Where to begin, where to begin.
I am a hugely outspoken fan of the the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and while the books are what got me hooked it was the films that really made me fall in love with the comings and goings of middle earth. Peter Jackson took one of the riskiest gambles in modern cinematic history and turned it into both a critical and financial success, culminating in what could very well be my favorite movie of all time; The Return of the King. That was way back in 2003 however, and I know I was not alone in being overjoyed at the news that The Hobbit was finally being put forward after bringing Jackson back to the director’s chair. Unfortunately, that high level of excitement has only been decreased in the time since, for a number of reasons. The first is that the decision was made to make the shortest book of the four core LOTR texts in to not two, but THREE separate movies. The second was the repeatedly echoed concerns over the movie’s use of the High Frame Rate format, aka 48 fps, but I’ll get into that later. The third is the fact that while none of the first three movies dipped below a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes (all three are in the IMDb top 25), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey currently sits at a very underwhelming 65%. While it still features the dazzling visuals, intricate set pieces and action sequences of the Lord of the Rings films, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey‘s length and pace mix uneasily with an uneven tone to produce a satisfying yet ultimately disappointing experience.
Based off of J.R.R. Tolkein’s 1937 book, The Hobbit is the story of a “young” Hobbit (he’d be about 40 by my calculations) named Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) who, with the persuasion of the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), is swept up into a band of Dwarves’ quest to take back their homeland from the dragon, Smaug. Along the way they encounter Trolls, Orcs, Goblins, Elves and more while making their way to The Lonely Mountain and the kingdom of Erebor. At the same time, whispers of a dark power gathering in the forest of Mirkwood begins to trouble Gandalf, ultimately leading to the set up for The Fellowship of the Ring.
Honestly, it was difficult enough to swallow that the 300 page book would be separated into three different films, but the small amount of material available to each project should have let to a much shorter viewing experience. At 2 hrs and 46 minutes, that is not the case here, which brings us to my biggest issue with the film. As a Lord of the Rings fan, I respect the amount of attention to detail Jackson gives the source material (It’s always fun identifying specific lines taken directly from the text), but that’s why super-fans like me have DVD extras. For more than a few scenes, the theatrical version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey felt like an uncut version of itself, and like this fall’s Lincoln I could easily pick out more than a few scenes that could have been saved for the DVD reel for the sake of pace.
Aside from the gratuitously abundant cameos, the characters are essentially Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the collective rest of the Dwarves. I actually really enjoyed Martin Freeman as Bilbo; the amount of character development he’s given is fairly low, but Freeman injects some of the deadpan likability he’s developed over the years as Tim on The (British) Office and Watson on the BBC’s Sherlock. Ian McKellen is just as solid as ever, but from a cinematic perspective I wish they would have spent a little less time on dish-tossing and more on Gandalf’s motivations for actually helping the
company out. Armitage, on the other hand, does a really admirable job of trying to fit into the large shoes of Viggo Mortinson’s Aragorn as Thorin. His character is by far the most significant of the newly introduced faces, and he plays the role with a sense of stubborn, passionate pride that, as a German, I can totally get behind. Unfortunately, The Fellowship of the Dwarves is not the Fellowship of the Ring. There are a few individuals that stick out in my memory (Though I remember them as The Twins, White Beard, Scottish dude, etc. and not by their actual names), but for the most part the Dwarves simply look and act too similarly to really feel like anything but basic supporting characters. To be fair, the source material didn’t
make it easy for Jackson to set up the same effect as the previous films had in terms of how deep their lineups of strong supporting characters were. For one thing, each member of the fellowship had something physically and behaviorally unique about them. Different weapons, different races, different personalities, everything about them made it essentially impossible to mix up any member of the Company of Nine with another. The Dwarves in the Hobbit, however, really aren’t given that much to set themselves apart even in the book, and the overall effect is one that will leave most uninformed audiences just waiting to see who will be the first expendable character to kick the bucket.
No, I did not see this in 3D or in the new HFR format, and yes, I did that intentionally. I’ve made my feelings on the useless gimmick that is the 3D format before, but I’d like to make a quick note on the newly experimented HFR filming style. In theory, the idea of making a movie appear more realistic sounds right; after all, most CGI is aimed at mimicking reality as closely as possible. The only problem is, no matter how good the CGI is, it still isn’t real, and when you shine a light on it with a cleaner image and a quicker frame rate you only make it easier for the audience to notice what is real and what isn’t. Not only does this effect Computer Generated Imagery though, it effect the entire shooting. After all, they’re not actually filming it in middle earth, and every ounce of added clarity in the picture toes closer to the line of making the audience aware of the fact that the scenes in front of them are being “faked” for our entertainment from some studio somewhere. The closest example I can think of is HD television, or standing under a fluorescent light. The clearer the picture or the brighter the ligh, the worse people tend to look in it because of all the subtle flaws that a less clear image hid from us. I say give me ignorance, and that is why I highly recommend that you see this film in the regular 24 fps format.
I could seriously go on for pages but I’ll stop here.
The Verdict: 7.0/10 Good
+ Great to be back in Middle Earth again
+Incredibly impressive set design, CGI and Make-up
- Waaaay to long, takes a while to get going and drags pretty heavily in the middle
- Some scenes approach cheesiness instead of actual heart.
Fast Film Reviews: 4/5 “an expedition worth taking”
The Daily Rich: “I walked out thinking to myself, ‘The crazy son of a bitch did it.’ “
Fogs Movie Reviews: A+ “certainly a worthy chapter in the Middle Earth franchise.”
The Code is Zeek: 3.5/5 “There is a lot there, but I am not sure how much was needed.“
The Devil’s Advocates: 4/5 “one of the best movies of 2012″