December 29th, 2012 | WEEKEND

‘The Hobbit’: much fighting, minimal plot, mediocrity

Remember how the final battle in “The Lord of the Rings” was breathtaking? How would you like to see that again, just a thousand times less epic, for three straight hours?

It’s pretty easy to figure out what happened here. Somebody realized Hollywood was running out of recognizable source material for “Lord of the Rings” adaptations, and so they split “The Hobbit” into a trilogy. Since “The Hobbit” is, obviously, about a third the size of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, it was forced to confront the reality that there simply wasn’t enough plot to make up three movies. As a result, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” ended up consisting mostly of fight scenes.

I thought I’d already seen all the ways orcs can die, courtesy of the “Lord of the Rings” movies. I was wrong. As it turns out, there are at least 170 minutes worth of orc deaths to be had. The thing is, we’ve all already seen orcs. And elves. And hobbits. The novelty has worn off — it isn’t enough to simply show us the creatures. We need to see them doing interesting things. Fighting battle after seemingly pointless battle doesn’t cut it anymore. I zoned out repeatedly. Luckily, I never seemed to miss anything, because there was precious little plot.

The thing about these fight scenes is that nothing substantial happens in them. A fight scene in a film can accomplish one or two things: it can advance the story slightly or show us a character change. In “An Unexpected Journey,” the fight scenes generally did neither. Instead, they simply ate up time. It’ll take the average person longer to watch “The Hobbit” trilogy than to read “The Hobbit.”

Oddly enough, even with such a conspicuous lack of story to begin with, the writers apparently eliminated even more necessary character development from the movie. In the beginning, Bilbo has no desire to go adventuring. Gandalf shows up, and Bilbo still doesn’t want to adventure. A bunch of dwarves show up, and Bilbo still doesn’t want to adventure. He then wakes up the next morning and instantly runs off because he’s afraid of being late for the adventure.

To be fair, I’m holding “An Unexpected Journey” up to a pretty high standard. The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is a hard act to follow. Had I been watching “An Unexpected Journey” without that context, the wonderful visual candies alone would have impressed me (though the many references to “The Lord of the Rings” would have confused me). Since pretty much all of us have already seen these character types and places, eye-catching visuals just weren’t enough this time around. The actors were great, as was the cinematography. I appreciate that the moviemakers added in odds and ends from some of Tolkien’s other writing. Everything was excellent … except the script.

This could have been a fantastic movie. Instead, it’ll be three mediocre movies.