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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Movie

December 14, 2012

Last night I went to the midnight premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  After reading the books and seeing all of the Lord of the Rings films several times (I own the trilogy in DVD and in Blu-Ray) I was expecting sweeping vista, raucous action, and a screenplay that cleaned up some of the less tidy plot points. I eagerly anticipated the high-frame-rate production and was looking forward to the IMAX 3D experience. I even waited in line for 3 hours… something I NEVER do. And the premiere of the extended trailer for Star Trek: Into Darkness prepped us all for an amazing experience. Then the movie started and I was struck by three issues that pretty much ruined it for me.

1. High Frame Rate

As the film begins, I saw that 48 fps makes a difference: it makes everything seem unreal and over-processed. My brain, after 50 years of watching movies filmed at 24 frames per second with lots of motion blur, was having trouble seeing the crystal clear images as real. It took well over an hour before that “willing suspension of disbelief” kicked in and I could watch the movie without seeing every scene as CGI. HFR makes everything seem unreal because the images are too clear. I know that Peter Jackson spent a lot of money shooting this way, and the images are clearer, but it takes a long time to get used to it. And in the end I do not believe that it added to my enjoyment or to the realism of the film.

2. Gratuitous 3D

I know that the studios all see 3D as manna from heaven: A way to charge more for a film and give the audience something that is difficult to replicate at home.  But Peter Jackson did not have to pander so obviously to the 3D fans.  Every chase scene included point-of-view shots with branches whipping past your face. Every fight included About halfway through the movie I started closing one eye because the movie was more enjoyable in 2D.  If you have a choice, skip the 3D.

3. Act 1 is never the most exciting

The Hobbit is a short novel (297 pages in hardcover).  Usually that would make a single decent movie. But Peter Jackson, who clearly loves the story with all his heart, turned it into a trilogy.  So this first movie doesn’t have an arc.  It has character development, an introduced conflict, and then it ends. You are left feeling rather unfulfilled… you’re not on the edge of your seat because there was no time for rising tension. It’s a typical Act I.

So would I recommend it?

If you’re a LOTR fan, then by all means go.  Every aspect of the story is beautifully rendered, and is worth seeing.  Of course, waiting until all three are available on DVD would be a better choice because then you can watch them the way the story is intended — as one unit, not a trilogy.

If you’re looking for a fun movie to take the kids to (and you’re okay with decapitations and deaths aplenty) then this is a pretty good choice — the action will keep the kids entertained and they may not notice that there is only 1/3 of a story here. But this is PG-13 for a reason: the path the adventurers take is a violent one, and the deaths by sword and knife are messy and graphically portrayed, including at least one beheading of a key character.

Finally, if you’re not a fan but you’re looking for a good movie, I think I’d look elsewhere. You’re not going to be satisfied by this. 

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