Well, here we are all in our places with bright shiny faces, ready for the New Year! Time to get started on those resolutions Pippa mentioned; there will be no resting on our laurels around this Lounge!
So let’s start 2013 off with a review of one of the last great films of 2012, one which science fiction/fantasy fans had been in a dither of anticipation over for years—THE HOBBIT, AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. Peter Jackson’s first installment of the prequel to his LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy finally debuted December 14 to somewhat mixed reviews. Given the film’s rocky production history, it was a wonder THE HOBBIT ever made it to the screen at all. Perhaps we should not be surprised that the little fella showed up with some baggage.
In the earliest stages of development there were battles over who owned the rights to the story. In this era of studio failures and buyouts trying to track the pea of story rights through the shell game of studio mergers can be a full-time job for a stable of lawyers. Once that was settled and backers lined up to produce the movie, special effects genius Guillermo del Toro (LABYRINTH) was named as director, with Peter Jackson onboard as executive producer. Jackson said at the time that he didn’t want to compete with himself as director of LOTR. Oookay.
Del Toro, Jackson and LOTR writers Phillipa Boyens and Fran Walsh took on writing duties for the films, which at one time were planned as two films, later on as three. Production delays ensued once creatures and effects began to be envisioned. Some media articles blamed del Toro for this, noting it wouldn’t be the first time his perfectionism had caused cost or time overruns. A larger obstacle was that the major studio involved—MGM—was having financial problems and couldn’t feed the hungry film. Del Toro pulled out.
Eventually a new coalition of studios came together to fund the project (New Line Cinema, MGM, Wingnut Films) and Peter Jackson took over as director. The structure settled out as a trilogy (AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, THERE AND BACK AGAIN) and filming began with several of the actors from the LOTR films signing on again (Cate Blanchet, Ian McKellan, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, and Elijah Wood and Orlando Bloom in cameos).
Still the film could not avoid problems. Shooting was plagued with labor disputes and accusations of cruelty at some of the farms where animals were stabled by outside contractors. No doubt the fans were not the only ones happy to see the day come when the first film was in theaters.
All of these problems seem well worthwhile when you see the result on the screen. The magic of Jackson’s vision is fully intact as Hobbiton opens up in all its charm and innocence and color, every detail perfect. Again, as was true of LOTR, the casting is wonderful in THE HOBBIT, and we can’t help but be enchanted by Martin Freeman’s (Sherlock) fussy, lovable Bilbo and fascinated by the dwarves who come to his door in the night. As Richard Armitage plays him, Thorin Oakenshield is a truly heroic figure, and it’s easy to dismiss the fact that he’s, well, maybe four feet high.
As the adventure proceeds and things grow darker, the wargs are scarier, the orcs are fiercer than we’ve seen them (except perhaps the Great Goblin and his minions, who are played for laughs), because we see them not from the perspective of men like Aragorn and elves like Legolas, but of shorter dwarves and hobbits.
This is, however, a lighter story than LOTR, as was the book it is based on. There are more moments of humor for humor’s sake, more songs, sillier characters (why else name characters Bifur, Bofur, Oin, Gloin, etc.?) THE HOBBIT is still not a children’s story, but the adults who see it must have a high tolerance for throwing plates in the kitchen and the odd wizard with a penchant for carrying birds’ nests under his hat.
Tolkien’s The Hobbit was also a single book. How then does Jackson justify making three movies out of it? Some critics would say not very well. He’s padded the story by letting us see some things that were only implied or not referred to at all in the book—a meeting of the “White Council”, for example, who Jackson interprets to be Galadriel, Saruman, Elrond and Gandalf at Rivendell. The scene foreshadows the events of LOTR much more than was ever done in Tolkien’s book, simply because he hadn’t written the trilogy yet and probably had no idea how it would develop from The Hobbit.
But as a Tolkien fan and a fan of Jackson’s LOTR I found the scene compelling. I kept hoping Aragorn would show up, too, though he’s not anywhere in The Hobbit. This gives me hope for the two future installments. Jackson is faithful to the spirit of Tolkien, though he may take liberties with the canon. That makes for great entertainment in his movies.
That said, THE HOBBIT probably is less of a classic than any film in the LOTR trilogy. I’ve seen it twice, and it doesn’t have the power or the sustainability of the previous films. Perhaps it’s the subject matter; perhaps it’s the characters. I doubt it’s the fact that we’ve been here before or the filmmaker’s abilities. The first time I saw THE HOBBIT, the pace kept me so enthralled I sat for the entire nearly three hour duration of the film without going out to the restroom for fear of missing something important. The second time I felt I could miss the “cleaning up the kitchen while singing” scene. Not sure I could tolerate that one the ten or more times I’ve seen the LOTR films.
Finally, my two cents about the High Frame Rate innovation introduced with this film. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, Jackson filmed THE HOBBIT at a higher than usual 48 frames per second (fps) rather than the usual 24 fps that has been the industry standard since the 1930’s. This has caused no end of controversy. Because the film is also showing in theaters in 3D, it is difficult for most moviegoers to tell the difference. I know I really didn’t know what to look for, and I’m a film buff.
Critics have said it makes the film look like high-definition TV, rather than a film. Why this is bad, I don’t know. I LIKE HDTV. I thought that was the point of digital cameras, etc. So the higher frame rate gives you a better, clearer picture. The one thing I noticed was that fight scenes could be followed better. Instead of a blur when a punch was thrown, you saw the arm swinging and the connection being made. Cool! Other than that, no difference that I could see.
So, overall on THE HOBBIT, I’d say it was not Jackson’s best film, but it wasn’t KING KONG, either. It is well worth your movie dollar and for Tolkien/LOTR fans, a must see.
Now, just a few more months until J.J. Abrams takes us back out into space with Jim Kirk and the crew with INTO DARKNESS!