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THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
December 14, 2012 1:00 AM
37 Comments
  • |
photo by Todd Eyre - Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

I have great regard for Peter Jackson and his filmmaking partners, which is why it pains me to say that I found The Hobbit incredibly boring. As in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson and his WETA team have raised the bar for visual effects and created some stunning set pieces…but when they exist in the context of a drearily repetitive story, that can only be called a Pyrrhic victory. As for the much-vaunted 48 frames-per-second presentation, it’s an interesting novelty, but I fear it may have made me bored twice as fast.

Not being a Tolkien reader, I can only judge the film on its own terms. It starts out well enough as we meet an older Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) at his home in the Shire, then flash back in time as he tells the story of his amazing adventure. When Gandalf the Gray (Ian McKellen) insists that he join a group of dwarves on a quest to help Prince Thorin (Richard Armitage) regain his rightful home from a marauding dragon, Bilbo is understandably reluctant. Brought to life by a well-cast Martin Freeman, he’s a homebody who loves to sit by the fire and read. He has no thirst for adventure.

The point of The Hobbit is to show how this unassuming fellow finds his inner courage. That shouldn’t take three feature films, let alone a first installment that runs two hours and 45 minutes. We get the point early on.          Instead, Bilbo and the dwarves—whom I found indistinguishable from one another—embark on their perilous quest, only to encounter a group of hideously ugly monsters. Result: an elaborate battle scene. After recovering, they continue on their quest until they run afoul of another group of gruesome creatures. Result: an elaborate battle scene. Allowing for some r&r, when the journey resumes they run smack into another horde of monsters, which can only lead to another battle. And so it goes.

Photo by Mark Pokorny - Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Dean O’Gorman and Richard Armitage

Are the creatures amazingly rendered? Yes. Have we seen their lifelike equal onscreen before? No. Did we have to slog through nearly three hours to sample these moments? I wish I hadn’t.

As for the 48 frames-per-second format: the result is hyper-real, like watching the Super Bowl on a large-screen 3-D television set. It doesn’t look like film at all. That is Jackson’s stated goal, to offer moviegoers something exciting and new. In that he has succeeded; it will now be up to filmmakers, studios, and audiences to decide if they want to embrace this technology. If it is suited to anything it is the world of fantasy depicted here, yet I’m just old-fashioned enough to be comfortable with the look and feel of film—even if that “film” is now digitally created.

What bothers me more than this experiment is the bloated nature of the storytelling on display. Why has a single book been expanded to three films? Or, to quote an old World War II catchphrase; was this trip really necessary?

More is not better. More is simply more, in this case.

If Tolkien aficionados revel in the distended Hobbit, and look forward to more of the same, good for them. I wouldn’t try to dissuade or discourage anyone from doing so. I can only report my honest reaction.

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37 Comments

  • Bill Edmunds | August 30, 2013 3:33 PMReply

    I certainly appreciate comments that splitting the book into 3 films is greedy and unnecessary, but as a Tolkien fan, I understand Jackson wanting to do so. He's a fan of the material as well. Most of us, I would hazard, want to see more. I don't think the film was perfect -- far from it -- but in general I want to see more of this world, not less.

  • Jim Reinecke | August 19, 2013 6:37 PMReply

    I realize that I'm most unfashionably late to this particular party, but I didn't see this film until two days ago, borrowing the DVD from my local library. This was done only because I'm a huge fan of Cate Blanchett so, therefore, a Cate Blanchett completist. Ms. Blanchett is only in this two hour and forty-nine minute grotesque nightmare for a grand total of 7 minutes. (Never let it be said that I'm not a true admirer, Cate!) As for the movie itself it re-enforces my staunch belief that Mr. Jackson has never made (and, at the rate he's going, never WILL make) a film to match his brilliantly conceived and realized, genuinely disturbing masterpiece HEAVENLY CREATURES. If there is a Hall of Fame for self-indulgence, Mr. Jackson warrants inclusion as a charter member.

