It's been a couple of weeks now, since I saw two of the three available versions of Peter Jackson's new foray into Middle Earth, known as The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey. Overall, I loved the film, but I want to dig a little deeper, and see whether that love might be at least partially due to my tendency to view anything Tolkien related through rose-tinted glasses.
The first thing I want to cover, before I get into the story, is the new technology, namely the Stereoscopic (3D) High Frame Rate (48 fps) release. Before I discuss this, let me say I have not see the normal 3D (24 fps) release, but, that said, the 3D aspects of the HFR release I did see actually did not feel as intrusive as they have in some other films (I am not, essentially, normally a fan of 3D).
So, the High Frame Rate version ... what can I compare it to? I guess it was a lot like a bottle of cheap vodka. The right amount, mixed properly, can be a lot of fun, but too much, and everything is ruined. Unfortunately, the HFR was not a dynamic aspect of the film. It was static, constant, and overall, became intrusive.
Don't get me wrong. There were certain things it definitely improved. Landscape shots, wide shots, outdoor shots, and in particular, anything where the camera was in motion, especially on a boom, a track, shots presumably taken from a helicopter, or shots rendered in sweeping CGI, looked absolutely gorgeous, and while they were gorgeous in 2D (standard frame rate) too, there was a clarity to them in the HFR version that not only did my eye catch, but I actually thoroughly enjoyed.
Sadly, these shots were a smaller portion of the film than the scenes that were negatively affected. Whenever the camera was stationary, especially when the actors were in close-up, or were in motion while the camera was not, the animation of the objects on screen felt stilted, almost false, like when you watch certain BBC productions on an LCD HDTV. It's hard to describe, but if you've seen it, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
All in all, though I do think HFR may have a future in Cinema, for this film, in my opinion, it was more detrimental than it was beneficial. If you can only afford to see The Hobbit once, I recommend seeing it in standard frame rate. I loved the 2D version at 24 fps, but the 3D version may also be quite good.
If you're the technical type, and would like to read a much more in depth analysis of all this, check out Vincent Laforet's blog post about it, here: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Masterclass in Why HFR fails, and a reaffirmation of what makes cinema magical.
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Now, let's talk about the story. Or more so, what Jackson did with it. Before I make my points, go read this very funny post by Genevieve Valentine: Ten Things You Should Know About The Hobbit.
Obviously I don't agree with all her points, though I do enjoy the post. So, let me cover some of her items, as a way to try to briefly get to: All. The. Things.
1) Bilbo. Basically, I agree. Martin Freeman is a fabulous actor, and he really shines in his performance as Bilbo Baggins. I don't know that I agree entirely about the beginning. The scene (rambling, probably far too long) with the Dwarves, and dinner, and the dishes, goes on for far too long, and there are some awkward moments, even from Bilbo, but the scene is awkward in the book, and it makes sense for Bilbo to be rather uncomfortable. I do agree that Freeman hits his stride just as he hits the road ("I'm going on an Adventure!") but I would also argue that the scene in which he first good mornings Gandalf is one of the best exchanges I've seen between two brilliant actors in a long time (it's later eclipsed by Gollum and Bilbo in the riddle scene).
Of note: Gandalf has a line in Bag End, when he's trying to convince Bilbo to come on the adventure, in which he says something like: "all the best stories deserve a little embellishment." I see what you did there, Peter Jackson. Well played, sir. Well played.
2) Thorin Oakenshield. I get it, I do. Richard Armitage is handsome. This movie has no Aragorn. Thorin's backstory is not completely, entirely accurate to canon. But, I have to say, for the most part, at least for me, it worked. The antagonism between Thorin and Bilbo, and the way their relationship builds through the story is one of the main (pair of) character arcs in the book, and while the movie certainly protrays Thorin in a way I never would have pictured ahead of time, I can't say that I didn't like it.
Of note: Richard Armitage has quite a set of pipes, and can sing like Durin himself.
3) The Dwarves. Okay, sure, there are too many, and in the film, a couple of them feel completely superfluous, but this is Tolkien, and when you're turning a short novel into three feature length films, you're certainly not cutting anything.
Of note: there is an Orcish axe permanently embedded in Bifur's head. Please don't let this come up in dialog in the later films. Like Legolas surfing down the stairs of the deeping wall at Helm's Deep, if you're cutting anything, it ought to be this nonsense.
4) Radagast. I'm pretty well split in my opinion of Radagast. On the one hand, some of the foolishness he portrays in the film does fit with how he is described in Middle Earth canon, but I was still annoyed by a lot of it, because he is, after all, one of the Istari, a Maiar, and I just couldn't swallow him as quite such a bumbling old fool. That said, a Facebook friend of mine, Paul Genesse, wisely pointed out that this could all be subterfuge on Radagast's part, and his point is somewhat well supported when Radagast actually has a moment of strength at Dol Guldur.
Of note: pipe weed is not marijuana. Saruman certainly talks about the Halfling's leaf slowing Gandalf's wits in the books, but the smoking was much funnier, less silly, and more subtle in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
And this post is getting way too long. I'll have to continue it some day soon. For now, I'll just add that if someone out there could edit out the two egregiously overdone CGI sequences that I could not stand (stone giants, and falling bridges in the goblin kingdom) I think we'd have a very good, if not excellent, film on our hands (preferably the 2D standard frame rate version).
What do you all think? Has anyone seen all three versions? I'm particularly interested in hearing about the 3D standard frame rate format.
Otherwise, Happy New Year to all of you, dear readers!