The first (!) part of the Hobbit has been released and the reviews are unanimous: horrible, pretentious and overlong. This one from the Telegraph sums it up nicely:
“Like butter that has been scraped over too much bread” was how JRR Tolkien described the supernatural world-weariness of Bilbo Baggins in the opening chapter of The Lord of the Rings.
This phrase, incomparably Tolkien-esque in its syntactic neatness and semantic beauty, is also a perfect description for the first instalment in Peter Jackson’s three-part adaptation of The Hobbit, which I now fear is doomed to be referred to as a ‘prequel’ to Tolkien’s fantasy magnum opus.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey barely leaves the driveway. The film lasts for 11 minutes short of three hours, and takes us to the end of chapter six in Tolkien’s original novel, which falls on page 130 of the official movie tie-in edition. That’s half an hour per chapter, or one minute and 20 seconds per page. The work of the sombre Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr, whose grinding tale of apocalyptic poverty The Turin Horse ran to a mere 155 minutes, feels nippy by comparison.
This film is so stuffed with extraneous faff and flummery that it often barely feels like Tolkien at all – more a dire, fan-written internet tribute. The book begins with the unimprovable ten-word opening sentence: “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.” Jackson, by contrast, starts with an interminable narrative detour about a mining operation run by a team of dwarfs, involving magic crystals, orc armies and details of dwarf family trees that are of interest, at this early stage in what is supposed to be a family film, to almost nobody.
And so on, all bad. Which is disappointing; I hadn’t planned on seeing it – I saw the first part of Lord of the Rings and quit there, but the Hobbit was one of my favorite books as a ten-year-old and I still hold warm, nostalgic feelings towards the story, so I hate to see it ruined for new generations of the movie-watchers who have replaced readers. Readers themselves seem as doomed to extinction as the ents.
I suspected all this when I heard that the studio and Peter Jackson had divided what was a short children’s story into three, three-hour films. All the popcorn sales in the world, literally, can’t atone for that sin. The orcs have won.