Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Several Things About The Hobbit: A Review (of Sorts)

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.

* * *

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!


Paul Genesse said...

Thanks for the post. I enjoyed reading it.

Anna Smith said...

I haven't seen this yet but I can't wait as the Hobbit is one of my all time favourite books :)

Laura Pauling said...

I probably won't see it in the theaters but will eventually. I don't like anything 3D, the glasses bug me after 20 minutes. :)

I've heard the first 20 minutes is kind of drawn out, which totally puts me off. That and the fact they were stretching one book into 3 movies. I felt like that was purely for money and that right there makes me not want to see it. But, I do look forward to the points you highlighted. :)

Rick Daley said...

I saw it in 2D, I don't think it was HFR. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I have nit-picks, but nothing major.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Agree with most of your thoughts. Fortunately it had been so long since I read the book, few of those things bothered me.
I've owned a 3D TV for two years now and know what you mean. Everything has this weird depth to it. But you do get used to it after a while.

Old Kitty said...

Will be seeing the Hobbit this weekend! All I know is that it's a 300+ page book made into 3 nearly 3 hour films... hmmmmm!!!! And done in that funny way everyone's going on about (the frame thing here that you explained!). Like I commented on Capn' Ninja's blog - will be seated next to the exit doors closest to the loos! LOL! Can't wait!!!

Take care

Louise Bates said...

I saw it in 2D, and I enjoyed it. BUT I went in with zero expectations, having had my expectations crushed bitterly in the LOTR trilogy (I still can't talk about Faramir without shuddering - change plot points all you want, Jackson, but leave the characters alone, would you?). I figured I would be able to have more fun in the movie if I wasn't expecting anything at all, and I did. Martin Freeman blew me away, and Richard Armitage's looks aside, he does a tremendous job of bringing depth and sympathy to an easily-misread character.

I am of similar mind to you about Radagast - portrayed as too silly, but gives hints of having far more depth to him. The fact that he is played by the Seventh Doctor tips the balance in his favor, for me!

Faith E. Hough said...

I agree with your points, on all sides. I loved the film, though the 3D annoyed me. (I'm not too tech savvy, but I'm pretty sure it was the standard frame version.)
And, yes, Radagast was kind of silly....but I think it worked. It may just have been that the guy's acting was so darn good. Which pretty much sums up my opinion of most of the characters. The acting was just stellar.

Anna Staniszewski said...

I opted for 2D, but your points about the story were right on. I thought the movie picked up speed as it went along, but some scenes (the stone giants, etc) just made me tune out. I'm hoping the next one will be a little tighter.

Tonja said...

I saw the regular version. My only problem was the thing where three of the dwarves looked human and not dwarvish while the others looked almost cartoonish.

I loved it.

Slamdunk said...

It is a good thing that I don't watch many movies--I would be seriously confused.

That fact limits my technical choices to: 1) Read the book; or 2) Read the Kindle version of the book.

Compreshensive review Matthew--thanks for sharing.

mmshaunakelley said...

I LOVED it, but ultimately, I really feel like this is a LOTR prequel and not a true representation of The Hobbit. I don't necessarily think that is bad, it just is.

You are 100% right on the dinner scene (was thinking to myself "oh this is how they will get 6 hours our of one book") and I actually hated Radagast. Reminded me of eiher the old man that finds Atreyu in The Never-Ending Story, or worse, Billy Crystal as Miracle Max in the Princess Bride. Neither one seemed ot fit.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I loved it. Yes it wasn't perfect - the dinner scene was way too long, for one thing. But it's been years since I read the Hobbit, which probably helped my enjoyment of the movie.

mshatch said...

Did not see the 3D version and aside from the fact that, yes, it was a little slow and it really wasn't necessary to throw in those over the top action scenes (this isn't Die Hard or Mission Impossible after all, it's Tolkien!) my only real complaint was the scene in the mountains. It was just ridiculous, annoying, unbelievable, and unnecessary. Not that it will stop me from seeing the next installment. But I do wish someone would stand up to these directors when they get carried away with stupid shite like that - and yes, George Lucas I'm talkin' to you!

Sarah Ahiers said...

I didn't mind Radagast's silliness or the frivolity at the beginning. To me, the Hobbit always was a bit silly (compared to LOTR) and i feel it was well captured in these moments.
Things i liked included Thorin (natch) and Bilbo not being such an ass. As a child i always felt he was too mean to Gollum, so i was glad when i didn't feel that way in the movie

Andrew Leon said...

