The odd thing about the saying “too much of a good thing” is that it acknowledges the fact that, something, in general, is composed of an overabundance of excellence. There’s no qualifier, no additional phrase which augments the sentiment like “…and too much that’s terrible.” The maxim is meant to argue for a surplus, and that’s exactly what you find with Peter Jackson’s take on The Hobbit. Revisiting Tolkien territory again after the worldwide success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Oscar winning filmmaker didn’t exactly set out to repeat his previous Middle Earth triumphs.
But when anointed replacement director Guillermo Del Toro dropped out, Jackson reluctantly agreed to take over the production. We now have the first part of a planned trilogy, expanding on the adventures of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his travels to the Lonely Mountain to defeat the dragon Smaug.
It is Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who approaches our latest hero about joining a band of dwarves on their excursion to the aforementioned locale. Seems the indigenous populace has been driven out by the beast, and the ruling family has been dethroned. Thorin (Richard Armitage), grandson of the former king, wants his empire back, but has issues with how to go about getting it. He hates Elves (they did not lift a finger to help his people) and he is unsure how his band of brothers will conquer a huge, fire-breathing evil.
Bilbo reluctantly agrees to come along as a “thief” and the party eventually finds itself trapped in the Misty Mountains. There, our tiny hero encounters Gollum (Andy Serkis) a deformed creature who is obsessed with a shiny gold ‘object.’ In addition, a one-armed Orc known as Azog the Defiler has a score to settle with Thorin, and won’t rest until he is defeated… or dead.
Far more cartoony and geared toward the younger members of the intended demo, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a visual feast… and a bit of a narrative mess. The movie version of the famous novel has been supplemented with material from throughout Tolkien’s massive mythology, with antagonists invented where there were none before as well as moments clearly conceived in the mind of the screenwriters (fighting rock giants?). It takes a while to get going (those dwarves sure love to eat — and clean up after themselves) and, though the backdrop is familiar, we are dealing with a new set of characters and enemies.
The result is a movie of many wonders, and many question marks. While Smaug is the ultimate goal, he is kept completely in the shadows. All we get are small, tantalizing glimpses. Similarly, Thorin’s need for revenge is understandable, even if it is somewhat antithetical to the novel’s designs. Yet since Jackson is so comfortable in this world, because his creative eye is so specific and unique, we get lost in the lovely images. Thanks to an attention to detail and an expanded filming rate of 48 frames per second, this is a lush and literally dense cinematic environment.
Yes, there’s too much here. Yes, Jackson and the studios are milking the material like the cash cow it is. Luckily, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey revels in its excesses. There may be too many of them, but everyone single one is wonderful.