Your enjoyment of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" largely depends on how much you want to be milked for your money.
While the film is lush, beautiful, funny and had me captivated through its entire 169 minute running time, it isn't what it appears to be. Today, filmgoers, despite rising ticket and concession prices, seem to reward the studios for their ploys.
Like "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows," split between two films in 2010 and 2011, and "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn," split between two films last year and this year, this film is not a complete story. Unlike those previous two examples, though, "The Hobbit" has been broken into three separate, nearly three-hour installments.
Weighing in at only 320 pages, "The Hobbit," by J.R.R. Tolkien, is a beloved classic of fantasy literature, but not more so than the three books that make up the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Further, each one of those books, which rightly were boiled down into a single movie each, were all longer books than "The Hobbit." The shortest of the three, "The Two Towers," is still 30 pages longer, while the other two are 110 pages longer. If viewed together once the third chapter is released in 2014, watching the trilogy will take about as long as reading the novel itself. So the only logical conclusion to be drawn from the decision to make three movies is that the filmmakers know we'll empty our pockets for anything.
All three Hobbit films were shot together. Both the second and third are currently in post-production and will be long finished by the time you pay to see it. The extravaganza doesn't end there, either.
Whereas Minot's Carmike Theatre is showing the film in both traditional presentation and in 3D, there are many more ways to see it. You've got the 48 frames per second 3D IMAX experience, the 48-fps IMAX experience, the 48-fps regular 3D experience and the traditional frame rate 3D experience. In addition, finally, there is also the "traditional presentation," which represents what the studios will - from this point forward, surely - be calling "the base price."
If you don't care about being a sheep led to financial slaughter, then you will surely enjoy this well-acted and very well-made film. Luckily for us, this first film contains the entirety - don't take that detail lightly - of the first six chapters of the novel. That means glory and bloody exposition!
The dwarf stronghold, which has been a regional source of economic prosperity forever due to its being inside a precious metals-rich mountain, has gotten a little too productive, attracting the interest of the monstrous dragon Smaug. The dragon attacks the stronghold and lays waste to all the dwarves hold dear. Smaug's only motive, of course, is that he is a dragon - and dragons love being near gold.
The dwarves have been without a home for at least a generation, and have waged battles against the disgusting and violent Orc warlords over turf. They decide, at the prodding of Ian McKellen's wizard Gandalf the Grey, to stage a guerilla campaign composed of a party of 13 dwarves, Gandalf and a bumbling young hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, who stars in the British version of "The Office") as their "burglar."
The dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), are warriors and much more loose with themselves than is the inexperienced and rather conservative Bilbo. Thorin doesn't believe in Bilbo ever being anything more than a homebody, a sentiment shared by Bilbo himself.
Gollum (voiced and digitally portrayed by Andy Serkis) is particularly nasty here and will be as crowd-pleasing as he was in the previous trilogy.
If it seems as though the synopsis is too pointed, that's just what this film is: pointed and detailed. When a concept calls for stretching a storyline rather than condensing it, there is no detail too small. It makes for lovely company, because each character is allowed to develop so much better than they would have been allowed to otherwise. Each villain or outside character species is detailed so richly that a viewer could speak in detail about every minor character.
It's all well and good, but rich detail and deep backstory is what literature is for. Films are, by necessity, of a smaller view. There have been amazing films that have told beautiful stories for the ages throughout time, and they didn't need to stretch because the filmmakers and the studios knew their place in the entertainment fold.
Director Peter Jackson and studio MGM have a good basis to believe people will fall for this. With the extended cuts of the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy still selling like mad and super-fans still rabid over the epics, it wasn't too much of a gamble to leash them into a three-year contract of fandom and gullibility. I'll see the next two, but it will be with a heavy heart as I mourn the death of the stand-alone story.
Movie: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; Director: Peter Jackson; Studio: New Line and MGM; Rating: PG-13; My finding: 3/5 stars.
(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews will appear periodically in Thursday's Arts &?Entertainment section.)