Can I start this post by saying how much I love Martin Freeman and how perfect he is for Bilbo Baggins? He’s the reason I’m reviewing this movie for this blog. Technically, it’s not a British film. It was shot in New Zealand with Kiwi director, producer, and writer(s). The cast, like the Lord of the Rings films, is multinational. But, Martin Freeman is such a feature on this blog, and my ever-growing adoration of him requires that I comment on this film.
I actually prefer The Hobbit to all of the Lord of the Rings books. So perhaps my expectations were slightly too high, because I was disappointed by the movie.
First, a word about some technical aspects involved in the film. Normally, I couldn’t care less about frame rate or resolution, and don’t think it affects my viewing of most movies. I bring all of this up because The Hobbit was shot in a faster frame rate than a normal movie, and it is very noticeable. Normally, movies are shot at 24 frames per second. The Hobbit was shot at twice that, 48 frames per second. This is noticeable in a few key ways.
1-There is no blur. When characters are doing fast paced action scenes, the normal blur isn’t seen. This is kind of cool, but on the other hand the human eye can only move so fast and take in so much. Some people find it dizzying.
2-Everything is in focus. It is almost like an HD nature film. The depth of field is really large. Some scenes make this really interesting, and some scenes make it bothersome. The experience also seems to vary depending on whether you see the movie in 2 or 3-D, in IMAX or on a regular screen.
3-Some motions seem too fast. Small things, like the actors making motions with their eyes or standing up, can seem overly dramatic and fast. This isn’t anything against the actors–they’ve honed their craft for a specific medium, and this isn’t the same one. If this frame rate was adopted by everyone, I think actors would learn to act in a way that works for it, but they haven’t had that chance yet. Sometimes it affects your enjoyment of the film, takes you out of the action.
4-The CGI technology that we’ve developed thus far isn’t very good at this frame rate. Since twice the amount of frames are being presented to the human eye, twice the amount of computer information would have to be presented for it to look as real as it would at a normal frame rate–if I understand this correctly. So, the bottom line is that the CGI in the Lord of the Rings was great and the CGI in this movie didn’t look as good, or as real.
It’s important for directors to take chances and innovate, but I can’t say I thought this was successful or particularly necessary. But, I imagine that Peter Jackson will get better with each movie and I may be a huge fan by the third in the Hobbit franchise.
Which brings me to a minor gripe. The Hobbit is a fairly short book, compared to, say, Return of the King. Since there is nowhere near enough plot to make three movies out of this one story, they seem to have taken all the information from Tolkien’s appendices and the Silmarillion. Example: Radagast the Brown (a wizard friend of Gandalf’s) is mentioned in passing during The Hobbit (book), but in the movies he is a major character and introduces a separate plot with the Necromancer. This is just sort of touched upon in The Hobbit (An Unexpected Journey), but it will be (I think) a major part of the second Hobbit film. Also, bonus for me–Benedict Cumberbatch is playing the Necromancer. I like having the extra movies, but I don’t like the feeling that New Line and Peter Jackson are just trying to bleed my wallet dry.
Okay, so now that I’ve rambled about the technology and the differences between book and movie. What about the movie itself?
I didn’t care for it as much as the Lord of the Rings films. I found it more childish. There are two or three songs, and unlike the songs in the LotR, these seem to have been written professionally and planned ahead of time. And I don’t mean that as a compliment. They didn’t have the soul and the folksy character of the hobbit songs in LotR–those seemed to be truly born from a time when people composed poetry and songs to pass the time. These were too slick and overproduced. One accompanies a scene of the dwarves invading Bag End and eating all of Bilbo’s food, and then doing his dishes.
The dwarves are hard to keep straight, mostly because they all have beards and wear similar outfits. The most memorable are:
A prince among dwarves, on a journey to reclaim the riches that belong to his family. He is played admirably (but unrecognizably) by Richard Armitage.
The only eye candy you’ll find in the movie. I love you Martin Freeman, but big hairy feet and a mop of hair are not a good look for you. Kili and Fili (his brother) are the youngest and fittest of the company, so they get some of the more action-oriented scenes.
Whatever the opposite of ‘youngest and fittest’ is, it applies to this guy. There’s a lot of waffle in this movie about Bilbo not being able to keep up with this company of dwarves, being a hindrance, etc. Are they kidding? Have they seen this guy? I found him really repugnant. I mean, for one thing, is that braid made of beard hair or head hair? Or…some other hair I don’t want to know about?
The dwarves are barely given enough screen time to figure out who half of them are. Most of the time is devoted to Thorin, Bilbo and Gandalf. I can only hope some more time will be set aside in the next movie to make them distinguishable. In Fellowship of the Ring, we meet four hobbits, a dwarf, an elf, a wizard, and two men within the space of a few minutes, but their characters are very well developed by the end of just that first movie. I’m disappointed that they weren’t able to distinguish the dwarves as well in the Hobbit. But I hold out hope for the future.
So, do I have anything good to say about the film after ranting about the frame rate and the childishness of the plot? Well…despite the fact that it’s too long, it does pick up speed in the second half. The first half an hour is quite dull, but by the end of the piece I didn’t mind the length.
Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen are great in this movie. But I love everything they do, so perhaps I’m not the best judge.
As much as I rather hated Tolkien’s books, no one can deny that he created a wonderful world and wonderful characters in it. After I saw the LotR movies I was struck by how much Peter Jackson had changed and had improved on the cannon. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can say the same for this movie. But we are still in that same world, and there is still the same sense of fate, of bravery, and of small beings accomplishing great feats. We see the scene with Gollum, when Bilbo first gets the ring. We see Bilbo, like Frodo, pushed out of sedentary agrarian life and into adventure and danger. We see Bilbo alone being brave enough to defend Thorin in desperate times. As someone of relatively small stature and absolutely no importance, I can always appreciate the underdog. Even though I found the movie experience disappointing, it was enough for me to be back in this world. Like the Star Wars fans that will keep going to whatever tripe-infested rubbish George Lucas puts on screen, I will keep going to see whichever of Tolkien’s tales Peter Jackson chooses to tell. Let’s just hope things don’t get as bad as Attack of the Clones.