As it turns out, there’s a good reason why three-hour-long movies that are based only on the first six chapters of 300 page books are so uncommon: making a movie that long based on material that brief is a recipe for tedium. Peter Jackson, it seems, is in the process of learning this lesson the hard way.
Although all of the early reviews are quick to point out that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has moments that are on par with the best of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, they also point out that the movie is extremely long and that nothing all that interesting happens in it. Currently, the movie has a 77% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which for an ordinary holiday movie is pretty good, but for a Peter Jackson Tolkien adaptation is pretty bad. (The Two Towers, in contrast, scored 96%).
Here’s Todd McCarthy from The Hollywood Reporter: “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. There are elements in this new film that are as spectacular as much of the Rings trilogy was, but there is much that is flat-footed and tedious as well, especially in the early going. This might be one venture where, rather than DVDs offering an ‘Expanded Director’s Version,’ there might be an appetite for a ‘Condensed Director’s Cut’ in a single normal-length film.”
David Germain from the Associated Press: “Remember the interminable false endings of The Return of the King, the Academy Award-winning finale of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings? An Unexpected Journey has a similar bloat throughout its nearly three hours, in which Tolkien’s brisk story of intrepid little hobbit Bilbo Baggins is drawn out and diluted by dispensable trimmings better left for DVD extras.”
Peter Debrudge from Variety: “Fulfilling just a fraction of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘There and Back Again’ subtitle, The Hobbit alternately rewards and abuses auds’ appetite for all things Middle-earth. While Peter Jackson’s prequel to The Lord of the Rings delivers more of what made his earlier trilogy so compelling—colorful characters on an epic quest amid stunning New Zealand scenery—it doesn’t offer nearly enough novelty to justify the three-film, nine-hour treatment, at least on the basis of this overlong first installment, dubbed An Unexpected Journey. The primary advance here is technical, as Jackson shoots in high-frame-rate 3D, an innovation that improves motion at the expense of visual elegance.”
The rest of us will get to weigh in when The Hobbit hits theatres Dec. 14th.