film review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)1 Comment
It was over a year ago that they started releasing production videos from the set of The Hobbit. I was highly excited by the prospect of a Hobbit film back then… but then a lot of things can change in a year.
The announcement that The Hobbit would be covered in 2 films, then 3, put a dampener on the whole concept. I know a lot of people had a problem with the idea of stretching such a short book out to that length, and I had my reservations as well, but my big issue was that it meant that the whole experience would be so drawn out. I loved the Lord of the Rings films but breaking the story up over 2-3 years did not do the tale any service. You can talk about anticipation all you want but picking up a book a third of the way through, a year later, does not enhance the experience.
Then there was the whole kerfuffle about 48fps. I’ll talk about my experience with it later but whatever your opinion on new technology, hearing the tales of nausea and indifference didn’t exactly light my fires of hope.
So, over a year on from that first glimpse of the production, how did I feel going into the theatre? Honestly, I really was still looking forward to it, but heavy in my head was the fact that this was never really going to be The Hobbit that I know and love. I was ready to know and love this third of it but it’s just not the same. It’s just settling with what you’ve got.
With that in mind, I don’t have anything particularly bad to say about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. In fact I really did enjoy it. Sure, it’s a little long, but I still believe that Peter Jackson is a master film-maker. There may have been a hiccup with The Lovely Bones (review) but in general his output has been outstanding. The truth is, that the fact that an almost 3 hour long film that only covers a third of a story is watchable at all, is testament to his skill as a director.
For fans of the Lord of the Rings films, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brings you straight back into that world and I for one was glad of that. Middle-Earth looks exactly as it should, exactly as this sort of fantasy world should. Think of Tim Burton’s garish, over-stylised take on Alice in Wonderland (review) or curiously over populated world of Avatar (review) and I hope you’ll know what I mean… Those films looked great but they weren’t grounded. They were fairytales. The look and feel of Jackson’s Middle-Earth conveys the nature of its story and I was ready to be brought back into that world.
I have to admit though the 48fps thing, I think, did take me out of it. I have yet to see it in normal, 24fps 2D, but I don’t think I imagined the slight jarring effect of 48fps at the edges. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that it looked like cheap TV but… it looked off. I felt like the sharpness and smoothness made the effects look… less real? or was it too real? I suppose we’re used not seeing things as super sharp. Just as HD uncovered the flaws in TV make-up, perhaps 48fps is highlighting the gap between CGI and reality… perhaps it’s production design and construction that needs to catch up to CGI?
As regards the nausea thing, I took motion sickness tablets before going so I can’t comment on that. I suffer badly from motion sickness and I had no intention of potentially making myself sick and ruining The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for the sake of testing the possible ill effects of 48fps.
In the same way that I’m not a 3D naysayer, I can’t say that I have a problem with 48fps as a concept. This is the first time we’ve seen it and let’s face it, unless you have James Cameron’s dedication, and billions, you’re probably not going to get it exactly right first time. I’m happy to see technology move on so I’m not willing to throw 48fps to the dogs just yet… but I’m not sure that I as yet understand what it’s supposed to bring to the cinema experience. I’d like to see what Cameron will do with it.
But back to The Hobbit part 1.
What else can I tell you about it? Basically, from my point of view, it’s only flaw is in the fact that it is a part 1. I have accepted that I’m not going to get The Hobbit out of this film. That I’m going to have to dedicate approximately 9 hours of my life to this story for the next 2 years or so. That I might never see the story in its entireity, as it is meant to be seen. But I also hope that what I’m going to get is a story with more depth. A story that’ll have interesting diversions. I hope that this is just the first of what will prove to be another outstanding entry on Peter Jackson’s CV.
Sadly, Part 1’s are never going to be outstanding, they’re always about set up and when you know how long you have to tell a story, you’re always going to build to a crescendo rather than throw in everything up front – It’s unsustainable. What we have here is an introduction to the characters, the background of the quest and the first steps down the road to the goal. What else were you expecting?
Ok. This is all just a way to hide the fact that I wasn’t blown away by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey…
… aside from a rolicking and then rousing 45 mins at the end, it was merely fine, but… I am hopeful. I’d hate to look back in 2 years time and think that I wasted those 9 hours.
I think 7/10 is being generous, but as you say, part ones are never going to be outstanding. I really, really hope part two is an improvement!