Wan character as well as the themes of the other 3 movies of the 70s and 80s. *thud*

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duggles says... December 14, 2012 at 10:11 a.m.

Of course I haven't seen this movie yet so I have no doubt that most of what Piers says is on the money, except that I think he may have failed to realize that it's pretty tough for a movie to break new ground telling a prequel when the end of the story has already been presented and done extremely well... If I were a director, I don't believe I would have wanted to have the problem of even making this movie... The Hobbit should have been done first, but obviously that didn't happen. In light of that, I believe we have to realize that those of us who have read both The Hobbit and the Trilogy wanted this movie to be made for the sake of completeness. If someone has only seen the Trilogy as a movie and never read The Hobbit, they may be disappointed that it doesn't give them the something new that Piers was expecting. That's fine... they should have read the books!!! That's where the real "Magic" is ;-)

If Tolkien had written the Trilogy first and then the Hobbit, I'm sure there would have been much to say about how his writing seemed to have lost some of its pop, but it should be noted that writing the Trilogy was a huge undertaking for the man in terms of completing the story he'd begun in The Hobbit, filling in the middle earth history, refining the languages, and creating the lineage for all the characters in the complete saga. In that sense, we can't blame Tolkien for the perceived loss of pop, we can only say to Jackson, "Maybe you should have let someone else undertake this project, and endure the almost unavoidable criticism". I figure Jackson will ultimately redeemed by the monetary success of the project. He may have also not wanted to see someone else attempt the movie when he had so much effort and experience invested in the project.... I dunno, that's just conjecture on my part and it doesn't matter.

I'm not one of those people who will be attending any of the first showings, but I am enough of a fan that I do plan on seeing the movie soon and no amount of criticism (however mild) will dissuade me... I believe I will enjoy the completion.

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TBTaylor says... December 14, 2012 at 12:28 p.m.

The things Piers says is exactly what I hope to see! I expect character development of the same characters because that's what the book did all during the development of the Hobbit. It's kinda like saying, "I wish Spielberg would have given Lincoln more pazazz and maybe a fist fight or two during his cabinet meetings would have spiced the movie up a little. I agree with gespurr....it's completely apparent that Piers hasn't read the book. The LOTR trilogy was absolutely right on with the written works and although it would be impossible to get every detail in, it was still a masterpiece. Seeing the same hobbit village in the Shire, seeing the same scenery, using the same references, developing the same characters in depth (Elrond, etc.) is what the HOBBIT is supposed to do. I too have not seen the movie but I can assure you the things described that makes Piers thinks were lack luster is exactly what I'm hoping for in the movie. I just hope Jackson follows the book as well as he did in the LOTR.

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