Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Bloated, but Still a Good Show

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Bloated, but Still a Good Show

Article excerpt

The sort of people who slavishly read fantasy novels in general and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien in particular (like me) also tend to be the sort who play video games, especially the role-playing variety. (Again, me.) These overlapping constituencies are likely familiar, then, with the concept of the expansion pack. This is when the makers of a successful game issue a supplement that keeps the basics in place, and just adds new elements - extended storylines, new characters, new monsters, fresh hardware and so on.

In blowing up Tolkien's modest novel "The Hobbit" - 287 pages in my ancient Ballantine paperback edition - into a trio of movies tipping near three hours each, director Peter Jackson and his cohorts have essentially applied the M.O. of the expansion pack to moviemaking. Oh, Tolkien's charming children's story is still there, about an unassuming hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) who gets recruited to accompany 13 dwarves and a wizard on a journey to faraway lands to slay a dragon and win back a stolen kingdom. But it's been "augmented" to such a ridiculous degree that keepers of the original flame might have a hard time recognizing the quaint little tale they remember so fondly.

I still liked the final product, which is a rip-roaring, action- packed good time, because as I said this sword-and-sorcery stuff is totally in my wheelhouse. But in giving it the grand, elongated "Lord of the Rings" treatment, I fear casual fans may feel Tolkien's tender prequel has been burgled of much of its charm.

At the outset of the second film of the triplet, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," Bilbo, dwarven leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and sage wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) have successfully crossed through the Misty Mountains and escaped the clutches of a horde of goblins and orcs who want their heads.

They still have a long way to go to reach Erebor, the lonely mountain where the eponymous dragon lies sleeping under a mountain of treasure. To get there, Bilbo & Co. have to brave the suffocating Mirkwood Forest, battle giant spiders and encounter some woodland elves who aren't so sprightly in their attitudes toward dwarves. …

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