By Dr. Craig D. Reid
Before I get cracking on this film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s enchanting and scrumptious, written for young lasses and lads novel, “The Hobbit,” let me share my initial observations on what The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey looks and feels like.
Apparently director Peter Jackson is introducing a new controversial technology (set to appear in about 400 US theaters), where the film will be projected at 48 frames per second (aka HFR; high frame rate), 24 fps being the standard. In a 2-D film, that would make the film look like it was completely shot in slow motion, but instead for Jackson’s 3-D tribute to Tolkein, its supposed to sharpen the 3-D effects and lessen the blurring of objects and people when the camera moves quickly.
However, the first 40 minutes of the movie, especially during the narration parts, where we learn the fate of the dwarfs, their relationship with the Elves and the two main evils that are the crux of The Hobbit’s expected cinematic trilogy, looks like re-enactment footage from a National Geographic or History Channel program.
The rest of the first act focuses on the grand meeting between the affable Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the fatherly Gandulf the Grey Wizard (Ian McKellen) who after showing up at Baggins’ wee cottage, prompts a baker’s dozen of dwarfs led by dwarf captain Thorin (Richard Armitage; no match for Viggo Mortensen’s footprint) to invade the Hobbit’s home habitat. The whole long, somewhat easy going “party” comes across like an HD video of a BBC sit-com or an old 1963 episode of Dr. Who (Yes the ones starring William Hartnell).
Not sure why, but it may have something to do with the non-impressive 3-D that attempts to bring you into their world but seems to sideline you like a water boy sitting on a bench filled with athletic stars who don’t care a crap about you.
However, to the film’s 3-D credit, the effect obviously wasn’t something added in during post-production fanagling like other Hollywood blockbusters that would like you to believe that the 3-D is as real as Dolly Parton’s hair…oh yeah, it isn’t.
Side note: If you want to see what is considered the best 3-D shot film out there (shot for $35 million; 122 min running time), watch Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011). I mean right down to the opening shot where we have a bird’s eye POV (Point of View) shot that is flying between tall ship masts, where you’d expect to have these masts 3-D-ing into your face. However several times we were experiencing going through the masts where many audiences members literally jumped back in their seats. Even the subtitles were rather whacky as they literally seemed to jump off the screen and be right in front of your eyes…very cool.
Final word…the scene where a huge swarm of crows flitter through a mountain pass was particularly engaging. The 3-D effect was so good that it seemed that the crows were literally flying past our heads from behind and flying into the screen. I noticed many audience members looking behind them as if to say, “Where’d they come from?” The film even had a sword fight inside a freaking tornado.
So what was Jackson’s budget of The Hobbit? A meager $270 million. Hmmm, you’d think this would be the best out there…or maybe even James Cameron’s Avatar.
Back to our tall tale.
In a Hobbit-shell, the novel gleefully details the simple story of how Baggins is talked into accompanying a pack of dwarfs by a wild and wacky wizard to battle the dragon Smaug and stumbles onto the legendary ring so magnificently integral in Tolkien’s follow up masterpiece, “The Lord of the Rings.”
The CG-ladened, mythological narrative prologue features how Smaug wreaks havoc on the dwarf stronghold of Erebor and gets it’s grubby claws on the Arkenstone, the crown jewel of the Dwarf King that we surmise has unimaginable powers, yet no one has a clue what they are and how to conjure it. We’re also put through the ringer as set pieces from the last two Lord of the Rings sequels, a blatant hint as what to expect in The Hobbit.
Then with a role of the cinematic dice…bingo…we are witness to the familiar…battles with old enemies…Orcs, Troll and Goblins, oh my…it ain’t Kansas (and certainly no fight in a tornado) but there is a major whirlwind of cliff hanging action that goes from the frying pan, into the fire, into an even bigger fire and ends with an even bigger fire as our heroes come out with blazing swords, slicing and dicing with everything they’ve got.
Amidst the CG body count, no witches, no lollipop kids or flying monkeys but the schizophrenic introduction of Gollum going mano-a-mano with Biggins, in a riddle-thon that changes the direction of the film with a familiar “ringing” sound that prepares us for the next installment, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, to be released about the same time next year (2013).