Too much or too little? When it comes to Tolkien screen adaptations, there seems to be little agreement in how much material to stuff into these movies.
The choice by director Peter Jackson and his team to divide “The Hobbit” into three films may be a bridge too far for many viewers. There certainly is enough story in J.R.R. Tolkien’s slim novel (273 pages in my paperback version) to justify splitting it in twain. But the filmmakers chose to go further, layering in all sorts of material from extended Tolkien lore to pad out what was a simple children’s tale into something as grand – and grim – as “The Lord of the Rings.”
The result is languidly paced and overstuffed. The iconic “Unexpected Party” dinner that opens the tale, with meek hobbit Bilbo Baggins being invited by dwarves to go on a great adventure, overstays its welcome by at least 10 minutes.
They also bring in all sorts of figures who weren’t in the book, including Galadriel and a flighty colleague of Gandalf named Radagast. It sometimes feels like a “Greatest Hits” retread of “LotR.”
I still enjoyed the movie, while recognizing that people less enamored with Tolkien’s dense fantasy mythology won’t like it nearly as much. And several sequences, such as Bilbo’s deadly game of riddles with the creature Gollum, are positively thrilling.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (PG-13, 169 min.) shows it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
It’s being released with a decent amount of extras, including 10 making-of videos that cover a broad range of production topics, from initial conception to the decision to shoot in 3-D with a special frame rate of 48 fps (which reportedly turned off some viewers).
If Jackson & Co. hold to form, though, expect to see a special edition come out in the next year or so with even meatier goodies and possibly an extended version that pushes the run time past three hours.
For some hardcore Tolkienites, more is never enough.