Tonight in Seattle:  

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

{The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens in Seattle on Friday, 12/14 and is screening pretty much everywhere, but I personally recommend the Cinerama}

In order to talk about Peter Jackson’s much-anticipated The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, you have to talk about the craziness of him creating a new 3D film technology and deciding to use it—even at the risk of alienating some hardcore fans, and also, uh, making some of them literally throw up. But, we’ll get to that later. Let’s start with the actual plot first.

I was worried going into this that the dwarves would mean a lot of slapstick-y nonsense, and my fears were proven true as soon as the prologue about the dwarves was over, and they reached Bilbo’s house. It’s absolutely true that the dwarves are so similar that outside of the leader, Thorin, you can’t really tell them apart. It’s also absolutely true that the quickest way to make me facepalm is to have a bunch of characters sing while juggling dishes, but I digress.

The plot (like any of you going to see it DON’T know—humor me here) is thus: the dwarves were once rulers of this incredible mountain kingdom, and had more gold and jewels than they really knew what to do with, which unfortunately attracted a greedy dragon named Smaug who forced them out in order hoard the treasure.

Then the dwarves were scattered across the land without a home something-something, something-something, and the King’s grandson Thorin fought a bad-ass scar-faced thing called Azog (aka: Amie’s new favorite villain) and chopped off his arm, obviously leaving him pissed off and looking for revenge.

Much later, Gandalf gets bored and decides to trick mild-mannered Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (is there anything Martin Freeman can’t do? Because seriously, he’s perfect. Just like he is in everything -- /fangirl Amie) into helping the dwarves “steal” their fortune back. Which for some reason works, even though the dwarves eat all of Bilbo’s food and kind of act like jerks.

So they all set off on an awfully big adventure involving spiders, and some dude who has a bunny sled, and trolls that make a lot of a fart jokes, and a stupid moonlit map, and Rock’em Sock’em Robots giant rock monsters, and a globular Goblin King who lives in a not-very-well constructed kingdom, and giant eagles, and killer wolves and, most importantly: GOLLUM and his shiny precious. 

To be honest, since I took motion sickness meds to avoid hurling my mixed chocolate/regular popcorn all over the Cinerama, I was kind of drifting in and out of sleep from about 20 minutes in until the rock monster boxing match—which caught my attention and then held it steady through the non-stop action from then until the end of the film.

So is it good? Well, I’ll say this: it’s quite a ride. And I think it’s a fine follow-up to the LOTR movies, and a solid beginning to this installment of Jackson’s incredibly detailed Tolkien tribute. It’s not perfect, but it is enjoyable, and I think fans of the first three movies will dig on this one … even if it’s just for Gollum and Bilbo’s scenes alone (a more than worthy reason to really like it).

One of the problems I had—and I anticipated this going into it—is that outside of Gandalf, Gollum, and brief appearances by Elrond & Galadriel, everyone you cared about from the original trilogy is gone. You’re basically starting from scratch with all new characters (I KNOW Bilbo’s in the first three, but Ian Holm doesn’t exactly have a meaty part), and this movie doesn’t have time to spend on developing characters on most of them, because it’s too busy focusing on the WOWTHATLOOKSNEAT stuff.

Here’s hoping Jackson straightens that out in the next two, learns to shave some (serious) time off each scene, and continues to improve on what I think is a pretty promising start.

Now, about that whole FPS thing: Honestly, seeing a film shot at 48 FPS (frames per second) as opposed to the usual 24FPS is REALLY jarring. Everything is clear. Like super clear. Like preternaturally clear. So clear, it no longer looks like you’re watching film; it looks like some crazy combination of animation and HD TV. And the contrast between real live characters and CGI-d creatures or backgrounds is super-super obvious.

At times, that clearness creates an effect that looks cheap. As the camera panned down over Hobbiton, the clarity of the colors and costumes made the scene look like a local RenFair—except, not even as gritty as that. Which is a shame. Because what I want from big, fantasy action-adventures like this is some grittiness … some reality to ground me, so I can really get into the characters and believe that this world exists.

Where the faster frame rate does work is in the gigantic, largely CGI-populated long shots, where complete environments are created, and when the focus is on armys of fantastical creatures. Rivendell has never looked so lush and ethereal; the Goblins’ mountain domain is well executed, and the piles of gold hidden away by the dwarves are insanely beautiful. Plus, both Gollum and the BIG BAD Azog look really f’ing cool.

But as a whole, 48FPS seems to be at best an unnecessary enhancement, and too much of a distraction to really praise. I think my friend Matt said it best (when I was discussing the film with him yesterday), in that it’s a technology that definitely still needs a lot of work before it’s perfect.