  • Jay Are | February 19, 2013 6:20 AMReply

    Partly I was bored, too. The storyline and many scenes incredibly resemble "The fellowsip of the ring"
    You say "More is not better. More is simply more, in this case."
    I think the reason for making three movies is: MORE could mean MORE MONEY.
    I doubt that the decision was an artistic one.
    But may be Peter Jackson has miscalculated this time.

  • John L. Matthew | January 5, 2013 3:41 PMReply

    When Peter Jackon ended his trilogy of Tolkien films, he added a false "happy ending" that had nothing to do with Tolkien's original The poor Hobbits arrived home after a long & dangerous journey, to find the evil Lord Saruman had preceeded them & nazi style taken over their land. Destroying everything & throwing them into slavery They then had to fight back & regain everything. Does Jackson now include this in his latest "Hobbit" film? Why has nobody ever mentioned this before? Sincerely, John.

  • drjohn | January 2, 2013 11:27 PMReply

    I am about to see this movie, with some trepidation.
    The fact it is stretched is no problem if the content remains true to Tolkien, especially in its use of language. References to the "history" of Middle-Earth is also one of the joys of the original LOTR books.
    LOTR could have been 6 films in the way Tolkien originally spaced his writing and making 3 from The Hobbit will appeal to us die-hards.
    My complaint against Jackson and the screen-writers is that they only partially utilise the linguistic powers of Tolkien's creation. The myth is made in words and the power comes from language (like Shakespeare) but where Shakespeare is "meant" to be seen as well as heard, the filmed Tolkien is diminished by lesser writing.
    And to make Gimli an object of slap-stick fun is unforgiveable.
    I hope these dwarves are not in the same mode.

  • drjohn | January 3, 2013 11:17 PM

    Enjoyed it a lot,despite the following comments.
    The unfortunate element of slapstick is present and is as incongruent as it was in LOTR. It seems an element of dumbing-down is de rigeur to counter the more noble, puissant and heroic elements of Tolkien. God only knows why.!
    The whole series of films misses true greatness by incorporating banality at times. Oh well.

  • Dan M. | December 27, 2012 5:41 AMReply

    A decent review of a below par film. "Below par" is generous, I'll come out and say it, it was bad. Peter Jackson's Hobbit is a re-imagining, an expansion, an imposture. Who was it who said "both original and good, but the good parts are not original and the original parts are not good"? I would feel that holds here, if only there was any verbatim Tolkien in there- perhaps only the Gollum scene- but it was only in the Lord of the Rings films that Gollum became schizophrenic...The whole thing, despite the pricy effects, smacks to me of money-grabbing and hubris. Some will like the updating, but I found it grating, not to mention irritating. Frustrating? That too... The film spread everywhere, trying to do 100 flashy things to appeal, but that's not the same as just telling the story tastefully. I would've preferred them to stick to the book much more closely, and whip through to the end of the story. It could have been done without making too great a sacrifice, after all this picture can hardly have 45 minutes of footage in it that relates to the book itself! Padding out from appendices or expanding one line to last thirty minutes is just uncalled for and unbalanced.

    Any translation has losses and gains, but you hope to have something approximately as good as the original in the new medium when you are done. But this one, by throwing too much unnecessary details into the mix, just failed for me. I want to re-read the book... But it'll take a lot of gold to get me back in the cinema to watch this one again! If only I could get my money back!

  • will friedwald | December 24, 2012 9:35 AMReply

    I understand why Leonard wasn't thrilled by THE HOBBIT, but as someone who loved the Tolkien books in junior high school, I loved it. Since Jackson & Co made LORD OF THE RINGS first and then THE HOBBIT, the new movie (understandably) does feel redundant. But, of course, it's just the opposite - LoTR repeated a lot of the ideas in THE HOBBIT and not the other way around. However, I always preferred THE HOBBIT to the trilogy, mainly because there's a lot more wit and whimsy in the earlier book. It's much more of a children's book in the great tradition of Oz & Wonderland. To me the LoTR is still fun, but a lot more dour, and I appreciate the attempt to include more humor in the HOBBIT. I admit that an eight-hour trilogy from a single book is a major indulgence, but I'm eagerly looking forward to the next two installments.

  • John Smith | December 17, 2012 10:39 PMReply

    I have never finished a Tolkein book.

