Andrew Ducker (andrewducker) wrote,
Andrew Ducker
andrewducker

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Some Thoughts

I'm not going to _review_ The Hobbit, because frankly if you wanted a review of The Hobbit then there are millions of places out there to cater to you.

Suffice it to say that I saw it four times*, and there's only one bit that started off dull and got duller with each time. The rest of it had me gripped from start to finish, with only the odd pause to say "New Zealand sure is pretty."

I'm not aiming for spoilers, but I'm going to talk about both this movie and LOTR, so if you want to remain entirely unspoiled then stop reading here.


So,thoughts:

This isn't "The Hobbit, if there had never been a massive trilogy of LOTR movies ten years ago." If that was what you were expecting then (a) you have lost touch with reality, and (b) you are in for a massive surprise. This is "The 'facts' gleaned from the book 'The Hobbit', plus the appendices of LOTR that cover that time period in more detail, fashioned into a movie by the person that made a massive trilogy out of LOTR ten years ago." I went in there expecting that, and that's pretty much what I got.

Now, some of those 'facts' are a different tone than LOTR. The cave troll in LOTR is a rampaging beast, the trolls in The Hobbit talk and are comedy figures, albeit in an unpleasant manner. The orcs in Moria never speak, the ones in The Hobbit do (and sing, too). Melding these two viewpoints on the world together is somewhat tricky, and the film doesn't succeed in doing so entirely successfully. There's occasional tone whiplash because of that.

It's not quite as bad as all that - this quest isn't as apocalyptic as Frodo's. It's a bunch of Palestinian's dwarves out to rescue their homeland from the greedy gold-hoarding Jews** dragon, rather than a soul-sapping quest to save the world while carrying a ring that corrupts the bearer. But the backstory for the dwarves _is_ pretty unpleasant, and knowing what comes up in the remainder of the story, it's a tone that's going to keep coming up.

Interestingly I know a few people who prefer this movie to the LOTR trilogy. They felt that that was overly dark and took itself too seriously, while The Hobbit does this much less so, and definitely has a higher fun quotient. I don't quite feel that way myself, but I can certainly understand that position.

Some people have complained that there's a bunch of extra stuff in here. Frankly, I think it's awesome that they're putting the extra stuff in from the appendices, and thus we're going to get to see where Gandalf goes during a third of the book, and see the events of Dol Guldur rather than just hearing them mentioned.

The one part I felt dragged past was the escape from Goblin Town, which could have had a couple of minutes cut from it. It was clearly portrayed as threatless, with the whole thing having as much emotional heft as a game of Space Invaders. I'd have cut directly from the moment that Gandalf turns up and casts Power Word: Nuke to the point where Bilbo/Gollum encounter them fleeing the bottom exit. Maybe 20 seconds of them initially escaping, but more than that was just showing off.

Oh, and I'd also have done without the stone giants. Again, you can cut directly from Bilbo stumbling (just before we see the giants) into Thorin almost falling while rescuing him, and not lost any of the character moments. They looked kinda cool, but were completely unnecessary.

There were lots of bits I liked a lot. Riddles In The Dark was fantastic. Martin Freeman was great - his speech about helping the dwarves find a home actually depressed me because I ended up thinking "He'd make a great Arthur Dent. Oh. Damn."*** And did his accent during that speech remind anyone else of Neil Gaiman's, or was it just me?

Ian McKellen continued to be awesome, with my favourite moment of his being when he hears Saruman's voice. He perfectly captured the look of someone who has a meeting with their manager and has several centuries of time-sheets that they haven't quite gotten around to filling in...

Having seen it in 2D and 3D, the only time I really missed the 3D was during the large vistas, which just aren't as impressive without the depth. It never annoyed me though, presumably because it was actually filmed with pairs of cameras.

The High Frame Rate stuff was fascinating. I largely agree with this article, insofar as I think that some of it looked _amazing_, and other parts looked too artificial. The enhanced frame rate does the same thing that HDTV did - it allows you to see things you never did before. Where HD showed up low quality props and makeup, HFR shows up unnatural lighting. Any scene that was set outside looked fantastic, clearer and smoother than any film I've seen before. Scenes set anywhere on a sound stage, where theoretically people were being lit by flickering lights, looked like people having lights shone on them.

I've always had some amount of juddering at the cinema when watching pans across sweeping vistas****, and fast moving camera obviously produces a blurriness. When I first saw the movie there was a lot of that, which I assumed was deliberate, showing the chaos of battle. Watching it in HFR blew me away, because suddenly everything was clear - the camera could move a lot faster without losing any detail. I think that there's still work to be done to take proper advantage of the technique, but then the same was true of moving from black and white to colour, or adding sound. This isn't that big a step, but it still feels pretty big, and I hope more people take advantage of it. Some people will hate it, of course.


So, overall, as a version of The Hobbit, it's probably only about a 6/10. As a continuation of my LOTR experience, 8/10.

Oh, and a quick note - I have only the vaguest memories of the rest of The Hobbit, so no spoilers in comments for anything beyond the end of the first movie please.

*I didn't mean to. But I booked in with tisme to see it on the biggest screen in Edinburgh (not a full-on proper-sized IMAX, but as close as Edinburgh gets), and Julie wasn't interested. And then she decided she was interested, and there were no seats left for the IMAX screening, so we went for a performance together. And then I phoned my parents a week before Christmas and they said "We thought it would be nice to see The Hobbit as a family, so we booked tickets.". And I really wanted to see it the 48 frames-per-second version, so I could make my own mind up if it was a Travesty™ or The Next Big Thing™
**I felt sure I wasn't the first person to think of this, and sure enough, I'm not the only one. Googling "the hobbit palestine" gave me a few unlikely things, too. And yes, I am aware of the dates of the publication of The Hobbit.
***I loathed the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy movie. It was a bunch of "We remember this bit of the book/radio play being funny, but we can't remember why so we'll cut it down and leave out the bits that made it work" scenes stitched badly together. A massive waste of its potential.
****I only recently discovered some people apparently don't see this.




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