Peter Jackson is back with another movie about a bunch of guys walking from point A to point B. This time around it’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the precursor to The Lord of the Rings. Some familiar characters and locations are back, along with the amazing special effects and costumes that Jackson is known for. However, the film gets a whole new look thanks to 48p (HFR 3D). While the movie is highly enjoyable on its own, some aspects are enhanced by 48p while several others suffer because of the new technology. Here are some random thoughts on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, starting with some spoiler-free criticisms of 48p.
You Down With 48p (Yeah, You Know Me): The best thing about 48p is that it makes 3D better. The Hobbit has some of the best 3D effects I’ve ever seen and they blend together smoothly thanks to the higher frame rate. The resolution also offers some of the most realistic shots I’ve ever seen, which is good and bad. It’s good because the clarity and details are phenomenal. It’s bad because the details are so clear that it takes away from the experience. There’s a distinct difference between scenes shot on a set, scenes shot on location, and scenes that feature heavy computer graphics. They don’t blend together well and you’re left with a feeling of incongruity. There are some closeups where you can see the makeup and prosthetics, also taking you out of the fantasy. Fans of traditional 24p films (i.e. the cinematic effect) will be put off too. Most of The Hobbit doesn’t look like a traditional movie, but rather the most amazing HD television footage ever seen. While the technology is impressive and I’m certain that it’ll mesh together better in the future, the visuals in this movie feel disjointed.
The Leads: Ian McKellen cemented his status as a nerd god by absolutely killing it as Gandalf the Grey. He’s commanding and vulnerable at the same time. He’s a fun character because he’s obviously very powerful, but you’re not quite sure of his motivations and mental stability. McKellen carries the first installment of The Hobbit trilogy, which is great for fans of The Lord of the Rings movies; there’s something comforting about going on a new (old?) adventure with an old friend. Martin Freeman was very good as Bilbo Baggins and I have a feeling that he’s going to be great in the next movies. As his character develops from a meek homebody to an able adventurer, Freeman is able to show some nice range and will be able to do even more in the sequels. Richard Armitage was also very good as Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the dwarves…though his name made me think about this guy.
Old Friends: In addition to Gandalf, old Bilbo, and Frodo, a number of other characters return in familiar roles. Hugo Weaving is back as
Agent Smith Elrond and Cate Blanchett returns as Galadriel, two of the most powerful elves in Middle-earth. To my surprise, Christopher Lee was back as Saruman. I wasn’t sure he was still alive. There’s a great scene where Saruman shows up at Rivendell to Gandalf’s surprise. The look on McKellen’s face is priceless, as if he was thinking, “Not this f*cking guy!” Also, Gollum rules!
The Other Dwarves: Most of the dwarves seem pretty useless in the movie, which was somewhat expected since they didn’t receive the character development native to (really long) text. For newcomers, a lot of these guys seems like stragglers that are simply there to make the group look big. Sure, Thorin is the leader and and Kili is a skilled archer, but the other guys? Oin and Gloin are notable because they’re Gimli’s ancestors and their father’s name is Groin (never gets old). Bombur seems like he’s there because every sci-fi/fantasy team needs a fat guy. As far as I could tell, Ori was there to look goofy and fight even goofier. If you’ve read the book then you know that many of the dwarves have developed personalities, but if you’re coming in blindly then it seems like more than half the team is there to provide comic relief.
Special Effects: As expected, the special effects in the movie are outstanding. There are a lot of scenes that will leave you thinking, “Damn. That was cool!” Unfortunately, the impact of the effects is dampened because of 48p. You’ll see something that’s visually stunning, but the next scene looks so different that it’s confusing and somewhat negates the awesomeness of the effects you just witnessed.
Fight Scenes: Most of the fight scenes in the movie are pretty sweet, but there are few goofy moments that I didn’t care for at all. I blame this on the guy that thought it was a good idea to have Legolas go shield surfing in The Two Towers. I hated that moment and felt that it took away from an epic battle. There are a handful of similar instances in The Hobbit as well. It gets worse at the end when the dwarves use some Three Stooges maneuvers with a ladder. Yes, I get that the gang is outnumbered and wins some battles through dumb luck, but dumb luck doesn’t always have to look so goofy. Those moments aside, I really enjoyed the fight scenes in The Hobbit. Bows, arrows, swords, and magic are cool.
Conclusion: For the most part, I really enjoyed The Hobbit, but found 48p so disconcerting that I’m certain that I would have enjoyed the movie much more in traditional 24p 2D. I love that Peter Jackson was bold enough to experiment with new technology, but it doesn’t seem ready yet. The visuals are just all over the place and at times that made it difficult to simply enjoy the adventure. While I’m happy to watch more three-hour Peter Jackson movies about guys walking to a
volcano mountain, some of the enjoyment is taken away by half-baked technology. I definitely recommend seeing The Hobbit, but be prepared for the incongruous look of HFR 3D.