    They are dull and, worst of all, devoid of adult humour. Jackson's films are nothing if not faithful to the spirit of this source material.

    In an agony of boredom I endured all three LotR movies for the sake of family, but I will not waste any more of my life by watching The Hobbit.

    I'm happy for the Tolkein fans, but these movies offer essentially nothing for anyone else.

  • Educated | December 23, 2012 2:03 AM

    Philistine

  • Jeffrey | December 17, 2012 1:33 PMReply

    A vast array of comments on a film released just three days ago- more comments than most films on this blog get in an eternity. This film has a potent fanbase.

  • Trevor | December 16, 2012 10:07 PMReply

    Leonard, it saddens me to say this but I think you need to get a new job as The Hobbit is by far the BEST movie of 2012 in fact once all 3 Hobbit movies are released, the Hobbit movies will be rightly regarded as a true classic :)

  • J | December 15, 2012 9:27 PMReply

    stfu stupid reviewer, I'd like to see u make a movie

  • Mike Andersen | December 15, 2012 8:24 PMReply

    I'm an avid reader of Tolkien and there are some great scenes in the Hobbit. There is also a great film buried in there somewhere. The problem is stretching the Hobbit into three films as opposed to the originally planned two. My guess is Peter Jackson has made an inspiring, wonderful adaptation of the book in five or so hours of film. However, he's made a huge mistake in trying to get eight plus hours out of the Hobbit. It's just not there. By adding the extra footage (found in appendixes), he's destroying the pace of the film, the narrative. The first hour of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is weighed down by the bloat. It's boring. The last hour (the part that are in the book) is exciting. It would be interesting to know what were the motives in the expansion but it certainly wasn't because they needed more time to tell the story of The Hobbit.

  • Rick Curzon | December 15, 2012 7:21 PMReply

    I've been reading Maltin's books and reviews for nigh on thirty years and count myself an avid reader, and as such it doesn't suprise me that he didn't rate The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. He doesn't really rate franchises films bar the early Bonds and the original Star Wars films. He doesn't seem to have read Tolkien and therefore has nothing vested in the source material as such.

    Critics don't generally like franchises or ongoing series, or fantastic cinema (again generally speaking) and they also don't like to see the same thing again and again. The public on the other hand love to see the same thing over and over, hence why studios are always sequelising and remaking.

    It seems to me that Maltin's bag is character drama and / or comedy and once again I'm not suprised he doesn't like this second helping of Tolkien which runs 169 minutes and essentially serves up a similar meal to the 2001-3 films. To understand why it has been expanded to three films you have to understand that Jackson and company have utilized the appendices to Lord of the Rings to embellish the admittedly short 1934 novel to bring it more in line with its literary sequel (from 1954-5) which was adapted first.

    It was also inevitable that this second trilogy would not be as well recieved critically as the first because it is less fresh, and not doing anything new.

  • Charles | December 15, 2012 6:10 PMReply

    Sorry. You are very clearly not the audience for this film. You need to read the book (and enjoy it) to appreciate what you've watched. I saw it last night, and it is terrific. I grew up on Tolkien, and can mainline Jackson's take on him like coke. He's telling a beloved story, and jazzing it up (unacceptably so for some few purists, of whom I am not one) for the sake of the medium and the uninitiated (and mostly illiterate and so uninitiated) mass audience. He could have made LOTR into 6 films, and I would have been ecstatic. Three for the Hobbit and the larger story of the Necromancer (Sauron and his wraiths) is not overkill. It's a leisurely treatment that will make Tolkien and Jackson's fans (who are many) very, very happy. Should say is making us happy, because I am going to see it again in 3D. The 24fps was beautiful, and I'll see it in 48fps, too, all this week. I want to reward Jackson for his work, and enjoy this as much as possible.

  • Jim | December 19, 2012 9:11 AM

    Any movie that can only be appreciated by someone who has read (and enjoyed) the book is a failure. Whether I am familiar with the source material for a movie or not I expect it to be a thing of it's own and to stand or fall on it's own merits.

  • jack oneill | December 15, 2012 2:10 PMReply

    Wow, what a silly review. Did you have to write so much to simply say, "I didn't like the film?"

