Today I finally discharged my duty as a loyal New Zealander and saw The Hobbit, in all its high frame rate 3D glory. The ticket cost $20.50 (sans glasses which I already had), but I figured it was worth it since between the stereoscopic 3D and the 48 frames per second film speed I was getting 4 times the average film for my money.
I really enjoyed the Lord of the Rings films, and so it was a delight to step back into the same world. The acting was great, Martin Freeman doesn’t look much like how I picture Bilbo but steals the film as the title character. The myriad of dwarfs are well realised and clearly differentiated, not easy when there are 13 of them.
What is not so great is the pacing. The decision to stretch out the story into 3 films made great financial sense, but really screws up what could have easily been a simple 2 hour children’s film. What we get instead is a long prologue set during Lord of the Rings which looks like it sets up a frame story but is never mentioned again, several long expository conversations that foreshadow stuff we have already seen in the previous trilogy (the screenwriters seem to have invented retroshadowing), some flashbacks to faraway events that don’t payoff in this film, and some action sequences.
The action sequences are excellent, everything else is very pretty to look at but serves no purpose. Even worse, The Hobbit leans heavily of the Lord of the Rings films, not bothering to introduce familiar characters as they appear. Galadriel and Saruman show up for a dull interdepartmental meeting at one stage but don’t expect this nearly 3 hour film to expend any precious running time explaining who they are. There are even some scenes recreated almost exactly from the previous films, which seems a little lazy.
On the technical side, much has been written about the new 48 frames per second technology that Peter Jackson is using to shoot these films. Unlike some, I am in favour of it although I could live without the 3D. I can understand why some people don’t like it though, everything had a more realistic look almost as though you were watching actors on a stage in front of you rather than a prerecorded film. This contrasts with the sometimes dreamlike feel of tradition film, perhaps The Hobbit would have suited a lower fidelity look but it certainly wasn’t distracting.
Ultimately I enjoyed The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. As a step back into Middle Earth. it feels a bit like putting on an old pair of trousers you haven’t worn in several years. Highly comforting, but you might find them stretched a bit thin.