Mor­dor, he wrote

This bloated, over­long Hol­ly­wood prod­uct drains most of the life and good will out of a per­fectly formed chil­dren’s fan­tasy, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS -

THE HOB­BIT: AN UN­EX­PECTED JOUR­NEY ★★ Di­rected by Peter Jack­son. Star­ring Martin Free­man, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, Ai­dan Turner, Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, Billy Con­nolly, Cate Blanchett, Christo­pher Lee, Eli­jah Wood, Evan­ge­line Lilly, Hugo Weav­ing, James Nes­bitt 12A cert, gen­eral re­lease, 166 min

We shouldn’t come over too apoc­a­lyp­tic. But a full im­mer­sion in Peter Jack­son’s The Hob­bit: An Un­ex­pected Waste of Time – all two hours and 49 min­utes of it – of­fers un­happy in­sights as to what’s gone wrong with the movie in­dus­try.

Much has been made of the ap­par­ent cyn­i­cism in­her­ent in the de­ci­sion to con­vert a rel­a­tively slim, beau­ti­fully balanced chil­dren’s book into three enor­mously long mo­tion pic­tures. View­ing the bloated, pompous first part, it’s hard to ar­gue with those sus­pi­cions. But just as de­struc­tive is the largely sin­cere con­vic­tion – Jack­son is a Tolkien en­thu­si­ast, af­ter all – that such adap­ta­tions should now be di­rected at the com­mit­ted fan (and to Mor­dor with the ca­sual viewer). The last fran­chise pic­ture to ar­rive so laden with bor­ing cin­e­matic foot­notes and the­matic asides was Ge­orge Lu­cas’s ill-re­mem­bered The Phan­tom Men­ace. Jack­son might like to con­sider what that film did for its maker’s rep­u­ta­tion.

Fol­low­ing a lengthy (as­sume, through­out the rest of this re­view, that this ad­jec­tive sits be­fore ev­ery noun) pro­logue de­tail­ing the dragon Smaug’s as­sault on the King­dom of Ere­bor, the older Bilbo Bag­gins (still Ian Holm) tells brave Frodo (still Eli­jah Wood) the full de­tails of his ef­forts to slay that beast. Amid a cloud of smoke, we drift back 60 years and find Bilbo look­ing younger, live­lier and a great deal more like Tim from The Of­fice.

Martin Free­man doesn’t much re­sem­ble Holm, but his ir­re­sistible or­di­nar­i­ness is per­fect for the un­re­mark­able Hob­bit who never much fan­cied be­com­ing a hero. That sta­tus is thrust upon him when Ian McKellen’s grumpy Gan­dalf ar­rives un­ex­pect­edly to an­nounce that a large party of dwarfs is about to de­scend for ale and vit­tles.

The suc­ceed­ing scenes of rev­elry – a hugely overextended fan­tasy ver­sion of Come Dine With Me – ex­em­pli­fies much of what is wrong with An Un­ex­pected Jour­ney. Lit­tle plot is for­warded. Many groan­ingly un­com­fort­able jokes are made. Bad songs are sung. Even Tolkien purists ap­plauded Jack­son’s de­ci­sion to slice the Ram­pling Syd Rumpo num­bers from The Lord of the Rings. With th­ese pre­quels, Jack­son can’t af­ford to shed so much as a sec­ond of filler.

And, of course, if you’re view­ing at a “se­lected venue”, the party and ev­ery­thing else is ren­dered in eye-wa­ter­ing 48-frames-per-sec­ond 3D Imax. It’s prob­a­bly a lit­tle too early to pass de­fin­i­tive judg- ment upon the much-dis­cussed high-frame res­o­lu­tion. Suf­fice to say the scalpel-sharp im­age does ap­pear to show up the ar­ti­fi­cial­ity of the sets, make-up, props and spe­cial ef­fects. Film-mak­ers may, how­ever, learn to adapt.

When the dishes are ti­died away, Bilbo and his band of largely dwarfish chums light out for the grim ter­ri­to­ries. Di­rec­tor Kevin Smith has pointed out that there was a lit­tle too much walking in The Lord of the Rings. Such is the pace of the prequel that the team may as well be crawl­ing through the dirt on their hairy bel­lies.

Not since Granada’s TV pro­duc­tion of Brideshead Re­vis­ited has an adap­ta­tion clung so closely to ev­ery comma, full stop and colon of the source ma­te­rial. The var­i­ous bolted-on flash­backs and sub­tex­tual sideshows only serve to slow the al­ready leaden pace down to al­most com­plete sta­sis.

There are some won­der­ful mo­ments. Scot­tish and North­ern Ir­ish view­ers with de­cent senses of hu­mour will en­joy the scene dur­ing which the dwarfs – a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of whom hail from those parts – look hor­ri­fied at salad veg­eta­bles and de­mand meat and “chips”. The painfully de­layed ap­pear­ance of Gol­lum is off­set by a chill­ing turn from Andy Serkis that lives up to ev­ery­thing he achieved in the Lord of the Rings pic­tures.

But one is ul­ti­mately left slightly ap­palled at the way a gor­geous lit­tle book has been mis­used in the names of com­merce and fa­nati­cism. There are the mak­ings of one neat, clas­si­cally struc­tured film in The Hob­bit. In his (of­ten well-in­tended) at­tempt to pro­duce a de­fin­i­tive, en­hanced-strength ver­sion of that text, Jack­son has stripped away much of the fun, a great deal of the en­ergy and most of the hu­mour.

Oh well. There’s only an­other seven hours to go.

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