I didn’t have a lot of faith going into this movie. I had seen the previous three Lord of the Rings films in theaters and figured I would do the right thing and continue the journey with The Hobbit. The first three films ran a bit long for my taste and I feel Peter Jackson could have eliminated the last film completely adding footage to the first two. By the end of, “The Return of the King” I was spent. Hearing the news that The Hobbit, a single book, was being split into three films I furthered my doubts that the director was going to be able to provide the spark from, “The Fellowship of the Ring” to carry throughout this three part series.
My interest was more to see the HFR 3D technology and how it would effect my opinion of the film and the future of films. For those not informed on HFR technology I will do my best to explain what I know. HFR stands for High Frame Rate. The human eye sees images at a rate of 55 frames per second (fps). the industry standard for films today is 24fps. HFR is filmed at 48fps, closer to what the naked eye sees. The theory is that filming at 48fps would give the view a more realistic perspective into what is on the screen, thus increasing the movie going experience. Television technology has taken a familiar perspective with 120Hz and 240Hz frame refresh rates. These technologies are geared at removing the “blur” effect created by action sequences where a shadow effect is created by the moving object on your screen because your eye is able to dissect more of the image that what is filmed. Upping the frame rate reduces the blur creating an image similar to watching events in real life (going to the stadium versus watching on TV). The problem with this technology is that viewing a more perfect image reduces the “magic” that filmmakers can create. Images are too crisp and clear and the viewer can see that the story is being created on a soundstage. Suspension of disbelief becomes harder to achieve because the image looks fake. It is very similar to watching soap operas. The central characters on screen are in focus and the remainder of what is filmed sort of fades out. Set designers go through painstaking efforts to create a mood and theme with sets surrounding the characters to draw the viewer in. I fear that this technology may ruin that atmosphere created. So how did this new technology translate with, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”?
The film follows Bilbo Baggins as he joins a group of dwarves and the wizard Gandalf on a quest to reclaim their home city from a dragon that had exiled them years earlier. Although Bilbo is reluctant to join the group and the dwarves are reluctant to accept a hobbit amongst their ranks the group find ways to work together. On their journey you meet familiar characters from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the stage is set for what will become an ultimate showdown. Without giving any spoilers away that is where i will stop the description of the film and go into my review.
I have never read the book so I am unfamiliar with what this journey is from the novel’s perspective. From the time first images appear on screen I was sucked back into a very familiar world. I have played a number of Lord of the Rings PC games and could swear that images from the games were converted to film. Everything looked absolutely stunning. 3D technology today is not about what is pooping out on the screen but creating the depth of vision you can see. And boy was this film deep. The images were very crisp and movement was incredibly fluid, there was no doubt this new filmmaking immediately pulled the view into Mr. Baggins’ world. As a story, the film is solid until we reach the end of the movie. This film fails to stand by itself as a solid piece of work. It is clear that there is more to come. The ending seems more like a save point in a video game than a place to end the movie. Although the movie is crystal clear and the images are beautiful, action sequences are disturbingly flashy and blurry, the opposite of the stated intent of HFR technology. As soon as the major chase sequences started, the headache began to build in my head trying to follow what was on screen. I found myself looking away at several points to refocus and calm the imagery. There needs to be a way to balance this depth and beauty of regular motion versus the erratic action sequences. I am not sure if it possible to tune down these segments to an original 24fps, or if it would even help.
The story is solid and the acting is great in this film. I don’t believe there was any doubt that ,with the material this film is drawn from, the characters wouldn’t be fully developed or interesting enough for the viewer to get pulled in. Again, I go back to the ending . It is more like a pause. There was no resolution to the set up made in the first act. We all know that there are going to be two more movies to resolve this story, but each film should be able to stand alone as its own piece of work. Sadly, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” fails to deliver an ending appropriate of how great this film was.
It is a MUST SEE in theaters. Choose what format you want, but definitely see it in the theaters.