I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey yesterday and here’s my review. It’s not going to be particularly kind. No point in dancing around things in the manner of professional critics. In fact, if you don’t want too much detail, let me boil it down to you: it’s a waste of time and money. Read on if you desire more detail.
Naturally, I expect someone to come wading into the comments section to wave my past review history in my face as some sort of indictment against my character and ability to level a fair review against this errant mistake of cinema. So the first thing I will do is set up a short list here of past film evaluations you can browse through to try to use as ammunition against my opinion.
There’s a clear trend you’ll see: I tend to look at the positives in things. It’s a world view that I try to let come into all aspects of my life. I don’t always succeed (see the Prometheus review, because that movie stinks). But I try.
Trust me, it’s stunning even to me how much I disliked this film. I went in with low expectations and it didn’t even meet that bar.
But enough of this palaver! Let’s get this show on the road!
High Frame Rate: An Unexpected Failure
After much hullabaloo, I decided to shell out the extra money to see the HFR (High Frame Rate/48fps) 3D version of this film. It was at times distracting, and at all times it was disappointing.
This is not to say that the technology won’t or can’t represent a great leap forward for film technology. I’m sure it can, and is just now in its infancy of use. However, it was quite apparent to me that certain techniques were not properly adapted this time. Namely, the lighting in the indoor scenes and the matching in the effects sequences.
I’ve often said that one of the greatest accomplishments of the Star Wars prequels, love them or hate them, is that the DP got the lighting keys to match across live shots matted onto miniatures matched with digital matte paintings. It wasn’t always flawless, but the films were consistently lit and “looked right.”
This film does not. The demands of HFR make a lot of the indoor sets look “so real” that it looks like you’re “on set” as opposed to watching the events of another world unfold. This decidedly took me out of the action several times.
Would I have judged the film less harshly if I’d seen it in 24fps with the non-nerds? Possible. But not probable.
Meandering Plot with No Respect for Editing
The harshest criticism I can level at this film is that it’s just not engaging. Occasionally it finds a toe–hold in your interest but then you’re taken right out of things again.
I would have cut at least twenty minutes out of the front of the movie to begin. Telling the entire back–story of Thorin’s people as prologue is unnecessary and actually detracts from the emotional impact of the affected characters–the dwarves– from telling it to Bilbo later. Shoe–horning in a meandering flash-forward preamble meant as a preface to Fellowship of the Ring is, in a word, a tremendous cheat.
We all know where this is going, let’s just start the story and then tie it in at the end of all three. Give us something to which we can look forward.
The Additions to the Story
Azog is resurrected, so to speak, in order to create a sub–plot from whole cloth. He chases the band because Mr. Jackson and the screenwriters aren’t satisfied without some sort of extensive action sequence.
Fili and Kili are turned into mirror images of Merry and Pippin as portrayed in the Rings films. Several of the dwarves seem to have contracted a case of stupid. Radaghast the Brown is turned into a half–wit quite unnecessarily.
I understand that changes need to be made for film adaptations and have no general problem with it. The Godfather cuts out a lot of extra stuff that would have slowed the film down. Fight Club takes some shortcuts. However, the changes made here are entirely unnecessary, up to and including the changes to the escape from the halls of the Goblin King.
Mr. Jackson, though, seems obsessed to turn even quiet moments into topsy–turvy roller coaster rides that just get tiresome.
The changes actually slow the film down considerably, which is what makes no sense. Some of them even take away the element of surprise and discovery for the latter parts of the story, which is unfortunate. The start of the film would have been delightful if it had just led ever–so–briefly into Gandalf showing up on Bilbo’s doorstep unexpectedly (I know, right?). Then we, as an audience, can experience the surprise and fun with the character instead of a crushing sense of inevitability.
Changes are usually made in film for the sake of pacing. The changes further muddle a lot of the motivation from Bilbo, which is the most unfortunate thing since the story is supposedly about him.
To end things on a positive note, I will say that the scene with Gollum, though changed, is a lot of fun.
The meeting between Gandalf and a few other characters at Rivendell, including a nicely surprising appearance I didn’t expect at all, was a treat.
Hearing the Dwarves sing their song of woe about the mountain is also nicely done.
So There You Have It
Am I being too harsh?
I don’t know. Let me present you something I’d rather watch 20 times than see this movie again: