The Hobbit: An Unexpectedly Unfavorable Review

I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey yesterday and here’s my review. It’s not going to be particularly kind. No point in dancing around things in the manner of professional critics. In fact, if you don’t want too much detail, let me boil it down to you: it’s a waste of time and money. Read on if you desire more detail.

Naturally, I expect someone to come wading into the comments section to wave my past review history in my face as some sort of indictment against my character and ability to level a fair review against this errant mistake of cinema. So the first thing I will do is set up a short list here of past film evaluations you can browse through to try to use as ammunition against my opinion.


There’s a clear trend you’ll see: I tend to look at the positives in things. It’s a world view that I try to let come into all aspects of my life. I don’t always succeed (see the Prometheus review, because that movie stinks). But I try.

Trust me, it’s stunning even to me how much I disliked this film. I went in with low expectations and it didn’t even meet that bar.

But enough of this palaver! Let’s get this show on the road!

High Frame Rate: An Unexpected Failure

After much hullabaloo, I decided to shell out the extra money to see the HFR (High Frame Rate/48fps) 3D version of this film. It was at times distracting, and at all times it was disappointing.

This is not to say that the technology won’t or can’t represent a great leap forward for film technology. I’m sure it can, and is just now in its infancy of use. However, it was quite apparent to me that certain techniques were not properly adapted this time. Namely, the lighting in the indoor scenes and the matching in the effects sequences.

I’ve often said that one of the greatest accomplishments of the Star Wars prequels, love them or hate them, is that the DP got the lighting keys to match across live shots matted onto miniatures matched with digital matte paintings. It wasn’t always flawless, but the films were consistently lit and “looked right.”

This film does not. The demands of HFR make a lot of the indoor sets look “so real” that it looks like you’re “on set” as opposed to watching the events of another world unfold. This decidedly took me out of the action several times.

Would I have judged the film less harshly if I’d seen it in 24fps with the non-nerds? Possible. But not probable.

Meandering Plot with No Respect for Editing

The harshest criticism I can level at this film is that it’s just not engaging. Occasionally it finds a toe–hold in your interest but then you’re taken right out of things again.

I would have cut at least twenty minutes out of the front of the movie to begin. Telling the entire back–story of Thorin’s people as prologue is unnecessary and actually detracts from the emotional impact of the affected characters–the dwarves– from telling it to Bilbo later. Shoe–horning in a meandering flash-forward preamble meant as a preface to Fellowship of the Ring is, in a word, a tremendous cheat.

We all know where this is going, let’s just start the story and then tie it in at the end of all three. Give us something to which we can look forward.

The Additions to the Story

Azog is resurrected, so to speak, in order to create a sub–plot from whole cloth. He chases the band because Mr. Jackson and the screenwriters aren’t satisfied without some sort of extensive action sequence.

Fili and Kili are turned into mirror images of Merry and Pippin as portrayed in the Rings films. Several of the dwarves seem to have contracted a case of stupid. Radaghast the Brown is turned into a half–wit quite unnecessarily.

I understand that changes need to be made for film adaptations and have no general problem with it. The Godfather cuts out a lot of extra stuff that would have slowed the film down. Fight Club takes some shortcuts. However, the changes made here are entirely unnecessary, up to and including the changes to the escape from the halls of the Goblin King.

Mr. Jackson, though, seems obsessed to turn even quiet moments into topsy–turvy roller coaster rides that just get tiresome.

The changes actually slow the film down considerably, which is what makes no sense. Some of them even take away the element of surprise and discovery for the latter parts of the story, which is unfortunate. The start of the film would have been delightful if it had just led ever–so–briefly into Gandalf showing up on Bilbo’s doorstep unexpectedly (I know, right?). Then we, as an audience, can experience the surprise and fun with the character instead of a crushing sense of inevitability.

Changes are usually made in film for the sake of pacing. The changes further muddle a lot of the motivation from Bilbo, which is the most unfortunate thing since the story is supposedly about him.

The Positives

To end things on a positive note, I will say that the scene with Gollum, though changed, is a lot of fun.

The meeting between Gandalf and a few other characters at Rivendell, including a nicely surprising appearance I didn’t expect at all, was a treat.

Hearing the Dwarves sing their song of woe about the mountain is also nicely done.

So There You Have It

Am I being too harsh?

I don’t know. Let me present you something I’d rather watch 20 times than see this movie again:

12 thoughts on “The Hobbit: An Unexpectedly Unfavorable Review

  1. So, a director had a smash hit with an original trilogy, then decided to make a trilogy of prequels, and the first part of that new trilogy is a dud and just not a good movie? This sounds vaguely familiar…


    1. It ain’t that easy, Boy Blunder.

      But to take your argument for the sake of it- regardless of your opinion of the Star Wars prequels (or Temple of Doom for that matter) The Hobbit should have been (even) better because Jackson wasn’t creating this world strictly from his own imaginings but adapting once again from a rich, well-established body of work. So if I’m a fan of Lucas’ PT work, I should have been floored by The Hobbit because all the linkages and plot had been already well established instead of having to gloss over things like “how does a newborn remember her mother?” (which I’ve answered before, but it’s from my own presumptions instead of the text).

      Instead, Jackson destroys whatever good will remained after he tortured me with King Kong. I will not be going to the theatre to watch the sequels.


  2. Haven’t seen it. The more I heard about it pre-release, the less inclined I was to shell out the money. Thanks for giving me cause to think I acted smartly.


  3. I’ve never read The Hobbit, so I can’t really compare the movie to the book, but I never got the impression Radagast was a half-wit. Perceived to be that way by some, sure, but taken on his own merit, I thought he seemed caring and knowledgeable. As for Azog,I knew from reviews that his role was an expansion from “a footnote” but it didn’t seem terribly out of place to me, either. From what I gather about the book from other people, it was mostly everyone running from random orcs at this point. I kind of liked having an element like Azog to tie it all together.

    I had the good fortune to see The Hobbit in 2D and at the regular frame-rate, though. Sometimes, I can barely tolerate surround sound, so I can imagine the disappointment that comes from feeling like you’re “on a set” rather than observing a different world. (But I will say that I felt like some of the effects were LESS good than they were a decade ago in Fellowship of the Ring, and that was distracting.)


    1. Thanks for your comment!

      For me Radagast wasn’t just eccentric but nearly intolerable for me, and as a result the character meant to deliver a message of menace became distracting. The nicest thing I can say is he reminded me of a zany neighbor character from 80s television.

      As for the effects, I believe – and this is just a guess – but the frame rate issues (exacerbated possibly at 24fps for digital effects) probably played a part in that. A lot of them had a “strobing” effect. I also think Jackson never let your eyes rest and that made it worse. In an effects heavy movie, camera movement is not your friend and needs to be very smooth if it happens or you wind up with a confusing visual jumble. Just my opinion – I have yet to make a blockbuster film of my own. 🙂


      1. Yeah, I definitely got the zany 80s neighbor vibe, too. And I can see where that would be bothersome if it’s a departure from what he should be.


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