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Since I spent an entire blog post convincing you that I was a psycho Tolkien nerd, I'm going to spend this entire blog post trying to convince you that I am not so much of a psycho nerd that I can't objectively review a film. Kinda.
I tried to manage my expectations for The Hobbit
because I really have been waiting for this movie since the credits rolled on Return of the King
, more or less. I didn't end up needing to do that because all the yapping about frame rates and stuff really made me avoid the conversation altogether, so thanks Twitter!
My first impression of the film was that it was pretty much everything I could have asked for from The Hobbit
. Or at least, the first third of The Hobbit
. A majority of it was lifted right out of the pages of the book. I'm not a stickler about adaptations, but I always get really excited when things work out on screen just as the author wrote them and just how I imagined them. That's magic right there. I was really happy to see the scene with the three trolls, the meeting of the dwarves, and most of all, basically the entire chapter nearly word for word it seemed with Bilbo and Gollum -- Riddles in the Dark. Even the scenes that don't technically exist in The Hobbit
(the book) were great additions. They exist elsewhere in the appendices, or they're just like a sentence somewhere shoved aside. I don't recall the pale orc from The Hobbit
, so I thought that was an effective construction to have some kind of opposing force.
Just because it was everything I could have asked for from The Hobbit
as a film doesn't mean it was everything I could have asked for from a successful film, though. More on that after more positive stuff. Just didn't want you to think this was a blindingly glowing review.
Who is going to do the dishes?
(L-R) KEN STOTT as Balin, AIDAN TURNER as Kili, WILLIAM KIRCHER as Bifur, IAN McKELLEN as Gandalf, GRAHAM McTAVISH as Dwalin, MARK HADLOW as Dori and MARTIN FREEMAN as Bilbo Baggins.
Not being a teenage Tolkien freak anymore, I was reasonably enthusiastic but not lose-your-mind crazy like I was when we saw The Two Towers
back in the day. I wasn't even dressed up in an elven cloak and holding a bow like the girl that sat next to us. But when the film entered Bag End for the first time with Ian Holm narrating and writing and just being Bilbo again? Yikes, emotions. I mean, it's not like I think about Lord of the Rings
a whole lot on a daily basis, nor do I bring it up first, second or even eighth in a discussion of favorite films. But getting more Middle Earth punched me in the face. It's a very comfortable place to be.
The one thing that was truly make or break for the film for me was over early -- the opening line of the book: "In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit" -- all I wanted to hear was Ian Holm speaking those words and I was fully IN.
Overall, the film worked for me. But it wasn't always entirely successful, and I had a little trouble figuring out exactly why for a few days until I had this thought: The Hobbit
feels off because it isn't Lord of the Rings
. The thing is, The Hobbit (the book) is extremely different than Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit
(the film) also carries a different tone and pace. It's unfair to compare The Hobbit
to Lord of the Rings
, because the scope and stakes are not even close to the same level. But you can't help but do so because of all the additions made to the film by Peter Jackson that give more backstory and link directly to Lord of the Rings
. I love all this stuff dearly and it was a lot of fun to watch and it filled in a lot of the details The Hobbit (the book) left out. But you can't help but see the reason why Tolkien never wrote all that stuff back IN to The Hobbit. The Hobbit
as a film is not quite The Hobbit, yet not quite Lord of the Rings. It's in the uncanny valley of Middle Earth, which lies between the Pass of Edoras and across the way from the Gap of Rohan.
Radagast is quite a strange character, but brought to life pretty perfectly by Sylvester McCoy.
And that's where I think it becomes difficult to see The Hobbit
for the film it actually is -- a story that doesn't have quite the political twists and turns of Lord of the Rings
, doesn't have the same emotional beats, doesn't have a terrifying world-ending driving force, and doesn't have the same kind of complex characters. When you read The Hobbit, that's fine. When you watch it with all these additions that make the world bigger, it feels like the emotion and impending doom isn't really earned, but artificially constructed -- if you're in the same frame of mind as Lord of the Rings
If you can get past this not-quite-this-but-not-quite-that phenomenon, the pacing worked pretty well considering they covered so little of the story of The Hobbit
. There were some stalls, but it mostly kept moving forward. There's plenty of action to keep the dwarves busy, but perhaps just a little too much. At a certain point in a film, you get to a state where you're kind of bored of seeing characters in peril that will obviously survive. A great VFX achievement, but not really moving the story forward.
I really enjoyed the performances in the film, too. Martin Freeman seems like he was born to play Bilbo. And Radagast is quite a strange character, but brought to life pretty perfectly by Sylvester McCoy. Watching Andy Serkis bring Gollum to life again was magic.
Andy Serkis brings Gollum to life.
HFR? Oh right.
I saw the film in 24fps 2D the first time around, and I'm really glad I got a chance to fully immerse myself in the story before anything else.
Here's the thing: I'm really open-minded. I love the fact digital video exists. It's what made it so easy for ME to cultivate my skills at a young age. I love that people can tell stories with less money. I love innovation and risk-taking. A lot of great things happen when someone takes a chance.
But my personal verdict on HFR? It was not great. Without getting into the graphic detail you can find elsewhere on the Internet, I felt that HFR did nothing to progress the story. By making every bit of motion so clear, it instead sends a lot of unnecessary information to the viewer's eyes. I don't like unnecessary information. Cut it! I will concede one point: the 3D was much easier to handle at 48fps.
I'm glad that a director decided to take a big leap and try something new. I hope people keep playing with HFR and other interesting techniques. I just didn't think it served a purpose in The Hobbit
. I also wouldn't really argue with anyone that thought the opposite. Well, anymore than I have already, I suppose.
Regardless of any missteps or frame rates, I can't wait to see the second part of The Hobbit
, and I'm glad it's a three part film. I'll always be grateful to Peter Jackson for being insane enough to actually bring these films to life; not just because of the expansive world you have to create, but also because of the amount of criticism that comes from people who have been so close to the source material for decades.
Let's do The Silmarillion now! How many movies can PJ make out of THAT?
Title image: IAN McKELLEN as Gandalf in New Line Cinema's and MGM's fantasy adventure THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
(L-r) KEN STOTT as Balin, AIDAN TURNER as Kili, WILLIAM KIRCHER as Bifur, IAN McKELLEN as Gandalf, GRAHAM McTAVISH as Dwalin, MARK HADLOW as Dori and MARTIN FREEMAN as Bilbo Baggins and in New Line Cinema's and MGM's fantasy adventure THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
SYLVESTER MCCOY as Radagast in New Line Cinema's and MGM's fantasy adventure "THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Gollum voiced by ANDY SERKIS in New Line Cinema's and MGM's fantasy adventure "THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
MARTIN FREEMAN as Bilbo Baggins in New Line Cinema's and MGM's fantasy adventure "THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
©2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Inc.