December 16th, 2012

newlogo

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I am a HUGE fan of JRR Tolkien. I have no clue how many times I've read Lord of the Rings, and God only knows how many times I've seen each of the films. Just in theaters, my viewings of the three movies combine to over 25. I'd read THe Hobbit a couple times, plodded thru the Silmarillion once, and I have a few other unread books on my shelf. When I wrote up Fellowship I went into a lot more of the obsession. You'd think I'd be beyond psyched to finally see The Hobbit on screen, yeah? I was actually more and more apprehensive as we got closer and closer to the film's release.

Bringing The Hobbit to the big screen. Yay! Splitting it into two movies. Um, sure! Three. Jigga wha? The plan was to bring in material from the appendeces and other writings to flesh out the story more. It would be more tied into LOTR and fill in a lot of the blanks: exactly how did those battles play out, where did Gandalf disappear to, etc. In priciple, I'm not opposed to the idea (if you can really believe that those are the reasons and it wasn't money related). Hell, Tolkien himself even went back and updated The Hobbit in order to link up with the trilogy better. But there is somewhere that I disagree with this, on a different principle. As far as the books go, the feel between the two is so different. LOTR is big epic allegory full of weight and depth with elements that are dark and deep. The Hobbit, on the other hand, is primarily a children's book. Much lighter, less gloom and doom, just a fun tale of some quirky characters. While I can appreciate some of the linkage that was added into the film (in particular, the frame set up with Ian Holm's Bilbo and Elijah Wood's Frodo) some of the rest just felt out of place. It may be due to the fact that I just finished rereading the book, so it was a lot more obvious to me what was added and what was original. But even then, the feel between the sections was a lil bit jarring if you were aware it was there.

I loved anything that revolved around Bilbo. All of that was straight from the source, and had that playful feel that goes with it. Martin Freeman played him perfectly. A lot like Billy Boyd's Pippin in LOTR, but with a much greater sense of responsibility. The dwarfs were a lot of fun too. Each had very disticnt and fun personalities, and favorites (Kili and Ori) quickly emerged.

Of course, the biggest scene stealer was Gollum, once again brought to life by the incomparable Andy Serkis. Makes me so sad that he really only has the one appearance because his scene was by far my favorite. The technology to bring him to life is flawless, especially on my first viewig at the IMAx. And I mean real IMAX, not these fake half the size screens. He brought both sides of Gollum's personality as brilliantly as ever. I found myself incredibly close to tears when he was crying because I've come to love this poor creature so much. Serkis served as a second unit director for filming, which I think is a tremendous honor and responsibility that was completely fitting for Jackson to give him. I only wish I knew what scenes he worked on in that capacity.

A little more on the film quality and the technology that went into it. I actually saw this twice. I went to the midnight at a real IMAX in 3D and then I went to a regular screening in 3D that had the higher frame rate. For those not in the know, most movies have a frame rate of 24 frames per second (so each second essentially has 24 "pictures"). The Hobbit was filmed at a frame rate of 48 frames per second. Twice the amount means a richer image and fuller 3D effect. How did it work? Well, I have mixed feelings on it. I wasn't too impressed with the 3D itself in either format (although the 3D in the 9 minute Star Trek footage that played at the IMAX was stellar). But as far as the frame rate, it was weird. Some of it felt more real, particularly with close ups or actor only shots. Others felt more fake. Scenes that had fast movement or those that had small bits of CGI looked more obviously CGI-ed. As far as the real-er looking scenes, I dont know that I liked it. It was cool, but it was a distraction. I kinda like movies I watch to not feel real, because I want it to be an escape. But at the same time, there is something impressive about the level of detail you're seeing. It actually felt like the first time I watched something on a big HD TV. I'd been watching a series on a smaller old school screen, and then watching the same series on a bigger and better (with a bit of an upconversion from the BluRay) player, I couldn't get over the difference. I just didn't know if I liked it. But now that's kinda become the norm for me, I don't notice it as much. Maybe that'll be the case if this format takes off? I just think it needs a lil bit of work first.

Ultimately, it really was great to be back in Middle Earth, even though a part of me felt conflicted for having said goodbye to it 9 years ago. I loved hearing the familiar musical themes, seeing characters I adored, and discovering new things about this wonderful place. But LOTR set such a high bar, it's gonna be tough to reclaim all that magic.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - \m/ \m/ \m/ \n