Date Posted: 2012-12-16
Tolkien Fan Level: 5
Film Format Seen? Imax 3D
Will view again in a different format? Yes
Full disclosure...I've only read The Hobbit once and didn't really care for it (I had been previously spoiled by LOtR.) So I haven't followed all the behind-the-scenes workings of this production the same way I did LOtR. I won't say my expectations were low, but I wasn't nearly as enthusiastic going in to this film. But I have to say that Peter Jackson et al made me love The Hobbit by welcoming me back so beautifully and eloquently to my beloved Middle Earth.
I didn't watch The Hobbit with the intention of writing a review, so naturally I'll be returning to the theatre in the next few days to watch again and discover what I missed during the first viewing. Following are my initial impressions. In football, they say the crowd is the "twelfth man" on the field. In the case of The Hobbit, the landscapes of New Zealand are the twelfth man--they're just as central to the storytelling as the dialogue. They're gorgeously photographed in this travelogue of a film, which is just as much a love letter to New Zealand as it is to Middle Earth. And this is fittingly Tolkienesque. The author idealized the pre-industrial, pre-war innocence of the English countryside, and his reverence for nature is certainly reflected in characters like Radagast the Brown (wonderfully acted by Sylvester McCoy) and Frodo's gardener Sam Gamgee (who, unlike Frodo, does not appear in this film.) Into this spectacular setting is dropped an entirely lovable cast of characters (yes, lovable...up to and including the Great Goblin, played with relish by Barry "Dame Edna" Humphries.) Certainly, there are bad guys in The Hobbit, but they're so interesting and have such dimension that you love to hate them. Not expecting to love this film as much as I loved Fellowship of the Ring, I was very pleasantly surprised. (Apparently I will never tire of Hobbitses.) And speaking of Gollum, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be forced to create an entirely new Oscar category to recognize Andy Serkis' performance. It's haunting. The "performance capture" technology--combined with 48 FPS 3D filming--makes Gollum REAL. (There are moments when Gollum appears more real than some of the Dwarves under their silicone makeup.) The Trolls, the dreaded Pale Orc and Great Goblin are also rendered with a level of seeming reality that makes your heart race. The picture quality is like nothing I have ever seen on film. There are moments where you are truly compelled to reach out and touch the characters, the images are so crisp, so three-dimensional and so present. This level of detail works against the film in a couple of places, most notably the overly elaborate chase sequence inside the goblin-infested mountain, and in the literal cliff hanger that precedes the final conflict with the Pale Orc. Anyone with a fear of heights could have a hard time with both. The 3D is used to its full effect, though for the most part it feels organic and not gratuitous. The Hobbit is an amazing technical achievement. Every creative department has outdone itself and I literally cannot imagine how the visual effects, costuming, makeup, props, weapons or sets could have been improved upon. Suspension of disbelief was immediate and sustained. Because I don't remember the specific plot of The Hobbit, I can't comment on those instances where the screenplay strays from the book that inspired it. However, after bringing me back to Bag End and Rivendell, I'm willing to forgive Peter Jackson and his team any liberties they took to get me there. There isn't a bad performance in The Hobbit, but Martin Freeman's turn as Bilbo Baggins is particularly sweet (and bittersweet, thinking of what comes later in LOtR). You can see him fall in love with Rivendell and his "adventures," making it easier to understand why he ultimately chooses to go into the West with the Elves at the end of his life in The Shire. The Hobbits--Sam in particular--were Tolkien's "everyman" heroes. (Sam is the only Ringbearer who remained untouched by The One Ring's evil and was able to return to his life unscathed after The Ring was destroyed.) To Tolkien, Hobbits were literally and figuratively "down to Earth." In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is the symbol of normalcy, of humanity and goodwill. He's clever and resourceful...fearless in protecting a friend who doubted him, and yet merciful when confronting a helpless enemy who would have eaten him whole. The Lord of the Rings trilogy will always be my favorite work of fiction. The Hobbit was written as a childrens' book and never had the richness of language or invention that Tolkien poured into LOtR. Even so, I now find myself thrilled that the stars aligned in such a way to allow Peter Jackson and company to revisit Middle Earth and tell Bilbo's tale.
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