Well, Peter Jackson is no George Lucas, I’m happy to report, and his new Middle-earth prequel is no “Phantom Menace.” But the movie is a disappointment, and not only because it fails to equal the grand achievement of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy of a decade ago.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” wanders and slumps and generally fails to engage. It’s a welcome entrant in the annual holiday box-office scrum – big and busy and often beautiful to look at. But it’s not what you might have been expecting, or hoping for.
First of all, at nearly three hours, the movie is just too long–especially since it’s only the first installment of what is now being inflated into a new trilogy. J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” books, which ran to more than a thousand pages, fully warranted a three-part movie of more than nine hours. However, Tolkien’s 1937 novel, “The Hobbit, or There and Back Again”–his introductory exploration of Middle-earth mythology–is only about 300 pages long. Jackson has pumped up this slender tale with about 150 pages’ worth of additional material from the Return of the King appendices, and it sometimes feels like padding.
The story involves another quest, of course–the one that’s alluded to in the Rings films, which were set 60 years after the events in this one.