Friday, December 14, 2012

A Welcome Return to Middle-Earth: The Hobbit

I had an opportunity today to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and while I am not quite up to giving a full review, I did want to relay a few of my thoughts about it.

Three movies? I was very glad to hear Peter Jackson would have more than one movie to fit this epic tale into, but three seemed a bit excessive. So far so good though; the extra film means we can spend more time meeting the dwarfs of Thorin Oakenshield's company, and actually get to hear a couple of songs sung before the journey even begins. I think three movies will work out just fine; this one certainly didn't feel like it suffered in any way, and the running time flew by.

I don't remember another wizard... Because you never meet him. But where Radagast the Brown gets mentioned almost offhandedly in the books, you not only get his perspective on trouble in the Mirkwood, but he even gets to lend a hand at a critical point. Trading luck and coincidence for another (ahem) colourful character seems like a good deal to me.

Why does it look so different? Probably due to High Frame Rate projection, where the movie is shot and shown at 48 frames per second, as opposed to the traditional 24. It does give things onscreen a somewhat crisper look that will be all to familiar to people who transitioned to 120hz televisions and found everything looking a bit soap opera for a while. It really works well with the 3D, and I stopped noticing it fairly early on, but it does make a lot of the computer composite effects very discernible. I hope to see it again in IMAX so I can get a comparison (and watch 9 minutes of the new Star Trek...).

How's the new guy? Martin Freeman as Bilbo? Brilliant. He brings a lot of the same endearing and sometimes infuriating qualities to the role that Ian Holm did in LOTR without being a copycat. I can see why Peter Jackson suspended production for two whole months to allow Freeman to shoot season 2 of the BBC's Sherlock rather than try to find another actor.

And the old guys? Ian McKellen is awesome, as always, and it was great seeing (or more importantly, hearing!) Christopher Lee as Saruman as they expand the back story of The Necromancer of Dol Guldur.

The best part? The dwarfs, no question. With a baker's dozen of them, even three films won't be enough time to make well rounded characters out of all of the company, and Gandalf himself is reduced to counting them at a couple of points. A good and entertaining job is done in establishing the range of experience, prowess, and couth they all bring to Bilbo's table, made all the more compelling by their tragic backstory and lack of a homeland. (In fact, I found myself wondering if there were any intentional parallels between them and the biblical Israelites...)

The biggest surprise? That, given the differences in both tone and scope between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, that there would be so much consistency between the films, especially having been filmed a decade or more apart. Having the same director, location, art direction and film score are a big part of that, but the blending of danger and whimsy, of beautiful fantasy and daunting reality, is done so deftly, that this movie feels like a real return to a place we've never been. I'm looking forward to going back for the next two instalments!

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