Straight away, I'm a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien.
I've not only read The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, I've read The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (a book of poems which had very little Bombadil) and the posthumous work, Silmarillion: co-constructed/co-written by his son, Christopher.
That said, there are fans of Tolkien who go far beyond my love of the books. They play the games, wear the tattoos written in Elfish, and have memories of the books and characters and their placements, representations, and meanings that run rings about me.
Still, I'm a huge Tolkien fan.
Except for the missing Tom Bombadil*, I'm also a huge fan of THE LORD OF THE RINGS by Peter Jackson and company.
So what did I think of THE HOBBIT: An Unexpected Journey?
I watched it both in 3D and 48 frames per second (fps) aka hfc (high frame count).
THE HOBBIT begins with a wholly unnecessary dump of 10 plus minutes of preamble meant to tickle the fans with the reappearance of an old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm: ALIEN, eXistenZ, FRANKENSTEIN, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: Fellowship of the Rings, The Return of The King, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW) and Frodo (Elijah Wood: THE FACULTY, THE LORD OF THE RINGS [all], SIN CITY, 9). Bilbo writes the book and narrates how he came to write the book without actually mentioning why any of his ramblings matter. Frodo walks in to the room to give little more than an "Oh, you!" nod to his uncle, and then wanders off.
Because Ian Holm and Elijah Wood are in the next two Hobbit movies, we'll have to endure this meaningless sputum throughout the series. Oh, but we can't have Tom Bombadil.
The movie actually begins once the nauseating syrup drip stops and we are where the story actually begins (Oh best beloved!). Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman: SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ), enjoying a smoke in front of his house, meets the wandering wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen: THE KEEP, GODS AND MONSTERS, APT PUPIL, X-MEN, THE LORD OF THE RINGS [all], X2, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND).
It's not a merry meeting. Bilbo knows Gandalf only by the firework shows he used to put on in the Shire (where this group of Hobbits live, though there are other groups). Gandalf is concerned, even hurt that he wasn't more memorable, especially to Bilbo. But Bilbo is an adult now and in his 40s. His life is sedate, comfortable, and when Gandalf enthusiastically brings up the subject of "Adventure!", Bilbo wants no part of it.
Gandalf doesn't care what Bilbo wants, and surreptitiously puts a mark on Bilbo's door.
That evening while Bilbo prepares for his delicious dinner, the tall and intimidating warrior dwarf Dwalin (Graham McTavish: MACBETH, KING LEAR, LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE, GHOST WHISPERER: THE OTHER SIDE [TV], PANDEMIC, PENANCE, 24 [TV]) comes in and literally eats Bilbo's dinner. While Bilbo is trying to resolve this, a second dwarf comes knocking and soon a cast of 13 characters welcome themselves in like they belong there, and they all treat Bilbo like a much put-upon innkeeper in his own home.
When Gandalf finally arrives in Bilbo's now noisy den, which is currently uncomfortable and far from sedate, he explains to one and all his plan and why he feels that Mr. Baggins must be part of it. The Dwarves are far from convinced, particularly their leader and deposed king, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage: FROZEN , CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER).
It is here at the gathering of 13 that we understand what is happening and why. Thorin Oakenshield is out to reclaim his kingdom from the all powerful Dragon Smaug. The remaining 12 dwarves are the only ones of the millions who are willing to help him do it.
And of course there is Gandalf and Bilbo. Except Bilbo, while he empathizes with their plight, wants none of it. Gandalf promises adventure! Bilbo wants his safety assured. Gandalf can't offer that. What Gandalf can offer is a life far from the comforts of home! And "if" Bilbo returns home, he'll be a much changed Hobbit! He'll never have to be the same Hobbit he is now.
This is possibly the worst sales pitch in the history of fantasy novels, as none of it appeals to any desire that Bilbo has. Bilbo loves his life: A life of comfort and food and warmth and books.
"When did you become so concerned with your Mother's doilies?"
As the dwarves trade tales of war and gore and the possible fate that could await Bilbo, it's all too much for the Hobbit and he passes out.
