I love The Lord of the Rings. The movies, in particular, hold a place near to my heart. I remember when my friends and I were going for The Fellowship of the Ring – I was fairly skeptical about the whole thing. I hadn’t seen any trailers, never read the books, and really only knew that it was something to do with elves, dwarves, and something called a ‘hobbit.’ This was long before I started reading Fantasy novels, and I approached the cinema with some level of sullenness. I figured the movie would not be enjoyable, and I couldn’t figure out why my friends were so eager to see the damn thing. My expectations, in short, were minimal.
A little under three hours later, I walked out of the cinema completely blown away. I went out a couple of days later and bought all three books, reading them back-to-back. And now that Peter Jackson is returning to Middle Earth over a decade later, I couldn’t wait to revisit his recreation of the world. This time, though, my expectations were high. So how did it go?
All in all, pretty good. If I’m being honest, I don’t feel anywhere near as blown away as I was with FotR, but that was to be expected. My biggest concern was with the idea that Jackson was splitting this into 3 movies. I’ve read The Hobbit, and it certainly isn’t a book that warrants a trilogy. LotR was a trilogy, because it had enough content for it. Not to mention the fact that there are three books. The Hobbit is a single book and not a particularly large one, at that. It’s probably about two-thirds the size of Fellowship. Did it really need to split into three films? Probably not.
A Narrative Stretched Thin
The Hobbit is a good movie, and in a way I enjoyed the detailed exposition of the world, the tragedy that befell the dwarves, and a bit of a backstory to Thorin Oakenshield. But the biggest problem is that by the end of the film, we’ve really only reached a point where the party can see the Lonely Mountain… off in the distance, still pretty darn far away. We have yet to see any of Smaug (the source of the aforementioned tragedy) except some glimpses of his shadow and an eye. Obviously, Jackson is saving The Moment for the second film (considering it’s called The Desolation of Smaug this isn’t a difficult guess), but along with the general pace of the film, which is… leisurely, it’s a narrative problem that will likely be endemic with the trilogy – by stretching a modest book into three films, Jackson will end up with a series that many will complain has too much filler.
And they won’t be wrong. The entire scene in the caves, with the goblins, seemed far too drawn out. I guess Jackson wanted to show the dwarves and Gandalf doing something while Bilbo had his encounter with Gollum (which was awesome, by the way) but I wish there was some way Jackson could have done it without it being so… trivial. There was really nothing about the scene that seemed exhilarating, largely because the goblins seemed more comical rather than threatening. By comparison, the scenes in the mines of Moria from Fellowship was terrific. You could really feel the tension as the group was trying desperately to escape. Here, not only did their escape seem inevitable, but it never really felt like there was any urgency.
As I said, though, it does give us some time to witness Bilbo’s first (last?) ever encounter with Gollum, and it was done spectacularly well. WETA are really good with CGI characters, and the Gollum here looks even better than he did in the LotR trilogy. You could really almost believe he was a real person. The scene where he realises that Bilbo has pilfered his precious ring, and the expression on his face and the look in his eyes… Masterfully done.
A Word on HFR
More Words on HFR
One of the early controversies before the film even released was to do with Jackson’s revelation that he intends to release it in High-Frame Rate (or HFR). Basically, this means the film runs at 48 frames-per-second compared to the more conventional 24 fps. Jackson claims this was done to minimize blur and make the images ‘pop’ more. And indeed, the sharpness of the movie is amazing, with landscapes and CGI looking clearer than ever.
And therein lies the problem. CGI being ultra-clear merely emphasizes the fact that it is CGI. As spectacular as Gollum looked, there were other CGI creatures in the movie — like the Eagles, the wargs and certain rodents — that looked like something out of a video game. A really good looking video game, but a game nonetheless. And even certain effects like the Smaug’s fire from early scenes don’t quite have the same impact.
An even bigger problem, though, is with scenes involving fast movement. Any time characters were running around or twitching, the motion looked sped up and a bit unreal, like they were floating on air rather than actually touching the ground. If you’ve seen any of LCDs TVs with 200Hz refresh rates, and noticed it looked weird, then you will know what I mean.
I’ve seen the film in the ‘normal’ way, as well, and personally much prefer it. Everything feels more real, and because you’re not weirded out by the strangeness, I found it easier to be engrossed by it. I would say, though, that everyone should try it out for themselves and decide. In my group of friends, we were fairly evenly split between people who thought they would rather not see HFR again and those who would.
The Hobbit is a fine film. It will not be the best movie you have ever seen, but I would gladly recommend it to anyone. I enjoyed myself, and the Dwarves’ rendition of the solemn “Misty Mountains” song will forever be stuck in my head. The recurring cast members do as good a job as you would expect, and new ones carry themselves well. Martin Freeman as Bilbo, in particular, did an excellent job.
Will I see the sequels to The Hobbit when they come out? Most definitely. But 24 fps in 2D is fine for me, thanks. (4/5)