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Old 12-24-2012, 06:14 AM   #1
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Default DT's thoughts on seeing The Hobbit part 1

Today I went to see 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'. Normally I don't see movies in 3D for two reasons. One, my budget is too tight and I really don't want to pay the 3D surcharge. From the films I have seen in 3D it doesn't add enough to the viewing to be worth the extra money. The second reason is in the very first movie I saw in 3D the director had an opening shot where to this day I swear he was trying to poke the audience's eyes out with a tree branch. Directors just can't seem to resist the urge to do "Hey, see what I can do with 3D!!!" shots that force the viewer to cross their eyes to follow the object the director is trying to make touch the back wall of the theatre. But with all the focus on HFR in The Hobbit 1 and with one of the (relatively) few theatres showing it in HFR being close to where I live I decided to see what all the noise was about.

So let's start with that, the HFR 3D. Actually, IMO that boils down to the 3D. Jackson couldn't resist the 3D siren song either and there are the obligatory shots trying to make the audience flinch backwards in their seats or reach out to touch whatever is in the extreme foreground. But those weren't really a problem. What was a problem was that in too many shots the characters and flora looked, well, small. I know the main characters are all below human height, that's not what I'm talking about. The effect made me think of those small shoebox dioramas you used to have to make as a school project. Gandalf, the elves, the horses, the _trees_, all looked small, like I was looking at something in a box and I don't think that was because of the 48fps film speed. Another issue that broke me out of the story was the obvious layers. Think about the stereotypical "school play" where the scenery is three layers of painted wood, with a foreground scenery, a mid-ground scenery and a background scenery with ambitious plays having the first two moving from side to side some. Many of the shots in Hobbit 1 had that same feel. Like the shot composition was 'Okay, we'll have these characters front & center, with this plate behind them, the second plate behind that and then the background'. My final issue with the 3D was there was too much depth to many shots. I'm not sure how to explain that. The best I can come up with is this: if Bag End was big enough to have that much depth of view inside it it would have to have been the size of NORAD HQ in Cheyenne Mountain.

Basically there was too much 3D. If I'm looking at a room or an outside view in real life, I'm not consciously aware of the fact that I'm viewing something with depth and 3 dimensions. I'm just looking at it. With Hobbit 1 I wasn't allowed to forget that this was supposed to be in 3 dimensions. The 3D was too aggressive, too "in your face". It didn't kill my viewing pleasure but it did get in the way of it. I think it needed to be dialed back, but again this wasn't all the time. Just some scenes. (It might be interesting to find out which scenes were shot by Jackson and which by Andy Serkis as the Second Unit Director and compare how each of them emphasized or utilized the 3D technology.)

Now, as for the HFR. Well, to be honest if I hadn't known going in about it I never would have noticed it. The complaints about it inducing motion sickness, again if I didn't know about those going in I never would have noticed. There were some scenes that involved some very rapid cuts between characters and I can almost, kinda, sorta, if I squint right, see how some might feel like those scenes were in fast-forward but honestly I think it really is just the speed of the cuts in editing and nothing to do with the 48fps technology. Everything was very crisp, very sharp but nothing serious. Much of the movie felt hyper-real, which given the setting actually works. So for me personally the HFR/48fps shooting works. It may not be suitable for all movies but I don't think its a failure.

So those are my thoughts on the technology. Now to focus on the story itself. Short version: LOTR, only more so.

Let me explain that. A number of people had complaints about Mr. Jackson taking liberties with the story in the first trilogy. The same will be true here, perhaps with more justification. I don't know if it was the pressure from the studios (with dollar signs dancing in their dreams) to stretch this out to three films or just a feeling Jackson had of "Look at this huge story universe I have to play in! Let's see how much I can fit in!" (probably a mix of the two) but there is a fair amount in this first installment that wasn't in the original story. I could easily see the story fitting into two films without difficulty by taking out much of the "padding". In that sense I get the feeling this trilogy will be less a telling of the story from The Hobbit and more a wider view of the prelude to the War of the Ring. I suppose another way of putting that is this is less a stand alone story set in the same world and more a deliberate and conscious prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. That's not necessarily a bad thing but can be jarring if you go into this expecting one thing and get the other instead. Again I think this is more a matter of what pre-conceptions the viewer brings in with them versus how open they are to just watching and accepting the film as it is.

Given all that, if the viewer can accept it on its own terms its a good movie IMO. I know I've been talking about all the potential negatives but the basic story is good, as witnessed by the fact that the book as been so popular for so long. But I think Jackson has captured a lot of the, for lack of a better term, "soul" of The Hobbit. If you can put aside the complaints about liberties with the story and new technology that are coming from people focusing on _how_ the movie was made and not the movie itself, I think you will find it to be an enjoyable movie. Yes, there's a fair amount of humor and silliness but then the original story was aimed more at children than adults so that is to be expected. And it echoes the eternal themes of adventure, trust, friendship, accepting others, learning and growing, yada yada yada. I recommend seeing it. (Interestingly this kind of echoes complaints editors and professional writers have with Tolkien's writing. From a technical point of view he did it all wrong with the grammer, the structure of the story, etc. but it worked and the public has loved it.) I suppose the best endorsement I can give is that having just seen the movie, I am looking forward to parts 2 and 3; and despite resisting ever playing an online game I'm seriously considering trying out the LOTR MMORPG.

(But I do wonder where all the blood went. They're hacking apart and beheading orcs, goblins and all manner of other monsters by the score but not one drop of blood? o_O )

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Old 12-24-2012, 08:45 AM   #2
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I enjoyed it. Quite slow to start off with, but once it gets going, wow.

Not sure Richard Armitage has quite the screen presense of Viggo Mortensen. Not the same brooding magnetism.

Loved the very ending, and can't wait to see more of Smaug.
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