This week I handed the reins of the review to my friend and coworker Alice. She is a Middle Earth Scholar and Lord of the Rings fan of the highest order. Her review of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is below.
Over the past several weeks I’ve enjoyed re-watching “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, extended editions, in their full theatrical glory. I love these films and wanted to freshen my senses before stepping back into Middle Earth again. Would it look the same? Feel the same? Give off the same ethereal scent? The answer is: yes and no.
With “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” Peter Jackson has gone to great lengths to tie the ends of his epic trilogies together. The film starts on Bilbo’s one hundred and eleventieth birthday, and I suspect the last film will end in exactly the same place. This direct connection cuts like a double edge sword: it makes fan boys and girls (like me!) squeal with delight, but also invites comparisons. Does it live up to the previous films? Can it? Is it even fair to ask?
It’s no secret that The Hobbit was written for children, and in being so is packed with more whimsy than misery. The fate of the world isn’t at hand this time around…or is it? Jackson enjoys foreshadowing impeding doom at every turn, so much so that it feels like Gandalf’s knowing looks are meant more for the audience than anyone else. Howard Shore’s score plays much the same tune, quite literally. Nearly every scene is dripping with familiar strains of music, conjuring up visions of dark lords and courageous halflings. These tactics work well to resettle us back into a familiar world, and successfully adds heft to a thin plot by equating the life of Smaug to the potential success of Sauron in the future. What if he’d had a dragon on his side during the battle for Middle Earth, hmmmmm?
Where it fails, however, is in hooking us into a new story with new characters. The reminders of the good ‘ole films had me feeling nostalgic. I was grateful whenever familiar faces appeared. Too grateful. Because it made me realize that even though “The Lord of the Rings” had more characters than you could shake a warg at, I still got to know each and every one of them. I understood their motives and invested in their fates. Not so with this new batch. The CG villains do little to convince me of their terror (even less so when they have ridiculously huge goiters dangling from their chins), and the dwarves were all amusing, brave, loyal, and consequently interchangeable. Even the great Thorin Oakenshield never managed to grab hold of my heartstrings and give a tug.
Bilbo, on the other hand, got a foothold. His fish-out-of-water bumblings and constant self-doubt had me grinning from start to finish. Where Gandalf was the compass, he was the heart and soul of the film, and added meaning to the quest beyond gold, jewels, and revenge. To him, their voyage was a search for home, something he himself missed desperately.
All of these elements fit rather nicely into a nearly three-hour-long package. Could they have trimmed some fat? No question. Cut back on the video-game-style fight sequences? Absolutely. But, despites its flaws, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this first installment of “The Hobbit.” I thrilled at seeing Hobbiton again and setting out into Middle Earth once more.
That said, this fangirl has a bone to pick with Mr. Jackson…
I watched “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” twice in two days. First, in standard 2D, then again in 3D, 48 frames per second, with Dolby Atmos surround sound. Take a guess as to which viewing I preferred?
All I’ll say is thank heaven I watched it in 2D first, otherwise this would be a very different review. I have no love of 3D, but can’t say it ruined my experience, and Dolby Atmos sounded great, but wasn’t earth shattering. The 48fps, however, was a deal breaker. I went from watching an authentic prequel to sitting through a “Lord of the Rings” televised mini-series. The intense crispness of the image made me feel as though I were watching a play instead of a movie. I like a layer of magic, and 48fps stole that from me. It ripped me out of that world, making all the quaint nods to past films suddenly feel like desperate pleas: “This really IS Middle Earth! We promise! Look, there’s Gandalf! Please believe us!!” Sorry, folks, but I didn’t believe you. Can I turn off the TV now?
Bottom line, the 48fps format disconnects rather than draws you in. If you’re a fan of the “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy that means you survived seeing them in 2D. Do yourself a favor and see “The Hobbit” the same way. You’ll thank me for it.
Alice loves to travel, and recently had the opportunity to visit New Zealand and experience several “Lord of the Rings” locations in first person. Her and her Hobbit-like partner, Katie, had the time of their lives geeking out in Hobbiton and climbing Mount Doom. You can read about her adventures here at travelpod.com/members/aknztrip.