So, Jess and I went to see “The Hobbit,” Peter Jackson’s epically expensive return to Middle-Earth.
I’ve seen a lot of chatter about this film in a negative light: people calling Jackson the new George Lucas, saying that this is the greatest letdown since… well, “The Phantom Menace.” While I can’t say that this is an outright bad movie, and by no means is it anywhere near as bad as Episode 1, I can’t say it was good, either.
First thing’s first. The naysayers are absolutely right in calling this movie long. Overlong. How in god’s name are they going to stretch this out to three movies?! It’s boring as !@#$! The first twenty minutes is poor Ian Holm in young person makeup dicking around with Frodo. Which, by the way, why is Frodo even in this movie? Are audience members really going to say, “Who the eff is this Bilbo asshole? Is this ripping off Lord of the Rings?” No. The Hobbit is one of the most well known fantasy novels of all time. I’m pretty sure people can make the connection.
So, it starts out with an awkward cameo and what I can only assume is a wraparound story: Bilbo begins writing the tale “There and Back Again,” which is the book within a book of the book, now a book within a movie about another movie. At first glance, I thought, “All right, cool, that’s fine, he’s trying to connect the The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings (nevermind that Gollum, the One Ring, Bilbo and Gandalf can all do that just fine on their own).” However, this is also where the problems really begin for me. See, Jackson has cleverly wrapped the story within its own universe, and we get the sense that Bilbo is telling us the tale. Unfortunately, The Hobbit isn’t about Bilbo at all anymore, now it’s about Thorin Oakenshield and a bunch of made up scenes forced into the film in order to remind you that you liked Lord of the Rings ten years ago.
Case in point: when the party arrives at Rivendell, they do their thing and leave. That’s fine, Bilbo is with the party. The problem is the 92 minute scene of Gandalf at a table with Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman, talking about not only a necromancer but Sauron, a coming evil, yada yada. So, how are we seeing this scene? If the idea behind the movie is that this is Bilbo’s tale from Bilbo’s point of view, how did he even know this happened? Did Gandalf tell him later? Was his reaction, “Oh yeah, that’s good, in the future my nephew is going to have to deal with this !@#$, so I’ll put it in my book that he NEVER READS.” Or is Bilbo making !@#$ up? Is he the avatar of the director, making up elements to make his own story bigger? Are giant fire-breathing dragons not enough?
All of these scenes crammed in to tie it all together bloat the running time out to almost three hours, yet they feel like almost five. It’s a plodding movie that doesn’t really get going until it’s almost over.
My other problem with the film is, in my opinion, it simply doesn’t look as good as Lord of the Rings. Shot on the Red Epic at 5K in 48fps, the 24fps works well enough. I haven’t seen the 48fps version, and having worked in that format, I really don’t want to. However, it was shot 48. Therefore, they had to go out of their way to make the 24fps version look, well, 24. And that’s all well and good, I didn’t see any truly terrible frame tearing. The problem I have is that, in a lot of effects shots, it looks jarringly unnatural. Not in an “I’m old and grew up with film” kind of way, more in a “I can see the matte lines around the poorly composited actors” kind of way. Shadows are WAY too dark in some spots, almost like a faux HDR. There is no real gravitas to the villains because they don’t exist in real life. There’s even a shot of Gandalf where he gets that weird rubber mannequin look of the first Spider Man when getting off an eagle. Everything is sharp to the point of being fake. These things take me out of the movie.
The problem I have with this kind of filmmaking is it puts the technology ahead of the story, which was Lucas’ downfall. I can’t be afraid of a villain who has a giant nutsack on his chin that wobbles constantly, causing the texture mapping to stretch unnaturally. I mean, it’s nice that he got work after Phantom Menace, but I really didn’t need to see the king of the Gungans in another film. He’s gross. Cast someone else.
Things that were good about the film: Martin Freeman. He’s great. He has the perfect attitude to play Bilbo, I loved his performance. Ian McKellen, of course. And Andy Serkis, back as Gollum. The riddle scene was great. I could’ve just watched that for two hours and been happy.
More I didn’t like: Thorin Oakenshield’s constant bitching. A crybaby who hates everything doesn’t inspire confidence as a leader.
And correct me if wrong, but wasn’t the entire point of Bilbo’s journey to prove to himself that he could do it? Wasn’t he the one who questioned whether or not he had the grit to take on this quest, and it was all about living up to your own potential, no matter your size? I don’t remember it being about Thorin mocking him all the time, and generally being a twat.
So, would I recommend The Hobbit? Yes, actually, I would. I didn’t think it was terrible, just problematic. It really showcases a director who has become so overgrown he no longer understands the mentality of less is more. I really miss that Peter Jackson, the scrappy New Zealander who managed to make one of the grossest horror films ever on a budget of $4k. The problem solving Peter Jackson who could create an effect with a quick cut. No, now we have the sweeping vista, 4 hour Kong, endless slow motion Peter Jackson. Someone take his tools away, please! Get him back to basics!
The sad thing is, I really have to blame James Cameron for this mentality. Cameron has managed to make two of the highest grossing, most popular films of all time. He’s revolutionized aspects of filmmaking forever. He will be firmly cemented in film history as an important figure, ushering fully rendered CGI to the forefront, 3D that actually works, etc. All this from what is essentially a big budget action director. The problem is, every other big budget Hollywood guy is now standing in his shadow, Spielberg included. Everything has to be 2 1/2 hours now. Everything has to be revolutionary. Everything has to be written/directed, and it has to have realistic B and C characters, just like Cameron. Lucas all but admits it himself, and Jackson is in exactly the same position. They look at Avatar and think, “Why couldn’t I do that? The story is so simple and dumb, why that, and not mine?” And the answer is pretty simple: Cameron still loves it. He loves the SHIT out of it. When I saw him talk about 3D at NAB, he had me convinced, he was so excited. Jackson’s work feels tired. Lucas has given up. Spielberg is so uneven at this point, I’m not sure he actually wants to even make movies, and it’s all James Cameron’s fault.
In my opinion.