Saturday, December 15, 2012

Film Review: The Hobbit--An Unexpected Journey

As we rarely get out to see movies, my wife and I usually reserve it for relatively special films that we particularly want to see in the theater and either not wait for or not experience at home.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is one such film.  Some eleven years since The Fellowship of the Ring came out The Hobbit continues Jackson's connection to Tolkein's works.

Much of the look and creation of the film will seem familiar to those who have seen the prior Lord of the Rings works.  The world created by Jackson looks and feels the same in the Hobbit as it did in the earlier works.

The big change here and unfortunately, what much of this review will focus on, is the addition of a couple technological "wonders" that are supposed to improve the viewing experience.  When those first works cam out 3D movies had last been seen in the 50s and 60s and films were only shown in what was considered the industry standard 24 frames per second.

The Hobbit is being shown in a bothersome array of versions from the simple 2D, 24 fps up to the full 3D, 48 fps while throwing IMAX versions into the mix as well.  With Peter Jackson stating that his personal vision of the film was the 3D 48 fps version (Jackson is the first director to film in 48 fps and the Hobbit is the first film to be shown in this format) this was the version I wanted to see.  Much has been made in the press leading up to the release of the film in this format as early screenings of the film did not receive the greatest of reviews because of it and more ink has been used to deal with the quirks of this format than to the actual content of the film itself.

I'll start off with my views on the content of the film and move on to the technical stuff second.

The film itself at near three hours in length does feel a tad bloated.  Lots of long takes and dialogue take up significant chunks of time.  Jackson has also added a lot of content here that is not included in the book itself.  Some of it good, some of it not so much.

Overall however, its certainly not a bad way to spend three hours.  The characters are well done, Ian McKellan returning as Gandalf is excellent and Richard Armitage as Thorin is fantastic.  While all the other dwarfs are goofy and oddballs--closer to the seven dwarfs of Snow White than grim, hammer wielding miners, Thorin carries a darkness and weight that carries this first film.  Martin Freeman is adequate as Bilbo but I'm not blown away by him.  Andy Serkais as Gollum is even better now as computer graphics have advanced another generation and the other enemies of the film are even more grotesque that before.

The battle scenes should seem familiar to viewers with lots of bloodless hacking and slashing and lots of improbable jumping and rolling.  I do wish it was a tad more realistic but, what can you do...its a fantasy epic.

So if the story was good, the action was good, the characters were good and it hewed fairly close to the line created by the prior fine films it must be a pretty darn good film then right??  Well, yes and no.
I will watch the next two editions of the Hobbit film series (coming in '13 and '14) back in regular old 2D and 24 fps and here's why...

I've always hated 3D and this film doesn't change that opinion for me.  This is the best 3D you will see and it still sucks.  My initial complaint is in the coloring of the film.  The 3D glasses here, as in other 3D films change the color of the movie.  They have a darkening effect as well as a grey-blue tinting effect.  White's are no longer white...they are a steel blue-grey version of white.  This tinting affects all images and scenes, there is no escaping it.  Secondly, the 3D effect is not one that impresses me.  It's never truly a 3D image.  It merely moves cardboard cut out versions of various people and objects into the foreground or background.  This isn't improving upon the 2D image, its distorting it and ripping it apart for the sake of an effect and a "its cool" factor.

Lastly you have the 48 fps issue.  Creating a film with double the images of a regular one does assist greatly with the 3D images making them clearer and more distinct than ever before...but there's an issue with that.  The images can be so clean and clear that you lose the ability to "believe" in the film and instead end up viewing a bunch of men running around in prosthetic noses and wigs.  When you can see that the actors are wearing makeup, that the hair is fake and the weapons not made of heavy, weathered steel it is hard to become lost in a story about an imaginary realm of wizards and dragons.

The second issue with the 48 fps feature is the way in which it makes the characters APPEAR to be moving too quickly.  I did get a tad used to it after a while but right to the end it would appear to me as if some moments of the film had been sped up to about 1.5 times normal speed.  It is a very jarring effect and one that has had people leaving theaters to ask management if there was something wrong with the projectors.

So all this said, why would Jackson choose to release the film in this manner?  Ego.  Back when Jackson was creating the LOTR series he was a relative unknown filmmaker looking to get his big break and accolades.  Now his films have grossed over a billion dollars, he's won Oscars and been lauded as a visionary.  Jackson has always been one to push the technological limits and this is no exceptions.

Jackson got his hands on a couple new toys in the form of 3D film and 48 fps filming and he thought it would be the next greatest thing.  In fact, even in the face of mounting criticism he has continued to claim that the 3D 48 fps version is the superior one and the one he wants everyone to see.  The fact that its not superior in any way shape or form and actually detracts from the moviegoing experience (I've yet to hear ANYONE claim that they think this version is worth the effort, expense or hype) only goes to show how blinded one can be in viewing their own creation.

I would recommend seeing The Hobbit to nearly anyone.  But I'd only recommend seeing it in the old plain Jane, 2D, 24 FPS.  Sometimes more is not more and newer is not better...

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