Thoughts on “The Hobbit”
OK, so I finally got around to seeing “The Hobbit.” And I really liked it. Perhaps the film is simply the beneficiary of low expectations — for months, I’ve been making snarky jokes about director Peter Jackson’s decision to turn a 300-page children’s book into a three-part trilogy, which struck me as a ponderous and self-aggrandizing decision. But Jackson is, at his best, an extraordinary craftsman and visionary, with a knack for creating vivid fantasy and dream worlds. His “Lord of the Rings” movies remain an epic cinematic achievement, and so I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
To my surprise, I was swept away by the film almost immediately. I saw the film the way Jackson intended it to be seen, in 48-frames-per-second 3D. Films have always been shot at 24-frames-per-second; by doubling the frame rate, Jackson was able to pack more visual detail into every second of the film, creating a hyper-realistic new world.
This new technology has been controversial, with many critics complaining that “The Hobbit” looks like crappy high-definition television. But I actually thought that, paired with 3D, the high frame rate did what it was intended to do — plunge me into Middle Earth and make me feel like the action was happening all around me. I did feel the effect was a little uneven — for instance, I thought some of the landscape and overhead shots looked sort of overly bright and flat and Thomas Kincaidy, and there’s so much going on in each and every scene that the movie can be a little overwhelming. I developed a headache watching it, though maybe I was simply adjusting to my new glasses.
Anyway, “The Hobbit” was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and that was mostly a good thing — I was amazed by the richness of the movie, by Jackson’s willingness to take his time and linger on the story’s quieter moments, as well as the action. Many people have criticized the movie for being slow, but I didn’t find it slow at all. The first 45 minutes are mainly set-up, as the dwarves and Gandalf gather at Bilbo’s for dinner and sing songs and argue and whatnot, but I found these scenes surprisingly engaging, and a relaxing way to enter into the film.
Of course, the heart of the film is in the journey and once the journey is under way, the film really takes off. Jackson whisks viewers from one dazzling set piece to another, and the film’s most stirring stretch intercuts footage of Bilbo and Gollum playing the riddle game with the dwarves’ Indiana Jones-like escape from the goblins. The scenes between Bilbo and Gollum are absolutely phenomenal — filled with a mounting sense of menace and foreboding, as well as the excitement of discovery.
“The Hobbit” also has more of a sense of humor than the “Lord of the Rings” films, which is in keeping with the lighter spirit of the book “The Hobbit.” Credit for this should go to the entire cast, but especially Martin Freeman as Bilbo, who perfectly captures his character’s fear, courage and wry sense of humor. Some, such as Roger Ebert, criticized the “Lord of the Rings” films for focusing too much on Gandalf and Aragorn and Legolas and not enough on the hobbits, and “The Hobbit” rightly treats Bilbo as the main character, and the dwarves and elves and Gandalf as supporting characters. I also really enjoyed Richard Armitage as the dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield. All of the other dwarves are funny looking, ugly little guys, but Thorin, as played by Armitage, is a bit of a stud. This came as something of a revelation, because I didn’t know dwarves could be remotely attractive.
There’s been criticism of “The Hobbit” for taking liberties with the source material and including scenes that didn’t happen in the book, blah blah blah. As you can tell, I’m not really bothered by Jackson’s deviations, mainly because I respect good directors to put their own stamp on a story, and because these scenes were well done. For instance, I enjoyed seeing Cate Blanchett reprise her role as the elf queen Galadriel, even though Galadriel isn’t in “The Hobbit,” and I enjoyed her telepathic connection with Gandalf, which could have been hokey and stupid, but isn’t somehow. Of course, my feeling is that if you have the opportunity to put Cate Blanchett in your movie, you should do it, because she’s awesome.
In the end, I found “The Hobbit” a really satisfying return to Middle Earth, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.
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