James Cameron is probably going to strike me down for saying this, but if you choose to see it in the non-3D 24FPS version, you’re not really going to miss anything; and you might even like it more.

So (as if I could stop you), sure! Go see it. It’s a fine way to spend almost three hours. 

  

I just started re-reading the Hobbit for the first time since I was a kid, and am quite struck by the difference in tone from the LOTR which followed. Much of the slapstick that looks to be in the movie is actually also in the book. However, Tolkien is also very brief in is descriptions, so giving little more than that Thorin was a very important dwarf, Bombur is fat and the various colors of the dwarves' hoods. I suspect the goofiness might turn off some fans of the LOTR movies, but it is actually true to the tone of the book. And yeah... the 48FPS thing has me really wary.

Geoff! Yes, I was talking with a few people yesterday about how all that stuff is in the book, and I re-watched the animated 1977 version, and it was all in there too.

I think Jackson does his best to make it fit the tone of the other films, but it's definitely different in a lot of ways too. I think you'll like it; but I'm so curious to know what you think of the 48FPS. 

I have summarized and responded to the most common objections I have heard to 48 fps, I will paste it below... hope you enjoy! (It's worded a little harshly but I was merely being facetious). 1. It looks like video What they say: It reminds me of a british tv series/a sporting event/a documentary and it takes the immersion away. What they mean: Because it reminds me of a different format (video) that is inferior in some ways (it’s not a Hollywood movie) but superior in others (it has a clear, sharp frame-rate) I am unable/unwilling to suspend my disbelief because it reminds me of something else that I disapprove of because it’s different than the Hollywood blockbusters I expect. Why they are dumb: Classic guilt-by-association, this has nothing to do with the quality of the experience provided (which is a sharper, clearer image without blurred motion) it has more to do with the petty biases of the viewer who feels these biases are worthy of sharing with others. 2. The detail level makes the actors seem too real What they say: I feel like I’m watching actors in costumes, not fantasy characters. What they mean: It feels so real, as though Martin Freeman is standing 2 feet from my face pretending to be Bilbo, it feels like he is and I can’t pretend that he’s a fantasy character anymore. Why they are dumb: People routinely pay $200 or more to sit in the front rows at plays to see these actors do what they do, and act. People in the audience at plays rarely complain and say “it feels like I am really close to a talented actor in a costume!” That would be dumb, because that’s what’s happening. Even with a duller image and blurred motion provided by 24 fps, they were still actors in costumes, performing in film. The fact you can see this more clearly now is a positive, not a negative (and maybe they need more authentic costumes?). 3. The detail level makes it easier to see CGI imperfections What they say: The sharp image makes it easier to tell the difference between the CGI and real elements of the film. What they mean: Pretty much the same thing. Why they are dumb: Two wrongs don’t make a right. Hang on for a year or so and the CGI will continue it’s startling progress and will be even harder to spot than it already is, don’t insist on keeping a blurry, dull image to hide the currently extremely subtle distinction between real people and CGI characters. If movie critics are so obtuse that they will wield these same tired, idiotic and transparent, baseless prejudices in order to insult the most exciting visual advancement since Avatar, then I would draw our attention to the current unemployment statistics. Obviously, there are younger, smarter and less biased unemployed people who would be happy to take the place of these stupid critics and provide the public with opinions untainted by ancient, stupid prejudices. Every day old prejudiced people die and their prejudices become more and more irrelevant, I just hope they do not delay the introduction of this wonderful technology a day later than it would otherwise inevitably occur. If you appreciate film, art, literature, acting, beautiful location shooting, set design, costume design, or an attention to detail in any or all of the above, being able to absorb more information is a GOOD thing. The Hobbit was much better at 48 fps.

I sure did enjoy that! Especially the part where you called everybody who disagrees with you "dumb", "stupid", and "prejudiced", and imply that they should all lose their jobs and be replaced with people who LOVED The Hobbit -- and even more so because you did it all anonymously.

1) There are so few "employed" film writers who actually make a livable wage in this world nowawdays that your statment about how unemployed people would be happy to take their place is hilarious. Just how much money do you think a web site like Three Imaginary Girls takes in? I'd love to know. 
2) I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but all criticism is just one person's opinion of what they saw and took away from the piece of art they've viewed/listened to/looked at. Readers should always feel free to disagree or agree accordingly. That's what makes the world interesting!
3) Calling people who disagree with YOUR opinion names and suggesting they aren't good at what they do and should be replaced isn't interesting. It's just trolling. 

Sorry if some of my comments were "harsh". I was also being "facetious". 

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