CATEGORIES Movie NewsIs everyone ready to return to The Shire? After a number of false starts (which included a year of "Hellboy" filmmaker Guillermo del Toro as director), "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is finally upon us. The first in a brand new trilogy, "An Unexpected Journey" reunites original "Lord of the Rings" mastermind Peter Jackson with many familiar characters and faces from the first set of films, while also expanding upon J.R.R. Tolkein's slender fairytale.
Of course, the question is: does anyone really care? The last fantastical Peter Jackson adventure, the Oscar-winning "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King," came out almost a decade ago, and since then we've been blessed with franchises as dark and earthbound as Christopher Nolan's Batman films as well as the more sunny and self-referential Marvel movies. So, is "The Hobbit" a return to Middle-Earth glory for Jackson? Read on to find out!
PRO: It's Legitimately Unlike Anything You've Ever Seen Before... First, some background: When you watch a major motion picture at your local cineplex, you are seeing the movie unfold at 24 frames per second. For every second your eye is registering, 24 frames of the film are flashing by. This gives the movie a smooth texture and motion blur. However, Jackson, concerned with jagged digital hiccups and interested in creating a more immersive, naturalistic experience, decided to take the unprecedented measure of shooting "The Hobbit" in 48 frames per second -- and in 3D. People have described what it looks like in different ways -- everything from a daytime Mexican soap opera to an HD football telecast. I personally describe it as, at least initially, like watching a DVD with the fast-forward button held to one-and-a-half speed. Everything appears super clear and fast and you'll notice the lack of motion blur in weird places, like when the camera lingers on embers coming out of a chimney and you can make out every spark. While it's certainly not the evolutionary leap forward that sound or color was when they were first introduced, it's at least the beginning of the next step in film presentation. And that is huge.
CON: ... This Is Not Necessarily A Good Thing I never understood why they didn't test this technology out on something smaller, like a nature documentary about crabs. But Jackson, in his infinite, antsy wisdom, decided to have it make its big debut with a $200 million fantasy epic. The results vary. Most of the time it's a complete eyesore, and during some action sequences, you might even experience motion sickness. What's really annoying is its in the forefront of your mind the entire time, preventing you from registering the emotional complexity of the scene or even the nuances of the various performances or effects. The 48 frames are also supposed to heighten the effects of 3D, which I really didn't get. There are times when the "rapid frame rate" (which is how they're selling it on promotional materials) is breathtaking, particularly in a moment where our characters are soaring above the plains of Middle Earth atop giant eagles. But most of the time it feels like a hugely expensive folly. When the camera is not photographing a natural environment, things really go south, making the sets, as intricate and lovely as they are, look really set-like.
PRO: You Probably Won't Have To Watch It Like Peter Jackson Wants You To There are an incredibly small number of theaters that are equipped with the projector technology that can support Jackson's rapid frame rate , which means that you, dear moviegoer, probably won't have to watch "The Hobbit" like I did. This is probably a good thing. So go ahead and enjoy your easygoing old-fashioned 24-frames-per-second version .
PRO: It's Fun To Be Back In Middle Earth As cynical and sophisticated as blockbuster franchises have gotten in the decade since we last landed in Middle Earth, it's good to know that that's not all there is out there in big-budget entertainment. One of the reasons "The Hobbit" can sometimes feel refreshing is that, along with the tried-and-true "Lord of the Rings" earnestness, there's a sense of freewheeling adventure with an added premium placed on humor. It's not quite as apocalyptic as "LOTR," but there's a heartening reassurance that, since we know most of these characters will actually survive (at least until the next trilogy), that everything will be okay.
CON: Sometimes It's A Little Too Familiar Hey, remember that location or character from the original movie that you love? Well, Peter Jackson is all too happy to show them to you again! It's unclear if these callbacks to the "Lord of the Rings" saga, which are heightened from the original novel and include mentions made in Tolkein's unfinished appendices, were included to bridge the films or to pad the running time. But as gooey as they sometimes make you feel (see above), they can also seem redundant, especially when accompanied by Howard Shore's sweeping score, which is so stuffed with recycled material that you wonder if he'll even be able to secure an Oscar nomination.
PRO: Martin Freeman Is The Bomb Martin Freeman, (best known for his role in the original BBC "Office" and as the blogging Watson on the highly regarded "Sherlock)" plays Bilbo Baggins, a role Ian Holm originated in the first trilogy. Here he takes center stage and is absolutely delightful -- antsy and full of tics, but able to leap into action quite nicely. His most memorable scene, though, is one where he encounters the villainous Gollum (to say anything more would be to spoil the fun). It's a Herculean task to not only live up to the original trilogy but to stand alongside actors from those films (like Ian McKellan and others). However, Freeman handles both capably. His involvement is part of what makes these movies so exciting; he's more special than any special effect and is more dazzling than any enhanced frame rate could ever be.