Review: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

PRECIOUS

I swear I read The Hobbit as a kid. I remember finishing the last page and excitedly running to talk to my brother about it. I’d even seen the cartoon several times. Despite these memories, I walked into the movie knowing exactly three things: there were younger versions of characters I already knew in it, and also a dragon. (I was also pretty sure Gollum was in it somewhere, but that was just hearsay.) So it was that, yet again, I watch a Tolkien movie and everything is new to me.

Like Butter Scraped Over Too Much Bread

I remember when The Hobbit movie was first announced. Then I remember them talking about splitting it into two movies, and then three, and then ensuing collective eyerolls and lolwut‘s of nerds everywhere. It’s easy to see why. The story fit into one book, and every last one one of the LotR books was longer than The Hobbit by at least a hundred pages (Return of the King is double its length). Even not knowing the story, the parts where they decided to pad things were pretty obvious. That being said, this is Peter Jackson and WETA we’re talking about, so it wasn’t so much painful as it was “oh, I see what you did there let’s hang out in Rivendell for 20 minutes <contented nerd-gurgles>“. Even so, extremely awesome fluff is still no substitute for extremely awesome substance, and I will quietly grumble about this the next fourteen times I see this movie.

There seemed to be an odd phenomenon going on with the dwarves. I was expecting them all to look like Gimli did in the LotR movies, but instead about half the party consisted of what my wife refers to as The Hot Dwarves. I don’t know if they decided people would only get behind Thorin Oakenshield if he could do a Tiger Beat centerfold afterward, but that whole business (combined with the fact that Gandalf was the only size M creature in the party) kept making me forget they were dwarves. A nitpick, to be sure — but I thrive on total immersion in these sort of movies and this did not help me want to go help the Dwarves reclaim their Thoroughly Dwarven Homeland. Which, by the way, WETA did a wonderful job with. I’m not sure what it is about dwarves that makes everybody go for angles and runes, but it really works. Even the political dwarves in Dragon Age use this basic Dwarven design template, and it works. I hope we get to see more of it in the sequels.

I just wish they’d come up with a better name for part 2. The Desolation of Smaug? It just sounds too, well, George Lucassy. How about Cumbersmaug’s Hoard or NCIS: Erebor?

Yakety Shadowfax

I drove two hours away to see the 48fps HFR version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I cannot, in good conscience, say this was a good choice. I found it much more distracting than cool.

I’d heard people say it made everything look like a daytime soap opera, and I can see why. This was, by far, the most cognitively dissonant experience of my adult life. It seemed like every five minutes, I would see something and my gut would tell me I was watching a low-budget made for TV production which miraculously still had the movie’s actual cast, much like the Star Wars Holiday Special. Then, I would look around, and the environment was beautiful, and everything was insanely detailed. Then I’d look at the people on the screen and think they just threw some costumes on people and this movie had a budget of $11 and then I’d realize one of them was riding a warg and it looked 100% amazingly realistic and just as cheap as everyone else. I do not understand how those conditions can simultaneously exist.

In addition, the HFR had a very strange effect anytime anybody entered melee combat for me. I’d see a weapon drawn, and then a dwarf would drop into warp for a few seconds, and then it would suddenly reach its destination and I’d see an orc’s head fly off. Frequently, it would appear to me as if the film was sped up for comic effect — as if I was watching the most staggeringly gorgeous episode of Benny Hill ever made.

I’ve heard these effects diminish the more you are exposed to high framerates, much like the rainbows you see when you first watch a DLP TV. I’ve heard it’ll get better when makeup, lighting and set design catch up to the camera technology. I am not looking forward one bit to this transition period. I’m mostly sure the extra frames are just tiny portals to another dimension where this movie sucks.

An Unexpected Conclusion

I’m somewhat conflicted about this one, and I’ll probably be seeing it again. The good parts are really good. The fluff is of outstanding quality, but it is copious. The entire 8 hour workday necessary to watch the trilogy seems ridiculously unnecessary to tell this story, and I think the amount of filler is really going to wear on us by the 3rd film. It also seems to me that in each of the LotR movies, there were always one or two things that just utterly blew me away and had me thinking about it for days. I do not recall anything in this movie that completely floored me like Gandalf taking on the Balrog. If anything, it was the nods to amazing moments in the original trilogy that had me grinning stupidly.

I will also confess that I was frequently confused and thought maybe the movie had some pacing issues, and I nodded off a couple times. It turned out that I was about 3 hours away from the stomach flu claiming me, so that was probably not the movie’s fault. I am, however, 100% certain the HFR caused the tiny invaders in my body to metastasize, ruining a perfectly good weekend. Be warned: see the regular version or suffer the exact same fate.

As an aside: as with the first trilogy, I’ve seen plenty of venom directed at the deviations from the original work in The Hobbit. In looking these up, I was extremely surprised to find out that Tolkien revised the book several times to fit more in line with The Lord of the Rings and even The Silmarillion. This makes me even angrier at George Lucas for the Star Wars prequels. You even had an example on how to do it right, man. You didn’t see the Internet crapping fire and death all over Tolkien when he did this, did you?