    See what I did there?

    This 3 movie trilogy is about way more than the hobbit (there is material from Tolkien's less well known works in it), but I wouldn't expect people who don't read Tolkien's books to know anything about them.

  • Jim | December 19, 2012 9:26 AM

    Mr. Maltin wasn't reviewing the books. He was reviewing the movie. Do you really expect every film critic to read the book or see the play upon which every movie is based? He made it quite clear that he had not read the book. He was also quite clear about what he didn't like about the movie. You, on the other hand, really told me nothing about the film or why I might want to see it. Instead you settled for insulting Mr. Maltin simply because he has a different opinion than you. Your comment and those of the other fanboys not only fail to counter any of his actual criticisms of the film, but make a pretty convincing case for staying as far away from it as possible. Perhaps some mature recognition of the fact that honorable people can disagree - combined with some thoughtful analysis of your own might make a better case for the film.

  • Gabriel Noel | December 15, 2012 11:40 AMReply

    Rankin-Bass did wonders with this material in 90 minutes.

  • lip | December 15, 2012 7:45 PM

    I love Rankin & Bass but that version was so so and skipped a lot of the story.

  • Biunivoque | December 15, 2012 9:38 AMReply

    I am a huge fan of Literature, as such I loved the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings since I was in grade school. I also happened to have loved the LOTR films previously made by Mr Jackson, and I along with my family, came to see the film with earnest enjoyment bent on lovign it... and I was very dissappointed. I thought as a film it just wasn't that good. The actors were very good, the special effects were nice, but as written, it needs work. The sequence at the beginning was unneccessary and anti-climactic. I hated the first 10 minutes or so... absolutely hated it, as a writer I thought to myself if you use the sequence of Bilbo and Frodo at all, it would have been more appropriate and more effectice of a scene at the end of the last film. I enjoyed parts, but as a whole the movie was lacking in momentum and there was enough that connected you to the characters, too many long shots. It was just heartbreaking, I know that nothing can ever be as good if one builds up their hopes prior, but I feel in this case it really could have been alot better.

  • supermundane | December 15, 2012 8:35 AMReply

    This is quite possibly the only film adaptation that will take longer to watch than reading the book.

  • Mark A. Vieira | December 14, 2012 4:59 PMReply

    Thank you for addressing the more-and-newer-is-better madness. I still haven't recovered from what Mr. Jackson did to King Kong seven years ago. After honoring the original Kong with an elaborate reconstruction of the 1933 tabletop animation (in the Warner Home Video King Kong DVD), he turned his own version of King Kong into an Animal Planet episode. It was disappointing if you were expecting a monster movie. But not if you were expecting a special effects demo. Some filmmakers should be forced to tell a story with a silent 8mm camera.

  • Norm | December 14, 2012 3:42 PMReply

    More bloated than the National Debt...Jackson returns to form from LOTR:3...History repeats, and I have read all of the books...More is Less...

  • Tolkien reader | December 14, 2012 3:24 PMReply

    I really do think reviewers, even self proclaimed non-Hobbit book readers by well-established reviewers are giving too much emphasis to the "one book stretched to three movies" deal. If they don't know the book then how do they know? I think reviewers are using it more as an excuse as opposed to looking at it objectively. Hardly any aggregated reviews down rated LOTR. Yes, those are long films too, reaaally long, especially Return of the King, but obviously those aren't too long for a positive score.

    Also, Son of Kong below mentions "passing on Del Toro". I got bored twice as fast at his post reading that. Clearly uninformed and raving, like a lot of these foaming reviews.

  • Thomas | December 15, 2012 1:18 PM

    Also, I apologize for the length of the comment below. I promise it had paragraphs when I typed it.

  • Thomas | December 15, 2012 10:18 AM

    "If they don't know the book then how do they know?"

    Because they watched the movie and it felt bloated and long as if thin material were being stretched out too far? Because lots of people who have read the book feel the same way about the three three hour movies thing?

    "I think reviewers are using it more as an excuse as opposed to looking at it objectively."

