Full disclosure, I am not a massive Tolkien fan. I tried to read Lord of the Rings and put it down after several chapters due to excessive boredom. I have seen the trilogy of films and really enjoyed them but never went full fan-boy.
Yesterday I ventured out of the safety of my quiet, dark house and went to the cinema which appeared to be under attack by hordes of teenagers. Avoiding their stench of aura of self-entitlement my friend and I purchased two tickets, dropping over $50 to see the 48 FPS, 3D xtreme-Screen magic. (Cinemas take note: this is why people download movies).
As our previous review showed, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an amalgamation of several of Tolkein’s books. Also, being a trilogy it is one of the few examples of the film version taking longer to get through than the original book.
Viewers of the movie will experience a first-hand sensation of the relativity of time. When I left, the clocks outside said we had been in there for three hours but my watch’s battery had died and the watch itself rusted away with age. I saw the couple next to me grow old and die while their children managed to escape the theatre to hopefully lead full and active lives.
The movie opens with about an hour’s worth of ads. At one point they played a public service announcement on how to avoid deep vein thrombosis during the film. The film opens with some lovely exposition courtesy of Iam Holm and Elijah Wood and some long shots of The Shire. What followed was a bizarre scene involving dwarves eating and hurling plates around the room in a first-year university animation student display of CGI.
Most of the CGI was incredible (particularly the close-ups of Gollum, holy shit…) but the plate tossing looked awful and a later scene of Radagast leading some orcs on a merry chase on his rabbit sled felt like it was shaking me and screaming “GREEN SCREEN” while spitting on my face.
Then, like a true LotR films we got a lot of walking interrupted by a lot of fighting. I’ll talk about one scene in particular, a moment where they discover some trolls have stolen their horses.
The trolls were speaking with rough, British accents and idioms in an attempt to be funny. An attempt that both failed comedically and dramatically. It was as uncomfortable as watching a stand-up comedian bomb on stage. You could see how hard they were trying to be funny but nothing was working. I felt bad for them and wanted to leave.
On a dramatic level, the humour was inserted so badly into the scene that it felt jarring. Now as I said before I haven’t read The Hobbit so I don’t know how true to the book this scene was but quite frankly, I don’t care. I was not watching a film adaptation of a treasured childhood tale, I was watching a movie. The misplaced attempt to combine the light-hearted feel of a children’s story with the darkness of the LotR trilogy failed miserably. At times I wasn’t sure what type of movie I was watching.
I felt the exact same way during Barry Humphrey’s embarrassing turn as the heavily goitred Goblin King. A vaguely serious scene with vaguely funny jokes thrown into it, both styles cancelling each other out and leaving me bored and restless.
Both of these scenes (plus more, unfortunately) led to the title of this review, Gandalf Ex Machina. The original phrase deus ex machina literally means ‘God from the machine’ and is a reference to the old plays where everything seemed lost at the end until one of the Gods was lowered onto the stage to save the day. It is now a derogatory term used when a writer can’t think of a way for their heroes to escape and just throws in an easy solution.
The film was full of it. I lost count of how many times all hope seemed lost until Gandalf suddenly appeared and saved the day. I was left feeling completely unmoved by the story. At no point did I feel worried about them not surviving. Not once did I think to myself, “How are they going to get out of this?” It was all too easy. A lack of tension does not a good story make.
Basically, The Hobbit left me cold. Too long, too crammed full of rubbish and too muddled. Don’t expect to see me at the sequels.
PS: Why are there no intermissions any more? I think any film clocking in at 3 hours or more should legally be required to have a toilet break in the middle. More people got up to head for the toilets than at 4am in a retirement village.