Well, you guys know the story. So let’s start out by talking about the HFR business. I saw the 3D screening in the new 48fps format, and on most counts it was pretty cool. For the most part, the picture seemed clearer, it wasn’t that weird, and I could tell that it was different from the standard 24fps (and not in a bad way). However, because there were just more frames to watch the movement sometimes seemed a little like it was on fast forward, which took a bit of getting used to. The high frame rate was mostly annoying during the big battle scenes, as the higher amount of frames sort of highlighted the fakeness of the CGI for me, making them look more like video game cutscenes than anything else and throwing me out of my immersion in the movie somewhat. Also, a few of said scenes did make Bacula feel a bit carsick.
Now what about the way they told the story? Well, let’s start with an anecdote. I am a grad student, and this week was my final exam week. Both of the electives I took this semester had stupid-long final papers due on Wednesday. Because they were electives that I didn’t really care about, I padded the two papers, which were originally pretty good, with a lot of straight-up bullshit, right down to increased punctuation size, to push said papers to the expected length.
I kind of feel like this is what happened with The Hobbit.
Inside the theatrical cut of The Hobbit, there lurks an amazing movie. There are a ton of really beautiful, well done scenes… tucked in amongst a rather egregious amount of filler.
The movie starts out with the frame story of old Bilbo telling Frodo his story. It is tucked tremendously neatly into the beginning of the Fellowship movie—Frodo helps Bilbo hang his “No Admittance Except on Party Business” sign, and goes off to the forest to surprise Gandalf as he arrives in Hobbiton. There is also a really great introductory scene with the full backstory of Erebor’s fall to Smaug, the devastation of Dale, the Arkenstone, etc., narrated by old Bilbo within said frame story. I loved these parts.
I also loved the Riddles in the Dark scene, which is my absolute favorite part of the book, and which was done tremendously well. I loved Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, in fact, full stop—his face is crazy expressive, and he is, as I have said to my friends many a time while watching Sherlock, so. frickin. hobbity. They did a fairly good job fleshing out the dwarves, although I still only can match a few with names off the top of my head—Thorin of course, Balin the old one, Kili the stupidly hot one (and Fili the blond Kili), and Bombur the fat one. I thought Radagast was great. It was cool to actually see Dol Guldur get the lead-in to the battle against the Necromancer, and the cameos by Galadriel and Saruman seemed really well done as well. I liked the sort of lighter, less somber Elrond, which was a good way to show the more jolly nature of the elves as portrayed in the Hobbit book versus LotR without totally losing the plot. And I know we only saw a bit of Thranduil at the beginning, but I’m looking forward to seeing more of him (and not entirely just because he was also smokin’ hot).
This movie was at least an hour too long. There were whole scenes that were directly lifted from the books, and yet, in some cases this wasn’t a good thing. Forty minutes into the movie we haven’t even left Bag-End. Like, did we need the musical number the dwarves sing while doing Bilbo’s dishes? Or that whole nonsense with the storm giants in the mountains that seemed like a failed attempt to emulate the drama of the collapsing-staircases-in-Moria scene in Fellowship? Want some scenes that weren’t in the book? How about twenty minutes of Radagast dramatically trying to save a dying hedgehog?
Even the chase scene with Radagast and his rabbits (seriously?), and the escape from the goblin tunnels scene, could have been significantly shorter without having pretty much any effect on the plot of the movie. By the time Bilbo got separated from the dwarves in the caves, I worried if we’d even see the riddles scene or if the movie would cut off beforehand.
And finally, let’s talk about Azog. I know that Azog is at the Battle of Five Armies at the end of the book, and I respect that they needed to flesh him out as a villain so that his final confrontation with Thorin there will have the necessary weight. But did we need a twenty-minute flashback to the battle for Moria so that we could?
Also, I know that The Hobbit is a far lighter story than Lord of the Rings in a number of ways. But a lot of the humor seemed sort of slapsticky and was sometimes not that Tolkien-y, like Saruman implying that Radagast was crazy because he was partaking of the, ah, psychedelic sort of fungi a little too liberally. And why was the Goblin King sassy and posh (despite the, uh, testichin? chinsticles? what do I call that?) unlike any other orc we have ever met in Middle-Earth? Why did some of the orcs speak English and some angry orc language? Blah.
I love Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle-Earth. But I think he missed the mark a bit with this one. I’d gladly pay fifteen dollars a pop to watch an hour and a half of actual plot mixed with an hour and a half of well-done diversion into the mythology of Middle Earth. But this dragged and seemed ham-handed in a lot of ways. Look, this movie didn’t have to be three hours long. If they really felt the need to make it three movies, then they should have just re-cut the two three-hour ones into three two-hour ones.
It was still an enjoyable experience, and I’m looking foward to seeing it again (this time hopefully in the IMAX 24fps format so I can both compare the HFR business to the standard AND catch the 9 minutes of Star Trek Into Darkness that cometh before the IMAX). But be forewarned that, in my opinion, this just doesn’t have the oomph of any of the movies in the original trilogy.