Thomas Monteath critiques An Unexpected Journey
The 48fps vs 24fps debate
So having taken into account the film’s handicaps, and weighed in on its failings, it is time to address its successes. But to do this, one really must first talk about 24fps vs 48 fps.
I first saw the film in 24fps. I thought the first half was fantastic, being mostly dialogue and character driven. The seams began to show, and suspension of disbelief began to sag, from the moment they left the trolls’ cave. This corresponded with the shift to a special effects-driven story.
At 48fps, most of the non-action scenes in the first half, particularly the scenes in Bag End, were stripped of dramatic resonance. Interestingly, the humorous bits fell flat at 48fps, and just seemed goofy. There does not seem to be a clear rule regarding when 48fps works or not. Rather, it seems to be something that needs to be decided scene by scene. For instance, while the Dwarves’ dinner in Bag End didn’t work in 48fps, it did work in the opening scene with Old Bilbo and Frodo. Going outdoors, while 48fps didn’t work for the scene where Bilbo catches up with the Dwarves and the wagers are settled, it did work for the scene where Balin recounts to the Company Thorin’s heroics at the Battle of Azanulbizar.
In light of this, my view is the 24fps vs 48fps debate is a false dichotomy, because they are not in fact mutually exclusive formats. In fact, they are not ‘formats’ at all, but rather tools, much as 3D is a tool. While the Hobbit is presented in 3D, not all of the film is actually 3D — the technology is used sparingly. Jackson should do the same with 48fps. According to one cinematographer, with digital filmmaking, it is possible to have some scenes in 24fps and others in 48fps, and should in fact be possible to have some parts of the screen itself in 48fps (say, the background), while the characters in close-up in the foreground are displayed at 24fps. Hopefully, Jackson will adopt this approach in the next films, and refit this first movie accordingly. For 48fps is fantastic for wide shots and battle scenes, and even some more intimate scenes, but it should not be seen or used as a be-all-and-end-all. It should be used like 3D — sparingly, and as appropriate to the scene.
Overall, the directing of The Hobbit is inconsistent, with Jackson appearing to struggle to balance his own inner Smeagol and Gollum. Jackson is at his best directing character-driven scenes, especially the largely (at 24fps) outstanding opening scenes at Bag End. Along with the Riddles in the Dark sequence, these were the highlights of the film. He is also fantastic at the great epic scenes, such as in the prologue, and the battle in Goblin Town. His weakness lies in the middle ground and the transitional scenes that require a balancing of character and action. These were less of a problem in The Lord of the Rings, if a problem at all, which suggests he may simply be rusty. No doubt he’ll be back on his game for the second film, especially given he has far more time to edit it. An Unexpected Journey was perhaps always going to be the film that suffered from sub-par editing and unfinished effects, given that it was coming out within months of completing principal photography for the whole trilogy, and given the announcement of two films becoming three only months before the premiere.
In light of this, the criticisms outlined above should certainly not be seen as condemnatory. If anything, they are an implicit testament to how high the Lord of the Rings trilogy set the bar. But we need to remember that The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, are different animals, and should be judged as such. While the former is, to my mind, gripping in the way history can be, the latter is interesting in the way of art. Where The Fellowship of the Ring had emotional resonance and was a sturdy, weighty bit of fantasy filmmaking, this first Hobbit film leaves an impression on the imagination, and feels springy and light. Where Fellowship was a journey, An Unexpected Journey feels like a trip. Its flaws aside, it is worth the price of entry. Twice, at least, and preferably in both 24 and 48fps. And there was enough good work to suggest that the next two films should be even better.
GRADE: B (As we all remember from school, that’s still a pass)
About the author
Thomas Monteath is a life-long Tolkien aficionado, who still believes –- with apologies to the excellent Andy Serkis -– that the finest Gollum was Peter Woodthorpe in the BBC’s 1981 Radio adaptation. In real life he is an academic in the UK, who can on occasion be found propping up the bar at the Eagle & Child.
These opinions in this article are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of TheOneRing.net or its staff.Posted in Characters, Hobbit Book, Hobbit Movie, Peter Jackson, The Hobbit on December 27, 2012 by thomasmonteath