Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Let's first address the technology Peter Jackson decided to put forth with the first entry in his highly-anticipated "Lord of the Rings" sequel, "The Hobbit," originally two films but now three. The 48 frames per second, or 48 fps, or high frame rate, or HFR, or however you want to go about defining it, the fact is this: it's neither eye-gougingly awful or a feast for the eyes, which then brings up my very first question: why all the controversy surrounding it? I will say, though, in the film's first minutes, there are noticeable speed ups, and interactions between actors have a weird soap opera effect. Action sequences either look fake or like something out of a video game. But once you get settled in with the new technology, and the bizarre quirks become less glaring, it might actually begin to grow on you in its bold clarity and ultra high definition look. (It did for me.) I recommend going all the way and trying your luck with 48 fps; it is, after all, how the filmmaker intended it to be seen by audiences, and it's never been done before.

The first chapter in this new trilogy, "An Unexpected Journey" starts at a slog. We begin with Old Bilbo recounting his journey, yet again, to Frodo (Elijah Wood), and for one fleeting moment you may think you're watching "Fellowship of the Ring" again. But no, this is only exposition to set up the tale, followed by more exposition to set up the plight of the dwarves lead by Dwarf Lord Thorin (Richard Armitage). And then further down the line, there's more exposition. Recall the multiple endings of "The Return of the King," but just think of "The Hobbit" as having multiple beginnings...and about just two endings. It's long, very long, but only in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations; that is, only what Jackson as a filmmaker knows to bring us. It gives this return to Middle-earth a welcoming, comforting and familial feeling.

And who can shy away a smile from the return of Ian McKellen's Gandalf the Grey? He embarks a now much younger Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, who fits the role like a glove) on this thirteen-dwarf adventure to help re-claim their lost kingdom of Erebor. The early portion of this journey feels much lighter, more frivolous than any portion of any "Lord of the Rings" film, which has a dampening effect. It makes this seemingly harrowing adventure too fun, not treacherous and dire. It isn't until Gandalf makes waves at the Elvan palace where the glimmering Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett reside that the importance of the quest really makes it's mark; in that this group's actions alone set in motion the whole One Ring to Rule Them All ruckus of the successors.

After this visit, the film is alight with glorious action set pieces full of trolls, orcs and goblins -- and it all pops and glistens behind your 3D glasses and at an upped frame rate. Also aiding the film to the finish line is the inspired interaction between Bilbo and fan-favorite Gollum, played once again by the remarkable physical actor Andy Serkis covered in motion-capture and CGI. While "The Hobbit" by no means holds the grandiose themes and heavy emotional power of Jackson's Oscar-loaded Middle-earth masterpiece, whoever said it had to? What's amazing enough is that with thirteen dwarves, you actually begin to feel for them, and you might even get a lump in your throat by the film's final minutes (three hours later).

This project had a whole lot going against it, and I think that's the reason critics have been so harsh in its reception. What became most unexpected for me was how good it really turned out to be and, my, how gratifying. It's a fine addition to a beloved franchise I don't mind donating another six hours to with two more likely three-hour-long installments down the road. Bring on "The Desolation of Smaug," I say.

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