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?
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.