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To the cinema and back again, with added CGI
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lil_shepherd
Went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey this afternoon.

First of all, I have to assure those people who said they got vertigo from the first ten minutes of the movie, 3D version, that it wasn't the 3D. For the first time in my life, I got vertigo at a movie – from the 2D version! This is because that when the camera was swooping about over Erebor it kept also going out of focus. This may be because it was filmed in the 48fps rate that is only available in a limited number of cinemas and the conversion didn't work properly, or it may be because the focus puller was on strike. I noticed this particularly because one of the reasons I dislike 3D is that the depth of field – used by good film-makers to direct the eye – means that either the eye isn't directed or if you glance anywhere except where the film-maker is trying to direct you, you can't focus.



And there was far too much swooping and falling and generally playing about to show off the 3D. Yawn. Jackson has a habit of refusing to kill his babies (a problem shared by other great directors – Kubrick and Nolan for two.)

On the other hand, some of the FX is spectacularly good (with a equal number of failures that are visible even in normal 2D) and there are solid performances – Martin Freeman is, as usual, playing Martin Freeman, but that's close enough to Bilbo to get by, though Ian Holm is far more subtle; Richard Armitage is gorgeous and spectacularly good as Thorin (though why Thorin's accent should sound so like Boromir's occasionally is an interesting question, particularly considering that the actors come from Leicester and Sheffield respectively) and Ken Stott is outstanding as Balin. Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Chris Lee and Hugo Weaving take up their characters easily, as does Andy Serkis, a star turn as Gollum, though this is another scene that, perhaps, goes on a bit too long. The body of dwarves, on the other hand, are mostly indistinguishable, save that some are comedy dwarves and some are crumpet warrior-dwarves.

Which brings us to the first of the two major problems with this movie, as a movie, and that is its fluctuating tone. This stems, I suspect, from being pulled in two contrasting directions, firstly by the Tolkien fanbase, who want to be able to recognise the book, and secondly by the studio, who wanted money-spinning prequels to LotR, which is something the book never really succeeds at being, despite some editing from JRRT. The Hobbit has tonal problems anyway, with some of it plainly meant to be read aloud to younger children and some of it aimed squarely at an older audience. Not to mention that the additions culled from the appendices and Lost Laundry Lists are closer to The Silmarillion than to LotR, let alone The Hobbit. The bad jokes (some of them, like the invention of golf, from the pen of JRRT himself) and the comedy action sequences (some of which are all too reminiscent of Temple of Doom rather than LotR) do not sit well with the pontifications of the White Council, Thorin's tragic story, or the Riddles in the Dark. As for Radagast ... that was just plain embarrassing. I'd almost rather have had Tom Bombadil. One of the triumphs of the LotR films was the feeling of realism, of watching ancient history, even in the Shire or the banter between Gimli and Legolas. Here, the sudden changes in tone and language (including very modern idioms that made me boggle occasionally) detract from emotional engagement, as does the low comedy. (I loathe the comedy of embarrassment, and there is too much of it here. Damn it, Jackson, stop trying to be the Farrelly brothers, and enough with the bloody fart jokes.)

The other giant problem is the pacing. If Jackson had got the pacing right, then the movie would not have got anywhere near as many "it's too long" reviews. There is too much exposition, too much repetition of beats from LotR, too much marching over a landscape that has lost its surprise, and too many and too long fight sequences with little blood and few consequences. There is no feeling of peril, not when the dwarves seem to be pretty much invulnerable, falling from great heights and leaping to their feet and not being crushed when half a mountain falls on them. (And the mountains come to life FX are embarrassingly bad.)

I was often entertained, particularly in the second half, but never emotionally engaged.

Shore's score, though, is a triumph.

It's not an awful movie but a very average one. I hate to say this, because I have been looking forward to this movie for years, but without the Tolkien and Jackson names, it would have had even worse reviews and if LotR hadn't been made first, this movie would probably have ensured that it would never have been made. Three stars out of five, because I'm feeling generous.

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Oh, I'm so glad I read this. Because YES YES YES, this is exactly what I feel about the film and I didn't even know it properly until I read it. I've never actually read a review of anything which I identified with so much.

I liked it, but I didn't love it like I wanted to. And for exactly the reasons you write.

I've just been reading comments agreeing with a pro review which said just this, so we are not alone.

All that swooping around and the cartoonish aspects of the flight/fight scenes may have been to please fans of gaming but was the weakest point for me. Still I was rather entranced by Richard Armitage's Thorin so more willing to forgive other aspects.

It did remind me though that I much prefer stunt work over CGI that always diminishes any sense of reality.

My housemate's comment on leaving - when did dwarves become sexy?

Edited at 2012-12-21 09:20 am (UTC)

Oh, Thorin is indeed hot. Also one of the few actually interesting dwarves.

I can't say I disagree with your points, but I weigh them differently, and the movie was mostly a success for me. I found the mucking around with characters that was done in this movie much more forgivable (in Bilbo's case, even an improvement, except that no one could become a skilled fighter so quickly) than what was done with Gimli, Faramir, and Denethor.

For me, a film should be judged as a film, not as how close to the book it is. The question always is: does it work? With LotR, most of the changes worked. (And I think the Faramir changes, in particular, were highly necessary. I have argued elsewhere that Faramir in the book is pretty much a plot device, and the more conflicted and complex version in the film -- oh yes he is -- becomes more than that.)

Of course, it helps that I don't actually like 'The Hobbit' even as a childrens' book (and I collect period childrens' books) and considered it flawed even on that level.

Absolutely nothing that I'd disagree with here.

Armitage carried the whole bloody thing for me.

As you say, Balin was good, as was Dwalin. The rest, apart from Bofur and Fili and Kili were pretty amorphous, but they were in the book, and 13 is too large a character set to deal effectively with in either a book or a film.

Freeman's performance was pretty bland, but it doesn't seem to have stopped the expected amount of fawning from his fans, although I can seee nothing to merit it.

I hated the beginning with old Bilbo and Frodo. Yes, we all know that Bilbo survives, but that sort of opener strips away any remaining vestiges of dramatic tension.

I absolutely adored the score for the song, and can't wait to hear the whole thing properly.

My mum is really excited about seeing this. *gulp*

How interested is your mother in very sexy dwarves?

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