    "Objectively?" That word doesn't mean what you think it means. I would say someone who isn't already a fan of the source material is going to be better at looking at an adaptation of that work objectively than a professed "Tolkien reader."

    "Hardly any aggregated reviews down rated LOTR. Yes, those are long films too, reaaally long, especially Return of the King, but obviously those aren't too long for a positive score."

    You really need to try harder than this.

    First, each of the "Lord of the Rings" films was an adaptation of a different book. "The Hobbit" is shorter than any one of those three books, and yet it's being adapted into a trilogy of nearly equal length to the original. Again, the original trilogy was based on three separate books that combined are more than three times as long as "The Hobbit."

    Secondly, you're being (intentionally?) obtuse if you think that the criticisms of the film's "bloated" nature are because the critics automatically dislike anything over 2 hours. Every film is different - that one three hour film feels "bloated" doesn't mean that every three hour film feels bloated. Rather, whether or not it feels overly long or bloated depends on the story being told (whether it's enough to fill the runtime and remain interesting throughout) and the way it's being told. Someone can criticize a 90-minute film for feeling too long and yet love a film two times its length. That's not hypocrisy - that's merely a statement of the (should be) obvious fact that different films are different.

    That is to say, "The Return of the King" was a different film than "The Hobbit." Just because I dislike "The Dark Knight Rises" and find it bloated doesn't mean I dislike "The Godfather." And just because I praise "Lawrence of Arabia" doesn't mean I praise "Gone with the Wind." Heck, I find the first "Heimat" film (a nearly ten-hour affair) much more involving and fast paced than many two hour movies.

    "Clearly uninformed and raving, like a lot of these foaming reviews."

    Says the person who commits the hysterical logical fallacy that finding one three film too long must mean that you find all three hour films too long. Someone who demonstrates such an inability to think clearly about the topic really shouldn't be condemning other people.

    Look, you're clearly very attached to the source material and can't handle any criticisms of these adaptations. Most of the negative reviews (including the one you're commenting on) aren't raving, and the fact that you think otherwise only shows that you're unable to view things objectively right now. That is to say, your post is far more "raving" than just about anything else being said on this page.

  • Son of Kong | December 14, 2012 11:05 AMReply

    "It may have made me bored twice as fast" ... Haha!!!

    Seriously, The Hobbit is like the anti-Lord of The Rings. It took a lot of courage to make the first three books into three movies. Unproven director. Unfashionable genre at the time. No big stars. A studio on its last financial legs. And that was part of why people loved it... the risk of it all.

    Compare that to the cowardice now: A small book expanded to three long films. Passing over a passionate young director (Del Toro) for the safe Jackson. Adding stupid 3-D and 48fps as a distracting novelty. So depressing.

    If the movie underperforms, here's my quick fix: Release part 2 next summer and part 3 next Christmas. Then, in 2014, release one four hour version on home video. Over the next few years, roll out the three expanded films as special edition blu rays. That could right some wrongs here.

  • Thomas | December 15, 2012 9:42 AM

    @Tratz

    Why should someone need to do extra research to appreciate a major Hollywood blockbuster? A successful film will stand on its own - it shouldn't require one to read to the source material(s) to appreciate it. Besides the fact that you're missing the point - if the story didn't feel interesting to him, then it doesn't matter whether Jackson made them up or whether they came from the appendices. It was boring regardless (in his opinion. I haven't seen the films yet but expect that I'll enjoy them.)

    As for the "Gone with the Wind" thing...

    Good for you? The point isn't that the movies are 3 hours - clearly Maltin doesn't have a blanket prohibition against long films - it's simply that these are 3-hour long films that (in his opinion) don't have enough interesting things to fill their runtime.

    I'm actually indifferent to "Gone with the Wind" myself, but "Lawrence of Arabia" is chockful of ideas, incredible scenes, and fantastic filmmaking in general. Its four hours always fly by.

    It's not the length - it's the story being told. A 90 minute film can feel bloated while a 4-hour film can feel too short.

