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Will 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' Take Us Back To Middle-Earth In Triumph Or Ring Of Disappointment?

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist October 23, 2012 at 2:57PM

With the days getting shorter and the clocks set to go back shortly, we've spent the last few weeks taking a look at the ten big fall releases that were, at least at the time, still unknown quantities. Three of them have since been screened: "Lincoln," "Flight" and "Skyfall," The rest -- "Wreck-It Ralph," "Django Unchained," "Les Miserables," "This Is 40," "Jack Reacher" and "Zero Dark Thirty" still remain under wraps for now.
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

With the days getting shorter and the clocks set to go back shortly, we've spent the last few weeks taking a look at the ten big fall releases that were, at least at the time, still unknown quantities. Three of them have since been screened: "Lincoln," "Flight" and "Skyfall," The rest -- "Wreck-It Ralph," "Django Unchained," "Les Miserables," "This Is 40," "Jack Reacher" and "Zero Dark Thirty" still remain under wraps for now.

And what better way to close off this series with the film that has the potential to be the biggest of them all -- Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" -- which sees the Oscar-winning director return to Middle Earth for a new trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations set before the "Lord of the Rings" films which were massive critical and commercial hits. Can Jackson recapture the magic again, or will the film be bloated and unnecessary? You can read Rodrigo Perez and Oliver Lyttelton's differing takes below, and let us know your own views in the comments section. And you'll be able to see the film for yourself on December 14th.

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

The Hobbit Gandalf
The Case For:
Hey, I’ll totally admit it. When the very first trailers for Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” hit at Christmas of last year, I was not impressed at all. It looked like a “The Further Adventures of The Lord Of The Rings Films” film. There was a gauzy tone too that seemed to suggest, “Ahh, isn’t this so warm and familiar like baby’s milk? Don’t worry, take another sip and sit back in relax with the franchise you’ve come to know and love and spend countless dollars on with those massively overlong DVD versions.” In short, it almost felt like a scam, it felt too safe, and perhaps it was. It didn’t hurt that a goofier tone was pronounced early on.

Perhaps that first trailer’s purpose was essentially to tell the core base of fans (a group that helped expand the films to $2.9 billion dollars worldwide) that, “Don’t worry, we’re not here to mess with a winning formula.” And really, why would Jackson and WB want to do that?

But to us, obviously that’s dull and we found ourselves yearning for Guillermo Del Toro’s what-woulda-been maybe-weirder view of “The Hobbit.” Furthermore, Warner Bros.’ plan to turn the ‘Hobbit’ into three parts seems like more of a financial one than a creative one: the two films were rumored to cost $315 million each, so by splitting them into three films, you definitely have a better chance at recouping costs. And the 48fps debacle turned from “Hey, this will revolutionize cinema” to “Hey, only in select theaters because people clearly didn’t respond to this as we hoped.” So on the surface, there are lot of reasons to be grumpy as, well, a Dwarf about “The Hobbit” films.

However, with each successive trailer, especially the most recent one, the footage has looked more and more appealing. Ok, granted, tonally the films look like they’ll definitely be in the same wheelhouse as the originals, and the music will likely be the same. And yes, there’s a slightly lighter tone in general as the twelve dwarves are supposed to be comic relief to a degree. But there’s also some portentous drama, some potential stakes and it looks a little meatier and more satisfying. Sure, it’s likely going to be as serious and melodramatic as “The Lord Of The Rings” films, but that was the power and richness of those films. Yes, a little over-the-top in spots with the whole, “we’re going to die, but we died together like brothers and we fought the valiant fight,” etc. etc. but it was dramatic and it worked and gave some emotional gravitas to the films even though almost no major characters died (not an easy feat to pull off).

I suppose in many ways, by now I’ve come to terms with the fact “The Hobbit” will not reinvent the wheel, but it feels, at least right now, a little bit exciting to re-enter that world, whereas before the trailers and marketing made that idea seem dull. So whatever small tonal adjustments they’re doing in the trailers, it feels like they’re doing something right. At this point, we probably can’t ask for more than another enjoyable and hopefully compelling adventure and considering what these films are at their core, maybe that’s all that should be asked of them. I suppose that’s a half-hearted endorsement, but I for one will be happy to pull up some popcorn and sit down for 2 ½ (and hopefully not more) hours with moderately tempered expectations and enjoy what I can. - Rodrigo Perez

The Hobbit Gollum
The Case Against:
I'm as big a fan of the "Lord of the Rings" film as anyone else, particularly the first of the trilogy, which is about a good a blockbuster as has been made in the last few decades. And "The Two Towers" and "Return Of The King," while a little more languid, still contain some A-grade filmmaking. So why is it that I'm unable to get excited about the imminent "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the first of the prequel trilogy?

Maybe it's because Peter Jackson's work away from Tolkien has been somewhat disappointing. "King Kong" was fun in spots, but about double the length it should have been, while the treacly, misjudged "The Lovely Bones" is by some distance the worst film that Jackson has ever made. Success has brought the Kiwi director to a place of complacency, and retreating to his greatest success feels like a backwards move.

Especially given that "The Hobbit" as a piece of source material is pretty minor, compared to "Lord of the Rings." A fun adventure story, certainly, but not one with the weight of its predecessor. If it had been the one made a decade ago, with "Lord of the Rings" following, maybe it would have been different, but there's the risk it could feel somewhat slight when the inevitable comparisons are made (although trailers suggest that Jackson's trying to bring more stakes into the occasion).

But most importantly, the book is only a relatively meagre 300 pages, and I thought that two movies sounded like a generous amount of screen time to tell the story. Now that it's being spread across three movies (and word is that the first film runs at about 170 minutes, only 8 minutes less than "The Fellowship of the Ring"), we honestly can't see how it won't be a "King Kong" level of overindulgence. Jackson's said to be adding elements from the appendices and such, but will it come across as anything more than fan service? (Especially with stars of the original trilogy being shoehorned into cameos.)

Maybe Jackson has found a way to do all of that, and telling a gripping story, and the length will be entirely justified. But given the general prequel syndrome that's struck everything from "Star Wars" to "Prometheus," we suspect we'll only end up with answers to a lot of questions that we never really wanted to ask in the first place - Oliver Lyttelton
 

This article is related to: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Features


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