My wife has really, really been looking forward to seeing The Hobbit for weeks, ever since she re-read the novel. And I was very curious about seeing what the new HFR 3D (48 frames per second) process looks like. So tonight we went to go check it out at the Cinemark San Mateo-- where we found out after buying tickets that they don't have HFR. Refund in pocket, we drove to Redwood City, where they did.
Basically, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey delivers it's promise: It's a dose of Middle Earth, just as detailed, grand and handsome-looking as any part of the LOTR trilogy. In fact, a lot of the characters from the trilogy show up-- Galathriel, Saruman The White, Frodo Baggins-- even though they aren't in the original book.
There are two basic area to look at with The Hobbit, which despite some harsh reviews had a champion opening weekend ($89 Million)-- the production and the new HFR 3D process:
The Production: I remember when New Line announced they were going to make the Hobbit into a prequel: It was quite exciting news, and a lot of fans were enthused about it. When they announced, not long after the initial news, that it was going to be a two-part epic, people generally shrugged. But when, during pre-production, they said The Hobbit was going to be a trilogy, there was some alarm. The covers of the book it's based on are closer together than any of the other Middle Earth books: that's a small amount of jam to spread on a lot of bread.
Let's look at the arithmetic of screenplay adaptation at work here. The Lord of the Rings trilogy of books totals 1,550 pages. The total running time of all three movies is 558 minutes. The general tally of a standard formatted screenplay is roughly a page a minute, so we can assume the three scripts together total less than 600 pages. This leaves the screenwriters with the standard job of reducing, cutting out characters and plotlines. But The Hobbit is 310 pages long. If they divide it evenly, that's about 103 pages of novel to turn into each movie-- which roughly lines up with where The Unexpected Journey, which is 169 minutes long, ended. There is over an hour of screen time to pad, and it shows.
Peter Jackson has added elements from Tolkien's unpublished memoirs, such as The Quest for Erebor, but you can feel the stretch as the film unwinds. Bilbo Baggins does not leave his hobbit-hole until nearly an hour of screen time has passed. Radagast the Brown Wizard shows up for an extended and fairly pointless sequence. Those LOTR characters ain't just cameos: they have a extended conclave mid-movie as well.
The most interesting, and glaring, change is the addition of an orc villain. Azog, a very minor character in the book, was the Orc king who killed Thror, the father of Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the dwarf company headed to Erebor. In the movie he's now the nemesis of Thorin. He's also a very tall orc with blue skin, and bears an uncanny-- and even suspicious-- resemblance to one of the huge aliens from James Cameron's Avatar.
|Thorin Oakenshield. Dwarf or Klingon? You decide.|
High Frame Rate 3D: I've read a few reviews for The Hobbit and they all make comment on this new process, where the film was shot at double the frame rate, 48 frames per second, and projected at the same speed. I also remember reading about the hooting and brickbats at the last ComicCon when they screened a sequence for fans in HFR 3D. The general consensus is this: it makes the film look like it was shot on video. It gives the film a cheap-looking patina, like "The Teletubbies" or a soap opera.
You know what? It's not that bad. Sure, there are some scenes that look sort of cheesy, especially handheld ones: they look like they were shot on the set with a video camera. And some of the props and costumes aren't quite as convincing as they might look in 24 frame. But generally it looks very good, and the high frame rate is only mildly distracting. The cinematography is lush and the effects blend seamlessly: this is what you notice first.
Still, I'd venture a suggestion: If anyone was going to make a 48 frame per second feature in the future, I'd use it on a real-life feature, like a comedy or a rom-com, something that does not have a lot of effects or makeup or weird costumes. The impact of a film like The Godfather or Dodgeball or Mulholland Drive would have been greatly enhanced with such an startlingly vivid format.
On the other hand, the high frame rate effect is offset, unfortunately, by the 3D. There was nothing wrong with it as executed in the production: it just suffers from having to put those glasses on and the dark, color-muted, washed-out look all 3-D films have.
Still, it's worth seeing. Remember the awful disappointment you felt when you saw Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace? The Hobbit is nowhere near that bad-- It's just a big-screen example of the Law of Diminishing Returns.