Extraneous Voices of Picayune > Tomes and Illusions

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Jouney -- Review

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Let's get the preliminaries out of the way right now.  I loved the original trilogy of movies, and was inspired to read the books shortly afterwards.  I got through all of them, enjoyed them immensely, but still kept my love for the movies.  I didn't mind the departures that they had taken from the books, because I felt that Jackson did a good job editing them to keep the soul of the story intact.

I experienced The Hobbit in the reverse order -- book, then movie.  I watched as the whole drama played out.  First, when the movie was delayed so long that del Toro quit the director's seat in favor of Jackson.  I watched all of the video logs, getting progressively more excited with every scene.  When Howard Shore was pegged to compose the soundtrack again, I was delighted.  When Ian McKellan returned to play Gandalf, and they decided to film part of it in London to accommodate Christopher Lee's return, I was very glad.  And of course, finding out that Andy Serkis would reprise his role as Gollum was the icing on the cake.

I eagerly waited for news of the casting and was pleased by most of the choices, and probably watched the trailer a dozen times on YouTube.  When they announced that it would be filmed in 3D, I was nervous, but trusted in Peter Jackson to deliver a good film.  When it was revealed that the book would be split into not two, but three separate films, I was worried yet still kept the faith.  After all, Jackson had done such a brilliant job with the first three films that he had earned my trust, and I was confidant that he would not let us down.  Perhaps there really WAS enough material there to fill three instalments.

But then the reviews started coming out on rottentomatoes.com and other sites.  Most gave it mediocre scores, based mostly on the film's length or on its new technology -- the decision to shoot it in HFR or "high frame rate" of 48 frames per second instead of the original 24fps.  "Bah," I thought.  "The original movies were just as long, and I can simply go see it in the traditional format.  No problem."

Last weekend, the long-anticipated day arrived, and I went to see The Hobbit with my spouse.  I'm not going to mince any words here; it was a train wreck.  To paraphrase another reviewer, "The Hobbit may not be the worst movie to come out this year, but it is certainly the biggest disappointment."  I will spare you all of the intense fanboyish feelings of betrayal, shock and anger, and try to recreate for you all what happened.  This, in a nutshell, is how Peter Jackson ruined the Hobbit:

1. Writing.  The dialogue was not completely horrible, but many of the lines were out of place.  There were far too many jokes in inappropriate places, and it was bad enough that it threw me out of the movie at times.  When the Great Goblin dies, for instance, he makes a quip!  There are also a lot of scenes that are obviously meant to be inspiring or heartwrenching that just come across as narm.  There are so many of these that the movie crosses into campy territory at times, and my spouse and I joked afterwards that it should be re-dubbed "The Narmit".
2. Screenplay/Action.  Why the hell are there so many chase scenes in this?  Why did Jackson feel the need to tack on a whole subplot involving Azog the White Orc (who was only mentioned in passing in the actual book) and Radagast the Brown (again, a very minor character)?  I know the rabbit-pulled sleigh was supposed to be a cool effect, and the feud between Thorin and Azog serious, but it honestly put way too much extraneous action in the story.  If you are going to include an action scene, at least let it advance the plot or develop one of the main characters!  Contrary to a lot of reviewers, I felt that the movie was at its strongest before we leave the Shire.  Afterwards, it is just one disaster after another.

3. Editing.  This is related to the last one.  There is a slim possibility that the movie could still be salvageable if cut a lot better at the end.  Rip out Azog and Radagast, edit out a lot of the extra "fluff" in the chase and fight scenes, and cut down on the time it takes to get out of the Shire by a few minutes.  Remove every third or fourth joke.  Then, you might have a movie worth watching (albeit much shorter than Jackson is known for).  The original trilogy was brilliantly edited -- what happened here?  I think that Jackson needed more time to distance himself from the film so that he would find the fortitude to "kill his darlings" in post-production.  I would have respected him more for it.

4. Post-production effects.  New Zealand is a beautiful place.  There is absolutely no reason to put a fake sheen of enhanced color over everything.  In the finished product, the whole thing felt unreal and lifeless, like middle earth recreated with plasticine.

5. CGI.  Probably my biggest complaint, aside from the editing.  There is just too d**n much of it.  The orcs, the goblins, the wargs -- even the d**n Ring itself are all edited in with CGI.  The original trilogy was astonishing partly because most of the actors were real men and women in tons of makeup.  I wish that Jackson had kept to that principle here.

