Hello everyone! Fenrir here with yet another movie review (instead of food, haha). This weekend Peter Jackson’s highly anticipated The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey–the first of three “prequel” movies to his acclaimed Lord of the Rings trilogy–was released to generally favorable reviews. The critics have rallied against it, with many a complaint for what is otherwise a stunningly charming film — and if you asked me maybe thirty minutes after my midnight screening run I would have asked you how could anyone not like The Hobbit?
Well one more screening later, and I think I can weigh in on this film without the rose-colored fandom glasses — so how does this first leg of a three-film journey stand on its own furry feet?
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the culmination of start-ups and endings, of passing between the infamous Peter Jackson, to Guillermo Del Toro, back to Jackson, and all sorts of obstacles until it finally got the green-light for filming. Then came the anxious anticipation for Tolkein fans of the films and the books alike, with high expectations for Peter Jackson to once more weave his magic and take us on yet another quest through Middle Earth, complete with his famous wide-sweeping landscapes, sets, and his ability to bring our favorite heroes to life.
And honestly? I feel that Jackson delivered. The Hobbit certainly has its strengths in bringing the characters to life, as expected, from Bilbo and his bumbling beginnings, to our charming friend Gandalf, to even an updated spin on tortured, bitter Thorin Oakenshield. Ian McKellen’s reprisal as Gandalf the Gray was simply brilliant, and Martin Freeman made an excellent Bilbo, not to mention the new “main characters” added to the series that held their own — especially Richard Armitage’s interpretation of Thorin, keeping him brooding and bitter, but perhaps not terribly melodramatic and over-the-top for a Hobbit movie (I sincerely hope no one was going into this film with the expectations of it being serious business; this is going to be light-hearted, maybe with a bit of camp, you know). And, Jackson must receive some kudos for making the other members of the party–Dori, Ori, Nori, Bifor, Bofur, Bombur, Balin, Dwalin, Oin, Gloin, Fili, and Kili–likable and distinct characters in their own right instead of mere mouthpieces or extras.
Jackson and his team outdid themselves with the sweeping vistas, and the sets — which were nothing but whimsical, immersive, and another feat that I knew would be impressive. From the halls of Erebor, Gollum’s hidey-hole and the goblin town (Which deserves its own praises) to even Bilbo’s homey hobbit-hole, we certainly got that feeling of being back in Middle-earth again; and after the Return of the King, it’s a welcome feeling to go back to familiar places, and then to encounter these new scenes and mountain peaks.
So we have great characters, great sets and scenes, and we also have a beautiful soundtrack to move with the story. Besides Howard Shore’s sweeping orchestral suite, we also have the inclusion of a few of the book’s famous songs — which were not only exciting tidbits for fans of the books to finally see these pieces come to life, but also moving in their choreography and the depth that these songs add to the feeling of the movie. Soon after the Dwarf cast’s riotous “Blunt the Knives” there is the somber reminder of the seriousness underlying the otherwise whimsical nature of The Hobbit, the issues of reclaiming a sense of “home”, identity, and heritage that can be heard in the film’s rendition of “Over the Misty Mountains Cold”.
So overall for me, as a fan of the books and a general Peter Jackson fan, I am happy with The Hobbit, and am pleased with my experience with the movie so far.
However… It is far from perhaps the perfection (or perceived perfection) that many people have when comparing this film to The Lord of the Rings.
The most jarring aspect of the film is the frame rate. If you haven’t heard, or noticed, there are two different frame rate versions of the film; and after dealing with the lower frame rate 2-D version, I admit there might have been a mistake or two when it came to filming. There is an almost grainy, dizzying quality to some shots — especially the sweeping shots of Erebor in the beginning — that was quietly disappointing. Not to mention that this grainy quality was often coupled with some fighting scenes that, perhaps, should have been choreographed differently, or even filmed with one focus on one character, but due to the vast size of the party, the camera continues to pan and switch so that fight scenes becomes a tumult of movement and frenzied action — a far cry from the clear fight sequences found in The Lord of the Rings, and just generally jarring when there is too much for the eye to focus on.
Secondly, perhaps one of the most disappointing things for me was the misuse of Weta workshop — or rather, the overuse of Weta digital. Weta workshop is the famous special effects and props department whose major claim to fame can be found in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and their work in creating armor, chainmail, and “bigatures” for the Rings trilogy. Weta was also the mastermind behind many of the creatures and the creature costumes found in The Lord of the Rings trilogy — thank Weta for how organic and real the Orks looked in the Rings trilogy.
And then compare that level of detail to the abundance of digital monsters that make up the film; it’s a detail that can be overlooked but that is in a sense disappointing… The Hobbit’s creatures do not have that same organic feeling, which is jarring when compared to the organic look that was adapted for The Lord of the Rings.
Not to say that all the creatures looked “bad”, even if you knew right away they were all digital; there was nothing sassier than The Hobbit’s rendition of the Goblin King, but the organic look and textures are sorely missed.
And lastly, although perhaps not too much of a problem for most people, is the depiction of certain events found in the film. While I do appreciate the addition of the history of the City of Dale and Erebor, there are other ehem, things, that will certainly be problem for next year’s The Desolation of Smaug. While I do not mind as much as say, Silverwolf, there are a few changes that will have interesting consequences in the next few film… *CoughThorindon’tforgivesoeasilypleaseCOUGH*
So yes, I can see why The Hobbit is not doing so favorably with critics as of right now. But as a movie in of itself, without the constant comparison back and forth to what perhaps Lord of the Rings did?
Then the movie is a solid, entertaining film. Perhaps the humor, the fight-and-flight, and the general light-heartedness of this film in comparison to the Rings was not what people expected — but for fans of The Hobbit, who grew up with this much more whimsical adventure? Then there is the spirit of The Hobbit condensed into a three hour or so film — and really, there’s not much there to complain about.
It is a fun journey (although I do not recommend watching it twice within twenty-four hours), and is a good start to perhaps another solid trilogy that can satisfy the yearning for another sojourn in Middle Earth.
– Characters – Very, very happy with the way that many of the characters were brought to life. Of course this is debatable — depending on how much you liked Radagast the Brown — but overall I am content.
– Sets and scenes – Stunning sweeping vistas and the magical set-work Jackson and his team are known for are delivering yet another beautiful look into the world of Middle Earth
– Soundtrack – Howard Shore shines brilliantly again with the accompanying soundtrack; with bonus points for including a few of the book’s songs. Secretly hoping that “Goblin Town” was also recorded but cut out of the film and that there is an extended cut of the “Misty Mountain” song somewhere, too…
– Frame rate – there really is no other way around it, there will be shots that look grainy, gritty, and just in general incongruent with the rest of the film.
– Fight choreography – again, it might be due to the fight-and-flight nature of Thorin’s rag-tag group of volunteers, but fights are a jumbled mass of frantic movement that doesn’t make for entertaining action sequences.
– A few plot points that changed due to director interpretation that may, or may not, change important–as in moral of the story important–character development.
Sooooo what is the overall consensus for me?