My wife and I dropped off our son at his grandparents' house this morning and went to an early showing of The Hobbit. We saw it in 48fps (no choice, a buddy in Japan told me it's only available in standard 24fps there) 2D. We considered IMAX, but it was IMAX 3D and we are not (as you'd probably guess if you read most of my movie reviews) not fans of 3D, especially for a three hour movie.
Standard Warning: Due to the title of this blog, I get lots of web search hits from people wanting to know if there are "curse words" in movies I've reviewed. Rest assured, parental unit types, this is from Tolkien so there are no curse words in the movie. That said, this is also from Peter Jackson so there are plenty of lopped off body parts (the reason our 4-year-old stayed behind).
Now on to the review. I doubt this will be spoiler free, because I assume most of my readership has read the book. But we'll see. If I get to the end and didn't spoil anything, I'll delete these sentences.
Did you like Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies? I sure did. Yes, they don't follow the books as closely as they could even considering the liberties that need to be taken to transfer a book to film. If you liked LotR, you'll get more of the same from The Hobbit (at least from this first part).
Technical stuff first. The 48fps took a bit of adjusting to. At first, there were lots of fast camera sweeps and the high frame rate made them very blurry, but my eyes seemed to adjust after a little while. The images were - how to best describe it? - crisper than a normal 24fps movie. I wonder if this will indeed become the new standard or not. It might require higher CGI budgets for romantic comedies to hide all the little blemishes on the actors and actresses!
The cinematography was gorgeous. Again, very similar to LotR. A few locations "in the wild" even seemed like some of the locations from LotR (of course The Shire, Rivendell, and the road between did cover the same path). The amazing New Zealand landscapes alone make it worth the price of admission IMO. The fact that we're getting Professor Tolkien's works put up on the big screen in a loving manner is just icing on the cake (OK, hyperbole there, the landscapes are the icing on the Tolkien cake).
Some people have complained that there are too many dwarves and that they aren't all distinguishable. Well, I say read the book. Ask me to tell you about the dwarves in The Hobbit (the book) and I can tell you off the top of my head on any given day:
Thorin is the pompous ass
Balin is the resourceful and sensible one
Filli and Killi are the young brash ones who seem to do all the work
Bombur is the fat one
Gloin is... um, Gimli's dad
The rest are there...
Now, as for the fact that many of the dwarves don't look like typical dwarves, this is a good thing! These dwarves seemed more real by not all having long ZZ Top style beards. Just like the actors playing hobbits were more or less as varied as typical humans (counting all the extras in Hobbiton in LotR), we see that dwarves are "people" even if they aren't human.
Now, on to the story. It's good. It more or less sticks to the book, and I can see why certain changes were made for the screen. The pacing was good for an action movie, but this is one of the movie's failings, I think. The Hobbit is not an action story, it's an adventure story. PJ added in lots of extra fighting to make it "more exciting" but that's not the sort of story Tokien told. The Hobbit (the book) really shows JRRT's fondness for Haggard's Alan Quatermain stories. The basic pacing is travel-explore-action. By splitting the story into three parts, they felt the need to ramp up the action. Likely they would have ramped up the action anyway, but if they'd kept it to one or two movies, they could have condensed to just the action scenes if that's the way they wanted it played out. Oh well, the movie's not perfect, but it was still pretty good.
One good thing about stretching the movie out was that they were able to include some unnecessary but cool scenes, like for instance the Stone Giants. Of course, PJ kinda overdid it, but it was fun to watch. Reminiscent of the Moria staircase.
Another thing they could have done away with was the frame story, with old Bilbo telling Frodo about how Smaug came to Erebor, which is of course shown with Bilbo's narration over it. Cool, and they kept Smaug mostly off camera - gotta build up excitement for the next installment! - but since we learn all of that stuff in the story as Bilbo learns it, it was kinda unnecessary.
Some of the other additions, like making Azog the Orc actively hunting down Thorin and Co. and the scenes involving Radagast the Brown and his jack rabbit sled adds more of a sense of continuity for those unfamiliar with the book, I suppose. It also allows for more fight scenes. I'm sure that when we get to The Battle of Five Armies and the White Council's battle with the Necromancer, these now apparently extraneous set-ups will pay off.
Despite the flaws, the movie was exciting, beautiful, funny, and moving. And it's not even a complete story! While it ended at a fairly good place to end action-wise, with the party just past the Misty Mountains on the borders of Wilderland, as far as the emotional development/character arcs go, it was sort of a lukewarm ending.
I really enjoyed this first chapter of The Hobbit. And as I said above, if you enjoyed PJ's take on Middle-Earth in the Lord of the Rings movies, you should enjoy this. If you didn't like PJ's LotR, you likely won't enjoy this one either. As for me, Dec. 2013 and "The Desolation of Smaug" can't come soon enough!