Let me finish by recounting the good parts, lest this review be way too depressing.  The makeup and costume artists did a brilliant job, as did those who designed the props (Thorin's sword, Orcrist, looks so cool!).  New Zealand was a beautiful as ever.  Gandalf and Gollum both gave fantastic performances with what they had to work with, as did Thorin.  Martin Freeman did a more than passable job as Bilbo, and I rather enjoyed his performance.  And of course, I will forever be grateful for the soundtrack that Howard Shore created for this movie -- I like it better even than the music for the trilogy.  It's just that good.

Is it worth going to see?  Maybe not until it comes out in the cheap theatres, or on DVD.  Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing the "fan cuts" that are put up on YouTube a year or two from now.  After all, just because Jackson was incapable of editing this beast into a passable film doesn't mean it is an impossible task.  Lets see if the fans can salvage something of the wreckage that is worth remembering later.

Grade: 60/100, or a D.  Let's hope for better luck with parts 2 and 3.

After being so disappointed with Prometheus (would it have killed them to pick ONE plot!?) I went into the Hobbit with absolutely no expectations. Mentally, I put it in the same category as Resident Evil. In that light, with my highest expectation amounting to "Oh, they actually finished it?" I rather enjoyed the movie. It was fun, it was silly, it was cliche. A far cry from the book, certainly. I've always had a fondness for the Hobbit; moreso than any of the LoTR books. Even so, if I had expected anything as good as the book, I am sure I would have felt the same.

It's been so long since I've read the book, I honestly went into the Hobbit with no expectations at all. I honestly enjoyed it quite a bit, though I'll admit that I'm not anywhere near as discriminating with my movie tastes as most others seem to be (which seems odd, since I'm normally extremely critical about the media I consume). Of course, I loved the soundtrack, but everything else felt like it flowed together smoothly enough. I didn't get jolted out of the movie the entire time I was watching.

In the end, I'm not sure what I should think, since so many other people are saying that it was terrible. I suppose I'll just accept that this is another one of those movies that I enjoyed that others simply didn't. What's one more added to the list?

I went and saw it as well.

1. Lucas Syndrome: after the stunning success of the LotR trilogy, Jackson probably got everything he wanted, there was no push to compromise or innovate. As a result, the CGI is painfully obvious. There is an over reliance on CGI, which featured very prominently in Return of the King, rather than make up and props. Watching the extras on the LotR special editions they talk about how each helmet and weapon made had things on the inside like maker's marks and tooling, it was legit stuff, not just shiny Hollywood crap. The armor was armor, the swords were swords, the orcs at helm's deep were freaking Maori in make up in metal armor. That was what made it awesome. The goblins were a spewing stream of crap. Fine, do CGI, but make the front row or two of the goblins actors and actresses in make up doing their best Gollum impersonations, then layer the CG behind them to make the horde.

2. Tone: The Hobbit is whimsical, with songs and jokes, and should be more like a fairy tale. Lord of the Rings was an Epic, and it featured very few songs, and those that were used were done to great dramatic effect, such as when Pippen sings 'The Edge of Night' while the king sloppily and slovenly eats while Faramir and his men battle vainly to retake Osgiliath. They have tacked the dramatic epic style of cinematography to the Hobbit, when the Hobbit IMHO should feel small and hemmed in by the vastness of Middle Earth.

3. Length: It is entirely too long, and there are too many tangents. While I recognize that Radagast and Azog have their place in the story, they were the sort of thing that should have ended up on the cutting room floor, then added to the Director's Cut or special edition. Can you imagine how long those editions are going to be when they come out?

4. 3D Gimmicks: I hate 3D, I hate the 3D gimmicks that are put into films that emphasize the fact that the film was made for 3D. The rock giants scene was rife with them, as was the goblin city. I will be happy the day that 3D goes away and we get away from those stupid 3D moneyshots.

That being said, I did enjoy the movie, but it was mediocre. I relied too heavily on the investment and capital of Lord of the Rings and was far more rooted in reminiscencing visiting locales from LotR than it was in being it's own movie, cutting it's own path through Middle Earth. 

Going to the theater tonight with a gang of kids to watch it...expectations now diminished!


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