Some magic is missing from ‘The Hobbit’
Updated: January 18, 2013 7:30AM
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
Half an hour into Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” I began to have a most unexpected reaction.
After looking forward to this film for more than two years, I felt my eager anticipation shifting to deflated disbelief. Could it be that “The Hobbit” was a flop?
No, not quite. After a long, slow, at times actually tedious build-up (relieved from time to time by “Lord of the Rings”-quality interludes, typically involving trolls, goblins and orcs), this first installment in Jackson’s three-film, nine-hour adaptation does come fully to life — in time for a flashy finish. Flashy enough to instill some hope for “The Desolation of Smaug” and “There and Back Again.”
Nevertheless, installment No. 1 has a couple of major problems.
Jackson has made widely publicized use of a super-high-definition filming technique that captures images at 48 frames per second rather than the standard 24. As a result, the very first moment of the film comes as something of a shock — cold, stark and hyper-real, looking surprisingly like a shot-on-video TV production, of soap-opera quality. That doesn’t mean that “The Hobbit” is poorly filmed. It means the hyper-realism of the high frame rate throws everything into sharp relief and essentially undermines the fantasy element that’s essential to these films.
The “High Frame Rate 3D” process is apparently on display in only a few theaters. Most theaters will run a 24-frame version and word has it that it is more warm, textured and inviting.
Another problem is Jackson’s apparent decision to put every bit of Tolkien’s narrative on screen in extreme detail. Whether an effort to be scrupulously faithful or a ploy to turn the 287-page “Hobbit” into a cash cow is hard to say. The immediate effect turns the first film into an excruciatingly slow starter, padded with walking, talking and exposition. Followed by more walking, talking and exposition.
That said, there’s a reasonable amount to like in this first outing featuring Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson in “Sherlock”) in a likeable turn as young Bilbo Baggins, though his main purpose thus far is to provide comic relief. Bilbo is convinced by the great wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to join a group of dwarfs intent on reclaiming their ancestral home from the truly nasty dragon Smaug the Terrible.
There are other welcome returnees from the “Rings” trilogy. Most welcome is Andy Serkis, who appears again as Gollum and first makes the acquaintance of Bilbo in a captivating and suspenseful scene that belatedly jump-starts “The Hobbit.” And sets the stage for the books that follow.
Only time will tell if this new trilogy will introduce characters anywhere nearly that fabulous.