Hobbit: A Totally Expected Journey

Look up the word “fine” in your nearest dictionary or thesaurus, and you’ll see my review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Acceptable, satisfactory, okay, adequate, sufficient. Is it the film’s fault that I would have preferred “deft (adroit, clever, smart)”?

That’s for you to decide, for TH:AUJ is one of those films that, if you want to see, you’re going to see, no matter what critics/reviewers say. One of my favorite reviews comes from French artist/designer Jean-Marc Toussaint, who tweeted “It was not as boring as I was expecting.” High praise indeed!

I, and most everyone I know, came to this with lowered expectations. Director Peter Jackson all but squandered the good will he engendered with Lord of the Rings (as well as such superlative previous films as Dead Alive and Heavenly Creatures) with his abhorrent remake of King Kong (and, to a lesser extent, his uninspired/uninspiring adaptation of Lovely Bones). I couldn’t help but see his return to directing TH:AUJ as a retreat to safe, career-sustaining, ground.

So I, and my fellow midnight screening friends, took what pleasure we could from the hundred and fifty minutes that unspooled before our eyes. Costumes, sets, acting: excellent. I don’t know which was more subtly amazing: Ian Holm’s impersonation of an old Martin Freeman, or Martin Freeman’s impersonation of a young Ian Holm (or maybe they’re both coincidentally alike).

Andy Serkis is customarily magnificent as Gollum (now there’s the man who should play Two Face in the next Batman film which uses that character). It was great to see Ian McKellan and Christopher Lee return to their wizarding roles (although they look considerably older, despite the fact that The Hobbit takes place sixty years before LotR). And it’s always a pleasure to see wizard-enacter Sylvester McCoy (the seventh Doctor Who, and an actor many have proclaimed one of the greatest underrated talents ever).

Whatever reservations I had about the experience originated from the director’s chair. First, since the entire film was painted in post production (an all-but-ubiquitous custom in today’s cinema), everything was reduced to a homogenized sameness. On the one hand, that prevents the viewer from distinguishing between glorious New Zealand locations and green screen special effects … but, on the other hand, that prevents the viewer from distinguishing between glorious New Zealand locations and green screen special effects! In other words, the thrill of natural beauty is trumped by the repudiation of the digitally unnatural.

But my biggest reservation was the lack of cinematic imagination. Jackson and company told Tolkien’s story, but a director’s job is to interpret words in an astute visual way. Here, characters do things on screen, but never was there the exhilaration of them doing them in a revelatory, inspired manner. Throughout, me and my fellow viewers thought during, and said afterwards, “I wish that had been [insert word here]: funnier, smarter, sharper, brighter, neater….

Keep in mind that we were laboring under two pre-disappointments. First, a bunch of previews that were literally uninspiring. Man of Steel and Star Trek into Darkness were also literally miserable: not one smile from any character throughout: just pounding, profound, at times insupportable, suffering. Tom Cruise’s Oblivion and Will & Jayden Smith’s After Earth were, hilariously, coming-attraction-trailered right after one another, revealing that they were, essentially, the same movie! Given Tom and Will’s well known competitive friendship, I’m guessing these two films are the result of a bet to see which star’s vehicle is the more successful!

Then there’s the “high frame rate” issue. We went way out of our way (in my case almost two hours out of my way) to see the film at a cinema which would screen it at forty-eight frames a second (rather than the traditional twenty-four) to see what difference that made. Now, I’ve been watching films on a friend’s sixty-inch 3D-TV for years now, so I’m accustomed to clarity hitherto unexperienced, but neither I, nor my 3D-TV-less friends, found the difference so apparent to bear a raised ticket price. In fact, we all had to wonder whether the projectionist had shown us the HFR version at all!

As is now becoming apparent with The Hobbit part one, each positive comes chockablock with a negative. P: the three hour 3D viewing experience came with no eye-strain or headache. N: the 3D was completely without value. For all the benefit HFR and 3D brought to the experience, you might as well see it in 24fas 2D.

Let me put it this way. I’m planning on seeing the next two films in the inflated trilogy. But at this point I’m not planning to see them at the midnight preview or in high frame rate 3D.

Good job, Hobbit. Too bad I would have preferred a great job.