An unexpected journey

…to the multiplex in Cupertino at 9 AM (!) for the traditional solo holiday trip to the movies, in this case the first installment of The Hobbit. And make no mistake, they are doing exactly what they said they would: expand to two movies so they didn’t have to cut the way they did on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, then expand again to try to somehow cram in all the bits they left out (which, given that the story takes place sixty years earlier, is asking a lot – most of those bits come out of contemporaneous events in the supporting materials in Return of the King).

Sadly, it kind of shows.  The first installment is nearly three hours long, and a lot of it feels forced and stretched, especially at the beginning.  I know that the first ten minutes of The Fellowship of the Ring had to establish why the ring was a big deal, but the prolonged intro to why the dwarves’ kingdom under the mountain was important…well, I understand why they did it, and I’m sure it needs to be in there, but it makes for a confusing intro, as does having Old Bilbo and Frodo appear contemporaneously with the same part in that first movie.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”  Bang, right out the gate, if it was good enough for J. R. R. Tolkein it should be good enough for his cinematic heirs.  They made a virtue of necessity with the cutting of the first trilogy, and crafted tighter, more gripping films for it.  If I’m making a mental note “this is the place to run take a leak” while the movie is going on, that’s not a good sign.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it.  I knew I would.  But I’m a fan, I know this story, all this is doing is putting it up on a big screen with stunning visuals.  To me, they’re at serious risk of pulling a Watchmen: you can’t compose a film entirely of fan-service and expect mainstream audiences to be on board.  It’s taking a pounding on Rotten Tomatoes right now, and to be honest, it may have earned it.  It’s an excellent retelling, but maybe not a great movie.

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