The part with the stone giants was idiotic. Especially, the being on the knees of the one. That and the thing with the domino trees at the end. Bah.

Azog is still bothering me.

Rusty Webb said...

I reviewed the film recently and spent most of my time discussing the hfr thing too. I think I said BBC production on PBS though.

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

Your friend is wrong about Radagast (and for the record I agree with you). Radagast was purposefully done that way to mimic the popularity of Jar Jar Binks among young viewers. So Jackson went out of his way to make Radagast "bumbling" and that will continue anytime we see him (whether or not it's in Dol Goldur).

So just think "Jar Jar" every time you see him and you get what the director intended.

D.G. Hudson said...

Well, now I want to see it even more than before. The Hobbit was my introduction into reading fantasy!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Very good review, Matt. Hubby and I saw it in 2D and only heard later on about the HFR (from David Powers King, actually, at a social function we both attended).

Hubby loved the stone giants because he's into that kind of thing. I would have enjoyed a shorter dwarf dinner in the beginning, though it did "feel" like I was reading the book.

I loved the beginning that tied it to the LotR trilogy movies. And I think Gimli misled us (no offense to John Rhys-Davies) . Who knew there were any cute dwarves?

alexia said...

I think Martin did a fabulous job as Bilbo. The scene with him and Gollum was amazing! Thorin was so emo. I mean, talk about a drama queen. I did enjoy the other hot hobbit though, who is apparently 6 feet tall IRL. Radagast was mostly just annoying, as you say - I hope it ends up being subterfuge. Ha, and when I first read LOTR, I totally thought pipe weed was pot. You are right, it is so funny in the book.

Good review!

Johanna Garth said...

Haven't seen all versions but my daughter and I went to see it opening weekend and we were, like two of about seven females in the audience.

On a side note, my first dog was named Thorin Oakshield. He was a black lab that I got when I was eight :)

Kristen Wixted said...

I have no idea what film version I saw except it wasn't 3D. I kind of skipped your first part because my brain started to explode.

I did enjoy your second part, though. While I was watching the movie and noting all the detail (like I mentioned before, my husband is reading it to my son aloud so I knew a lot of it was extra stuff not actually in The Hobbit per-se), I thought of you! I was like, "this movie was made for Matt and people who know as much about this world as he does."

I loved it. Loved it. Agree that the dishes scene was a bit long, and wondered who swept the floors of the hobbit hole...
But loved it. Loved especially how at the end Freeman as Bilbo says, "I wouldn't have trusted me either." Or whatever that line is--in just that perfect Bilbo-ish way.

Ishta Mercurio said...

We are going to see it this weekend! I can't wait, although I AM feeling pretty skeptical about the whole stretching it into three movies thing. It just didn't feel like that ind of book. But we shall see what we shall see. I'll share my thoughts afterward. :-)

maine character said...

Won't see it till it's on TV, but every time I've seen a commercial for it I've wondered how you liked it, so thanks for cluing us in.

Nancy Thompson said...

You certainly are an expert. I know nothing myself, only what I saw in the LOTR trilogy. I guess that means I'll wait for the DVD. But even if I did see it in the theater, all those effects are lost on me as I have seriously poor vision.

Katy Upperman said...

I love this post, Matt! I've not read THE HOBBIT, though my husband is a lifelong fan. We went to see the movie a few weeks ago on his birthday, and my assessment was pretty similar to yours. It was visually stunning and wholly entertaining, but YES. Some parts were really slooooow. No joke: I nodded off during that first 45 minute dinner at Bilbo's house. Holy hell.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Good morning to you, Matt!
I saw it in 2D because 3D gives me headaches. Can't wait for the next installment. :)

Laura Stephenson said...

I agree about the impossible scenes being the only thing that really bothered me in the movie (I mean, really, they got to a crevice just small enough to slow their block of bridge but not jar it to a stop fast enough to flatten them, just a second before landing?). For the most part, I loved it! Can't wait for Desolation of Smaug.

LTM said...

First, about the zillion versions of this movie... umm, Okay! And good to know about the "some kind of special 3D," as I call it--LOL! :D

As for the story, you know The Hobbit is the only of these books that I read. But I haven't seen the movie. I'm sure I will at some point b/c of JRM, so it's good to be forewarned there are "moments" that drag. I already knew there was no kissing... :D

Happy New Year to you, my friend! <3