The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The beginning of ambitious plan to create a new grand trilogy from just one humble book is hugely impressive. The new high frame rate standard might not suit everyone though.

Director: Peter Jackson | Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

Budget: 270 million | Box office: 765 million

IMDb: 8.4 (#127) | Metacritic: 58

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

This is one of the cases where the development of the movie is equally if not more dramatic than the movie itself. Everyone who at least a little bit follows the news probably heard about ups and downs (mostly downs in the beginning) of Hobbit film creation. Constant delays, changes of directors, financial troubles, obstructions from studios. The journey was hard without even starting. But eventually everything came to pieces, Peter Jackson took over the ship and went to the big seas to catch the Lord of the Rings glory.

The first apparent issue with The Hobbit is it‘s size. I wasn‘t aware till just before watching, that it was decided to do a trilogy instead of two movies. Of course it‘s great to know that like in Lord of the Rings times you will have more Christmases to wait for, but at the same time it‘s a bit unsettling. The Hobbit is just one novel with 310 pages, while each of later Tolkien trilogy books is almost double the size. That leaves film creators in a quite different situation: where usually they have to squeeze in the events of books, now they have a huge freedom to explore the story and add more flavors and details to it.

This explains the big team of writers, which beside the director himself consists of former director Guillermo del Toro (it would really be interesting to see his vision of Hobbit) and two ladies behind the Rings fame: Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, also producing the movie. As Guillermo was telling, the writing in the peak time took 12 hours a day and the team really did tremendous job to fuse the novel plot with additional events. I read The Hobbit quite a long time ago, so for me there was no real distinction between the two sides, but for people who have read it recently or know it by heart as I imagine many fans do, this might be not so pleasant. And the best thing is that after almost three hours of watching you really want more.

I‘m glad that they had enough development and screen time to create detailed and full pictures of characters. I would say this is unusual for the typical fantasy movie, but The Hobbit of course is anything but typical. This plays well with another big feature – the new high frame rate (HFR) standard. Shooting in 48 frames per second instead of usual 24 developers managed to show so many details and for me it‘s best use is in close-up portrait scenes. The attention to character expressions and make-up or CGI effects is just incredible. There‘s no chance to hide something from the view, everything is totally clear and it doesn‘t feel artificial.

The pinnacle of all the technologies coming together in HFR details of course is Gollum. That was the main movie draw for me and I was impressed of the work beyond words. Gollum was hugely impressive in Lord of the Rings, but here you can clearly see how much technologies have developed in a decade. The skin, the bones underneath it, the movements, the expressions (thanks to returning actor Andy Serkis) – it‘s just so real, but it doesn‘t have this so called „uncanny valley“ effect, which refers to uncomfortable feeling or even revulsion when seeing realistic CGI humans. Maybe it‘s because Gollum is not a typical human anymore, but I think that‘s more because of the new level of CGI work.

That said, I didn‘t like HFR standard in general. The problem is that everything looks too clear, like you are watching work in progress reel without additional post processing filters. The closest example would be the newest LED TVs in their dynamic setting – anything you watch looks like soap opera filmed with simple cameras. The worst thing in such case is that you can see that the bricks in the film are made of plastic and you notice all the other props. The offered „cinema“ setting in TVs doesn‘t help as it just makes everything blurred and brownish. Thankfully that‘s not the case in The Hobbit, they really knew what they‘re working with and prepared accordingly. But I doubt that many other studios would work so painstakingly hard to create such high quality sets that it would look impressive in HFR. Another comparison would be videogames – in some scenes it really seems that you are watching the highest quality videogame, but without control of it the game looses it‘s appeal, so it‘s kind of weird too. Anyway, people say that after some time you get used to such view on TVs so probably it‘s the same with movies. But I don‘t want to do that, because it seems that in that way the movie looses part of it‘s magic and how can The Hobbit be without magic?

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