When he wakes, he finds his house clean and neat and very, very empty.
Without words and in an economy of time, Peter Jackson makes us aware of just how empty Bilbo's home is, and how that reflects the true hidden life of Bilbo himself - whether he prefers to admit it or not.
The 40-something year old Hobbit (which is still relatively young for a Hobbit) doesn't let what may be his last chance at adventure slip away, and goes running after the dwarves, his contract in hand.
So begins Gandalf's much promised adventure. An adventure that will take Bilbo to many lands and put him in great peril with Orks, Trolls, Goblins, and deep within a mountain, a twisted, peculiar fellow named Gollum.
About the 48 frames per second. First off, THE HOBBIT was shot at 5k using the latest Red Cameras and the absolute best camera lenses in the world (which aren't Red, but Carl Zeiss). I honestly don't know how much of the ultra crystal clarity of picture is because of the 48 fps or the camera and lenses, but this is the sharpest movie I've ever seen in my life. Movement has virtually no detectable blur and both the CGI folks as well as the make-up people brought it all to deliver make-up effects that are flawless. The dwarves all wear prosthetics, but you can't detect it (not like I could detect Frodo's terrible ears in THE LORD OF THE RINGS movies).
The largest flaw this time around is with the Director of Photography, Andrew Lesnie (THE LORD OF THE RINGS [all], KING KONG, I AM LEGEND, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES). I appreciate the fact that the technical aspects of this movie were highly experimental and the Oscar winning Cinematographer of THE LORD OF THE RINGS is nobody's slouch. But too many whites were blown out, giving it an almost cheap video feel. Every time there was an outdoor shot, the blown out whites and brights reminded me of old 1980s video and how it was unable to handle the range from shadow to bright.
In short, I don't feel the problem is really the 48 fps or the crystal clarity: It's the lighting. Another example,
During the cave scene between Bilbo and Gollum -
Gollum, who isn't really there, is perfectly lit with subtle light and shade. But Bilbo, who really is there, has steep drop-offs in shadow across his face and clothing. And when the two of them are in the picture, the difference is startling.
This issue has to be fixed in the upcoming movies. It repeatedly pulled me out of a movie I very much wanted to be a part of and stay with.
About the 3D. This is the richest depth of the 3D experience I've ever enjoyed at a theater. At last, the bar that was set by AVATAR has been raised and the feeling is one of complete immersion. I really did feel like I was looking through a window instead of a flat screen. And at no time did I feel that anything was coming at me for no other reason than to fulfill a cheap 3D gimmick.
And at last there is Gollum himself.
Being a fan of the book, I knew this scene would be relatively short, yet Gollum has never looked better! Since 1999 when Andy Serkis began his partnership with this character, he has honed and practiced the craft of being the invisible ghost behind the character and it's wonderful! Gollum's face and body have never been more expressive. The ever-changing cleft in his fractured personality never more distinct. His threatening / pathetic countenance never more vivid. The cave scene with Gollum was the show stopper for me.
Naturally, being the first of a projected three picture movie, the end won't sit right with everyone.
More auld lang syne arrives in the form of Saruman the White (Christopher Lee: HORROR HOTEL, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, THE WICKERMAN, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, END OF THE WORLD, GREMLINS 2, SLEEPY HOLLOW, THE LORD OF THE RINGS [all], CORPSE BRIDE, Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND) when he was a good guy.
Despite the visual flaws with light, the Production Design, Art Direction, Special Effects make-up, and CGI are enthralling.
For those who were wondering why the three books of THE LORD OF THE RINGS got three movies, but the single book of THE HOBBIT also gets three, this is why. So much had to be cut out of THE LORD OF THE RINGS to make it fit. Even with the originally shot extended versions, whole characters and scenes were cut out or homogenized into other scenes (which were or weren't in the original books) just to maintain the flow of story. Writers Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro are attempting to bring as much of Tolkien's original novel to the screen as possible.
I'm ready for more of this adventure!
Four Shriek Girls.
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