Photo: MGM, Warner Bros.
The first reviews have hit the web for Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – and the verdict is almost as puzzling as one of Bilbo’s riddles.While the majority of critics praise the first film in the trilogy based on JRR Tolkien’s 1937 children’s novel – which was followed 17 years later by the better-known Lord of the Rings – there are considerable misgivings about the length of the movie, the decision to split the book into three films, and Jackson’s determination to shoot at a controversial 48 frames per second. The film currently maintains an 82% “fresh” rating on the review aggregator site rottentomatoes.com, yet you wouldn’t know it from some of the comments made in the reviews.
The US trades, in particular, are a bit sniffy. “Spending nearly three hours of screen time to visually represent every comma, period and semicolon in the first six chapters of the perennially popular 19-chapter book, Jackson and his colleagues have created a purist’s delight, something the millions of die-hard fans of his Lord of the Rings trilogy will gorge upon,” writes Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter. “In pure movie terms, however, it’s also a bit of a slog, with an inordinate amount of exposition and lack of strong forward movement. In Jackson’s academically fastidious telling, it’s as if The Wizard of Oz had taken nearly an hour just to get out of Kansas.”
“Bilbo’s three-hour journey is awfully slow to start,” agrees Variety’s Peter Debruge. “Jackson and his team seem compelled to flesh out the world of their earlier trilogy in scenes that would be better left to extended-edition DVDs (or omitted entirely), all but failing to set up a compelling reason for fans to return for the second instalment.” However, he admits: “Few film series have achieved the consistency of look and feel maintained across these Middle Earth-set stories, and once the adventure gets going, Jackson reminds audiences of his expertise at managing action on a scale that would have made David Lean wish he’d had CGI in his toolbox.”
IGN’s Jim Vejvoda says The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey “almost attains greatness yet despite so many moments of epic fun, greatness remains just out of its reach”. He adds: “This is a very good and entertaining movie even if it never quite recaptures the wonder or mystique of the Lord of the Rings. HitFix’s Drew McWeeny makes sure we are aware that Jackson’s film is “a very good movie” before lingering fastidiously into its faults: “There is more of a sense of heavy lifting involved at the start of the film as the older version of Bilbo, played once again by Ian Holm, shows up in a framing device that takes place mere moments before the opening of ‘Fellowship’,” he writes. “There is also the difficult nature of the way it all opens, with a dinner sequence that introduces all 6,000 dwarf characters and that seems to go on for a few hours. It is one of two major momentum killing sequences in the film, and taken together with the frantic, overwhelming nature of some of the action sequences, it makes for a very mixed experience.”
What of those 48 frames per second, the format introduced by Jackson for his new trilogy which has been criticised in some quarters for looking like daytime TV, and – worse – causing some viewers to feel nauseous. Debruge complains that it’s “disconcerting” and exacerbates the “phoniness” of sets and costumes, while McCarthy thinks it “looks like ultra-vivid television video, paradoxically lending the film a oddly theatrical look”. The movie is also viewable at the standard, 24 frames per second rate, which most preferred. “[It] had a softer, noticeably more textured image quality,” says McCarthy.
I failed to find a single review which offered unfettered praise for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, though most – like cinemablend.com’s Katey Rich – thought it “a good enough excuse to make a return visit to Middle Earth”. Devin Faraci of badassdigest.com perhaps sums up the general word on Jackson’s film, which arrives in US and UK cinemas on 14 December. Below a headline that describes the film as being “perfectly OK” sits the legend: “It’s not as bad as you feared, not as good as you hoped.”
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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