Ever since the last Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King, debuted in theaters 9 years ago, I had been dying to see Peter Jackson (and at one point Guillermo Del Toro) go back to Middle Earth and give us his take on JRR Tolkien's original tale of halflings, goblins, and perilous adventures: The Hobbit. My GOD was it worth the wait!
Okay, I admit it, I'm biased. I find Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy to be the greatest film series ever made, blemishes and all. But I do admit that leading up to the release of The Hobbit: And Unexpected Journey, well, I was very concerned. All the trouble going into this production (from New Line Studios trying to first unravel all the red tape that was legally strangling The Hobbit before the first draft of the script was even written; the leaving of the original director [Del Toro] from the project; to the news that the 310-page children's book [yes, the original Hobbit book is an adventure tale meant for children] was being stretched into 2 films, and then [when all those involved realized just how much mad bank they could make from it] 3 films) had me very, very concerned.
Then early reviews started coming in, and the new super-awesome 48 frames per second film technique that Jackson was pioneering (at twice the images per second than movies had been filmed on since the early days of talkies) was being bashed for making shit look too clear and fake, and the run time of nearly 3 hours (for only one third of a 310-page book) was being attacked for dragging the simple story down to a crawl. My concern ramped up to full-blown disappointment, but I was still determined to see this potential cluster-fuck with my own eyes just to be sure.
So opening weekend came and Cupcake and I found a theater in town that was playing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in Jackson's preferred movie-watching experience: 48fps — I figured that if I was going to see this potential fumble of what should have been a grand slam (I love mixing metaphors. Fuck you!) I might as well go balls out.
So I watched it, and now I have my opinions. I'll tackle them one at a time. First up:
I guess talking about the plot might help, no? Okay, so 60 years before Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf the Grey tricked the homebody little Hobbit known as Bilbo Baggins into becoming the lucky number 14 in an adventuring party of dwarves determined to raid their old stomping grounds and kick out the squatter known as Smaug. Smaug happens to be a giant, ferocious, fire-breathing dragon, and the dwarves' once great home is the Lonely Mountain (aka Erebor), a great dwarfish city built into the stone of the solitary rock formation, filled to the brim with treasure.
Bilbo reluctantly agrees to sign on to the quest to become the party's burglar, and together they all have wacky adventures as they meet up with three cockney trolls, fall into the Goblin King's halls and stare at his chin testes, have a battle of wits with the self-tortured Gollum, and throw burning pine cones at a pissed off albino orc! Then we have to wait till part two to meet Beorn and hopefully see Stephen Colbert's cameo. Grrrrrrrrr...
48 Frames Per Second
No sir, I don't like it. Maybe if this was a documentary of life on the Serengeti, or a televised college football game, or maybe some pr0n, 48fps might be a good idea (wait, 48 fps makes things appear way too lifelike and sharp and in focus, showing genital warts and all... Maybe pr0n would be a bad idea), but in a special effects-laden fantasy movie such as this, where half the sets are either pure CGI or made on a sound stage in New Zealand, all the small imperfections are made even clearer than day. I wanted to like the frame rate, really I did. Ever since I read Roger Ebert's take on higher frame counts (i.e. it was extremely positive, and voted by him to be much more important than high resolution in pulling viewers into a story) I've been dying to see it in action myself. Now that I have, I don't really ever want to see it again.
Regular old film (at 24fps) has a rich feeling of texture and depth to it; the 48fps version of The Hobbit makes it look like a cheap BBC production of Tolkien's famous work. It looked like a soap opera, only with better actors. I was very disappointed. Cupcake did not seem to notice a difference in the way the movie was presented (and I doubt the average movie goer will either), but I kept getting pulled out of the experience because of how low-budgeted the thing appeared. There were a couple of instances where the ultra-sharpness felt right, and I did get sucked into the telling of Bilbo's story like I should have (like inside his cozy [and probably a bit rank] Hobbit hole, and out in the actual New Zealand fields and mountains), but every other scene was either filmed on a set in a Weta Workshop building, or created on a computer, and it showed. 48fps is TOO good for these kinds of movies. Hollywood needs to step up and make their CGI more believable and their sets less fake if they truly want to make this film process the way of the future.
3 Movies From 1 Book
Yes, The Hobbit is a light-weight and simple adventure book about dwarves trying to kill a monstrous dragon with the help of a silly old wizard and a little hairy-footed Hobbit. There are no global domination attempts by a Satan-like figure, and there is no fast-approaching deadline to get things done that pushes the heroes on to the end that tale. The Hobbit is a slow-paced journey with almost as much walking as The Lord of the Rings as a whole, but with more talking magical creatures (trolls, birds, dragons), and a much lighter tone, and much less doom and gloom.