  • Tratz | December 14, 2012 5:19 PM

    No one passed on Del Toro, Del Toro backed out of the project. And it isn't merely one book stretched into three films. Much of the expanded content is from the LOTR Appendixes and even bits from the Silmarillion. It might behoove you to do your research. However, to each their own. I have tried watching Gone With the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia, both considered cinematic masterpieces, and I find them both equally tedious. And each of them are nearly 4 HOURS long. Talk about slogging through.

  • A Fan | December 14, 2012 7:02 AMReply

    The Hobbit itself is a simple story. Only a few of the characters and moments are expanded upon in the novel. So in order to give just the book itself more depth its going to have more to it and you can add in some of the great material from the appendices from The Lord of the Rings. Your feel of bloat comes from a general lack of knowledge in the subject. You're simply judging a book by its cover. Maybe reviewing a film like this and the other two is something you should stay away from. That's just my simple opinion on the bloat I just read. :)

  • Jon | December 15, 2012 5:42 PM

    Yikes, that was supposed to have separate paragraphs. Oh well.

  • Jon | December 15, 2012 5:40 PM

    I didn't feel like the film was "bloated". Maybe a little repetitive with the fight and flight stuff, but that's really exactly how the book was. It's exciting sequence after exciting sequence. And watching it, I was always looking forward to more, and I got it. Maybe that kind of story doesn't translate the best into film form, but you can't really fault the filmmakers for trying to stay faithful to the source material and make the movie entertaining. If you seriously came to The Hobbit with the expectation of it being a serious, complicated story, you should have reevaluated your expectations. It's just a very simple story about an adventure and it's a pretty straightforward adaptation. I can't think of anything that they left out from the book (as others have stated, they added in a lot of material from other stuff, which I'll admit they probably didn't need to do but I'm not going to complain about getting more story for my moviegoing dollar), but as someone said, it might actually warrant three films if they keep up with how faithful they've been to the source material. I personally felt like two films was just the right amount, but after seeing it I'm not sure. Maybe if the second film was four hours long they could pull it off. The only reason I'm against three films is that it's that much longer to wait to get the whole package. But that's kind of a superficial thing to complain about.

    And it isn't like this film doesn't have a singular complete through-line or story arc that it doesn't follow. It does, for several characters in fact and there's a little more to it than just "bilbo finds his inner courage". The film sustains as a stand alone story I feel, at least more so than the other LOTR films did individually. Others may disagree but that's my opinion.

    I can understand if some people didn't care for the movie or felt it was too long and that's fair. Sometimes movies just don't click for certain people, for whatever reason. But a lot of the reviews I've looked at seem to be bashing it without really objectively considering the purpose of the film, and questioning why "we needed another one of these movies". Please don't be that asshole. It's a movie, it was made because people wanted to make it and people wanted to see it. I will say that I love the LOTR films but so far I've enjoyed this movie the most. Maybe it's just because I feel this was the most faithful adaptation yet, but it was also the most entertaining in several ways.

  • Thomas | December 15, 2012 9:47 AM

    "Maybe reviewing a film like this and the other two is something you should stay away from. That's just my simple opinion on the bloat I just read."

    Haha, he called one of your favorite films (that you haven't seen) bloated and so you call his writing bloated (even though his review is actually quite concise and to the point.) I'm rubber you're glue. Haha.

    Also, as I said above, a good film stands on its own. If one needs some sort of special "knowledge of the subject" to appreciate the film, then that's a failing of the film - not of the reviewer.

  • tolkien reader | December 14, 2012 3:31 PM

    I don't know if you've seen it yet but I'd say about 2 hrs 20 mins of the movie is "The Hobbit" as written in book form and pretty faithful page to page to nearly the first half or so of the book. Surprisingly little of it is added from appendices which I didn't expect. This definitely needs to be a trilogy as there is a LOT of story left to tell.

  • Phillips | December 14, 2012 11:38 AM

    @A Fan. Come on, man. All you did was insult the writer for holding a different opinion. "You're simply judging a book by its cover" - first, he clearly is NOT doing that; and second, I hope that you've already seen the film, because praising it without seeing it first is about as bad. Also, I fail to see how sprinkling in odd details from the LOTR appendices could possibly give The Hobbit more depth while not reducing it into an aimless ramble.

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