Overall, I can safely call The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a Critical Hit — but we’re playing 3e, and even though you get 2x damage you still rolled a 5 on your d12 damage die. It’s still solidly good, totally worth your time, and is likely extremely detrimental to the health of orcs — but it could be better.

Comments

  1. I loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it. Perhaps it is because I come from the mindset of “oh God/Peter Jackson, thank you for allowing a few fantasy movies to show the world why D&D rocks”, but I think it is really because I loved it, loved it, loved it.

  2. I was very lukewarm about it. The 48 fps thing was visually very jarring and not in a good way, for me. This is going to sound illogical but things looked so real they seemed fake. Or like fantastic cut scenes in a state of the art video game: cool but fake, and most likely not necessary. It kept bringing me right out of the story, thinking “That looks so odd…why does it look so odd? Oh, right, 48 fps…”

    And I didn’t care for the expansion of the story to fit three movies. Frankly, that worked against it for me. I would rather they had kept it to one long 3 hour movie.

    I rather liked the scenes that were faithful to the novel, especially the “goblin town” scenes and Bilbo and Gollum’s riddle contest. I also think Bilbo was cast perfectly. And I can’t to see Smaug either, given what we’ve seen.

    I will probably see it again but make a point of not seeing it in 3D or 48 fps so that I can not be as distracted. Maybe I’ll enjoy it more.

  3. Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo. I believe, much like Fellowship before it, Unexpected Journey will become better when we can watch it as Act I of “The Hobbit”, instead of on its own.

  4. I had no problem with the HFR, maybe except for thinking things were moving faster at the beginning. Aside from that I don’t get the feeling people had of ” things looked so real they seemed fake”, that’s sounds like overreacting for me.

    Well, in the end I liked the movie very much, it didn’t have epic scenes like Gandalf and the Balrog because the book DOESN’T have them, as a matter of fact, they made the characters much more heroic than they are in the book (at least in the parts of the book the movie covered).

  5. The Desolation of Smaug actually appears on Thror’s Map in the first few pages of The Hobbit, so it isn’t something they just made up. A lot of material for the added fluff has been extrapolated from the appendices in The Lord of Rings. It’s neat to see that stuff get some screen time.

    I did not see the movie in 48fps as I wasn’t willing to drive an hour to so. Even still, I loved the movie and can’t wait for The Desolation of Smaug next year. It was awesome to spend some time in Middle Earth again.

  6. RBMN… It’s definitely not overreacting. HFR is very much like the rainbow effect on DLP screens. Some people see them and some don’t. Most that do get used to it and rarely see them after some time. The same goes for high frame rates. My tv does 240hz and it makes EVERYTHING look like that. I’ve had it for a few months and it rarely bothers me any more and I notice it less and less all the time. Eventually it will be like the DLPs I had before it and I won’t notice it at all.

    I don’t know if some people’s eyes aren’t as good as others, or it’s something in the brain that allows people to see these issues, but they are definitely real.

    I’m holding off on seeing the movie so I don’t have to deal with the crazies that dress up and such. I might see it this weekend with Jack Reacher or something. Dunno yet. But I’m going to pass on the HFR version.

  7. The best scene in the movie was Gollum and Bilbo and that was the *only* scene compeltely lifted from the book as is – everything else had padding around it that made it a chore to watch. I think thats saying something.

    First thing I said when the movie was over was that was the best Dungeon and Dragons movie I have ever seen. It doesn’t sit up their with LotR trilogy.

  8. Frank "Darth Jerod" Foulis says:

    I saw the extra stuff for what it was, a linking of the two stories together and I loved it. After seeing LotR complete I was looking up everything I could about them and seeing all of that extra detail that would have been cool to add to this trilogy.

    We are not getting a real extra detailed Hobbit with a prequel to the LotR tie in with it that does not detract but only enhances the film.

    I chose NOT to see it in HFR until a 2nd viewing as I wanted to see a version that I was comfortable with. 3D so strains my eyes and I end up with a 2 day migraine following seeing one. The only 3D movie I enjoyed and felt the misery afterward was Avatar Extended Edition.

    I loved The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey. The crack about the dwarves looking GQ is funny really because all we had in the LotR was Gimli and a few other glimpses in Fellowship. These are afterall a different clan and some fit the classic look of Gimli. I thought they looked really good. There is a documentary in one of the extended edition DVD’s that talks about the look of the dwarves it was a real discussion as they designed Moria.

  9. Without looking for it I wouldn’t have noticed the 48fps, and I’ve wondered if that might not be related to my time sitting in front of a computer running programs at 60-70fps. I don’t own a tv, so there’s no experience coming from there. I did notice that the 3d felt much more natural though, and actually thought it was worthwhile to pay for the 3d version, as compared to other examples (like avatar, which I thought had mediocre 3d).

    I think the number of extra scenes is a bit much, especially with stretching it to three films. Two was understandable, and I appreciate the added content, but a lot of the scenes felt more like extended edition fare. The theatrical release, to my notions, should generally be tighter and smoother, and the extra scenes tended to chop it up and confuse the story more than aid it along.

    Also, as I’ve seen commented elsewhere, I think several of the fight scenes were a bit over-dramatized. Not every fight needs to be an epic cliffhanger (quite literally).