Seeing lots of dollar signs, the movie studios and Peter Jackson himself saw the potential to at first make 2 entire movies out of Tolkien's The Hobbit, inflating it's straight forward tale with bits of what Gandalf was doing during the times he left the dwarf party (as seen in The Lord of the Rings' heavy appendices). I was fine with this. I always figured that the more Middle Earth I got the better! But then came news (something like only 6 months before the theatrical debut of the first flick) that Peter had enough footage for the studios to make THREE movies instead of two, and that they were going to make that happen
for the sake of money because it was good for reasons. My thoughts immediately began to go to some dark places, and I started to lose hope. I figured that Jackson was just cashing in/out after being slapped around with wads of thousand-dollar bills, and they'd release three pitiful 70-minute Hobbit movies — hardly anything to compete with the brilliant scope and epicness of the first Middle Earth film trilogy. But then close to the release date it had been leaked that The Hobbit: And Unexpected Journey would run close to 3 friggin' hours long! I figured that either 2/3rds of the film was going to be made up of crap that Jackson just excreted to pad the whole thing out, or this would be the slowest goddamn motion picture I'd ever done seed!
Fortunately the bearded Hobbit himself (Peter Jackson) pulled through. This first Hobbit movie never bored me once. It was fun picking out the small changes he made to the tale in order to have it fit in better with his version of the Rings movies, but there was not one time that I felt like I was getting antsy for something to happen, nor did I ever not like his additions, no matter how they strayed from the text. I actually liked the whole bit with Radagast the Brown, and the meeting of the White Council while Gandalf was in Rivendale with the dwarves. It's different from what Tolkien originally had in his encyclopedic appendices, but these parts work with this tale being told. And it's not like Jackson kept true to everything (for better or worse) in the LOTR movies. This is just par for the course. And I'll repeat myself (because I like the sound of my own internal monologue as I type): IT FUCKING WORKS HERE.
A lot less model work and real-world makeup effects this time around. What's up with that, Peter Jackson? For example, the Pale Orc of Moria was entirely CG, and it was obvious. Why not just put man in prosthetics and makeup again? Maybe then just enhance him a bit with CGI? This worked so damn well in the Lord of the Rings trilogy — it made the baddies feel real and really hideous... Though in other instances the creature-CGI was much improved (almost ten years later, which is to be expected). Gollum is much more believable here. So much scarier, and so very much more pityable when Bilbo leaves him at the Misty Mountain opening, sparing his life and then making his own run for freedom. And let me not forget the "size shots" throughout the whole movie. It's a known fact that Sir Ian Gandalf almost had a nervous breakdown because he almost never acted opposite a real person for most of the year and a half-long shooting of these movies, which means that he was never there with the dwarves or Bilbo when they were filming their scenes; he mainly worked in front of a green screen... The size differences between the 6-foot tall Gandalf and 3-foot tall Bilbo, and the 4-foot tall dwarves was fucking seemless! I never once questioned it here.
But once again, the 48fps that this movie was shot in made most of the special effects seem more "small bus" special rather than "Superman" special. The computer generated landscapes especially stand out so much from the real people and shit that it just looks fake. That makes me sad.
Nope. Not really. It was a fun trip back to a destination I feared I'd never see again, like when Bilbo only made it to Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings, and never all the way back to Mirkwood or the Lonely Mountain. Well, we (movie watchers) DID make it! All the way, baby! Yeah!
And as for three 3-hour long movies from one short book? Christ, just be happy, man. Yeah, it could have been a lot tighter and shit, but I'd so much rather more than less Hobbitses and rings of power. And really, Jackson (kinda) knows what he's doing. Cut him some fucking slack!
It had been a while since I read the Hobbit — about 17 years. As such some of the subtle (and not so subtle) changes from the book to screen were easy enough for me to accept being that I didn't notice them. I'm not saying that I didn't question a few things. (For example, I didn't remember a crazy rabbit drawn sleigh from my childhood...)
As a whole the movie was very enjoyable. And on a scale of one to blockbuster it scored..EPIC. As did the LOTR movies. While I think cutting a single book into two (or gasp three) movies is just crazy talk (especially when they are 3 hours long each!) I can't help but look forward to them. My only thought is... what will Peter Jackson do after the Tolkien Universe has been stretched to it's limits? What could possibly be the "next thing" to top himself? All nerds and norms alike will enjoy the magic of Middle Earth as a must see visually dynamic story that draws you into the odd and the fantastic. (Like that brown wizard's rabbit-drawn sleigh, which was both.)
Oh... Oh god no! Not another nerdy movie about hairy-footed midgets with swords and wizards and shit! Please no!
Wait, what? This is only the first of another THREE new fucking retarded movies?! Make it stop! I may have tolerated the first set, but after 10 years of hearing lame-o fanboys jizz all over it, I'm done. I'm out. No more. I didn't see this one, I only read the book when I was forced to in the 7th grade, and I don't condone the pillaging of a world (even a fictional one) for the sake of greenbacks. No. We're done. We're through. No more Hobbits!