Date Posted: 2012-12-18
Tolkien Fan Level: 6
Film Format Seen? 2D 24 fps
Will view again in a different format? Yes
My review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is mixed, but not for reasons that would be "typical" among fellow dedicated fans. I found a lot to love in the movie. I actually appreciated the "expanded," appendix-driven storyline. I *loved* the casting and the acting. I enjoyed the way the story was woven into the existing framework of the preceding Lord of the Rings films. The production design was, as it was in the LotR trilogy, flawless. Despite all of this, however, there were some elements that really pulled me out of the story, which felt to me like a major step *backward* from the films that were made ten years ago.
I must say that I was profoundly disappointed by the visual effects. Specifically, the extensive reliance on CGI as compared to the LotR films. Where the LotR films relied predominantly on practical effects, "bigatures," and makeup, the Hobbit seems to have eschewed those in favor of mostly CGI effects. As impressive as Weta's work is, CGI is just not at the point where it provides the same level of realism... and that is what was heartbreaking about The Hobbit for me. What really made the LotR films work was their *realism.* The only way for a fantasy movie to really sell itself is for it to endeavor to be as realistic as possible. This is what made the LotR films so relatable. This reliance on CGI is even more unforgivable when it's not done well, especially when there are places in the same movie where it *is* done well. Gollum, as presented in The Hobbit, is breathtakingly real and a true achievement in filmmaking. If Andy Serkis and the Performance Capture team don't get a collective Oscar, a crime will have been committed. It is painful, then, to see such frankly *bad* CGI alongside Gollum. Case in point #1: Azog, the Pale Orc. When Lurtz the Uruk-Hai came marching out of the forest to kill Boromir in Fellowship, it felt *real*... it felt intimidating. Lurtz was scary and palpable. Azog, by contrast, was like watching a cartoon character, and it's really hard to take a cartoon villain seriously. Likewise with the Goblin King. Case in point #2: Unconvincing CGI waterfalls in Rivendell. Fluids are one of the hardest things to render convincingly in CGI, and waterfalls are easy to produce with actual water, so why put fake-looking CGI water on your set? Better to create a CGI building, which is much easier to model convincingly, next to a real waterfall. Fake-looking water seems like it should be trivial, but it's not because it pulls one out of the fantasy. Case in point #3: The eagles. Just... bad. The CGI from the LotR films ten years ago was more believable. I could point out more examples (the horribly bad animation of gold coins trickling off of Smaug's head at the end, for example)... but the overall point is that one is constantly pulled out of the fantasy by what look like video game cutscenes. It's a shame, because so much of this movie is so good. I just wish it had been rendered with the same dedication to *visceralness* that cannot be achieved with CGI, and that made the Lord of the Rings so successful despite its being a "fantasy" movie.
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