Misty Mountain Hop
When J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit in the 1930s, he supposedly did it for his kids. Which is why — unlike its sequel, The Lord Of The Rings — the epic fantasy story wasn’t so serious, dense, or fraught with peril.
The same can now be said of The Hobbit, the movie version of Tolkien’s book that’s directed by Rings helmsman Peter Jackson. Watching this, the first of three films based on The Hobbit and other tales Tolkien wrote about Middle-earth — the second and third of which are due out next year and the year after — it’s clear that Jackson is taking this adaptation as seriously he did The Lord Of The Rings, right down to its less-than-serious tone. And the result is, like Ring, an epic fantasy adventure that all-but-transports you to Middle-earth.
Set years before Ring, The Hobbit has Gandalf enlisting Bilbo Baggins — who is here are young as his nephew Frodo was in Rings — to join a group of dwarves in their quest to evict a dragon who’s squatting in their mountain home. Which, once again, involves a long walk through treacherous lands that are infested with hungry trolls, fighting stone giants, and a jewelry lover we all know and…well, maybe love is too strong a term.
Filmed with the same care as Rings, the film is full of grand vistas, spectacular special effects, and massive battles, as well as smaller character moments that will make you care about Bilbo’s fate (though with so many dwarves, it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s who at times). There are also times when characters from Rings stop by to say hello, though, thankfully, none of them feel like the actors are just there to pick up a check.
In fact, the only thing that makes The Hobbit feel different from Rings is the aforementioned lighter tone that comes in at times. Granted, most of it is brought by the dwarves — the song they do while cleaning up Bilbo’s dishes is rather silly — and the occasional bad joke, but it always manages to fit the film’s fantasy realm. It also has a less epic and dire feel, but that’s to be expected when the endgame is a bunch of guys getting their house back as opposed to people saving the world.
All of which probably makes you think, “Well, I loved The Lord Of The Rings, I should go line up to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey right now.” And you should, but not without checking something first. The Hobbit was shot by Jackson using a new camera system that works at 48 frames per second, twice as fast as a normal movie camera. And the results are not good.
Watching the film at 48FPS and in 3D, there were times when The Hobbit looked like it was shot on a set, as opposed to on location in Middle-earth like Rings. It doesn’t quite look like a soap opera, as some have suggested — it reminded me more of watching an old episode of Doctor Who, just in high def — but the artificial feel is similar.
What’s worse is that the whole film doesn’t look like this. The film jarringly switches from looking spectacular to looking cheap, often within the same scene — and sometimes even within the same fight — and this inconsistency just illustrates how much better the movie would’ve looked had it just been shot normally.
It’s also been said that this higher framerate will make people less queasy when they watch movies in 3D, but it seemed more like the 3D just amplified the higher framerate’s shortcomings by making things look really disconnected and thus unreal. That said, there were times when the 3D was used to great effect, though mostly for little things, like bugs flying around.
If you see the film in 24 frames-per-second, though, you’ll be in for a treat. Sure, it is just a bunch of short guys walking around, occasionally getting into trouble, but then so was Rings. And The Hangover. And that golf game you watched last week with your dad. Well, okay, it’s better than that. Unless that game had trolls, stone giants, and the promise of showing us a fire-breathing dragon…next time.