The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a film I’ve been looking forward to all year. I am a huge fan of the book, and The Lord of the Rings books as well. The films, while I have some problems with, are good representations of the books overall and I had high hopes for this film, the first of three based on The Hobbit.
Therein lays my first problem. All three books in The Lord of the Rings trilogy are massive and can easily be a film each, if not more. The prequel is much smaller and I could not understand how three films could be made of it. However, having some of the appendix items included and extended lore of Middle Earth seemed to make sense and this was apparent in the film.
Content wise, I can’t complain at what I saw. The story was well paced and the different story lines didn’t interfere with the main story very much at all. If I hadn’t read the book, I’d almost be convinced that all of what I saw in the film was in the book.
I found this film to be much more in line with an action film, such as Indiana Jones, than an epic fantasy visualisation, which is what I always called The Lord of the Rings films. It was an amazingly long film and it was comforting to once again immerse myself in Middle Earth but the pace was so quick I couldn’t take a breath in any one scene. Some people will like that, and others won’t. I don’t dislike it but I was hoping for more of a feel like the last three films.
Radagast is a character I was looking forward to seeing on screen and I was not disappointed. Some of my colleagues at work were not overly impressed but for me, the tone was perfect and I had no problem in accepting him. As a writer, I find some characters can be very flat or hard to accept but not this time. The rabbits that pulled his sled looked awful but his mannerism and personality hit home for me.
I watched the film in High Frame Rate Imax. A lot has been made of this and I was excited to see what this would do to the film. Quite simply, it’s faster. It took about twenty minutes for my eyes to fully adjust and then I never noticed the difference. It is designed to be closer to the speed our eyes see things in reality and so after that initial adjustment; it didn’t look weird or stand out at all. Interestingly, I noticed some of the music was faster as well but others did not seem to notice so if you watch this version, keep an ear open and let me know what you think on that!
Some of CGI was amazing. Absolutely stunning. The first view of Rivendell is one of my favourite shots of the entire film, and being able to see Erebor is also magnificent. On the other hand, the high frame rate does show some of the problems with some CGI shots. In particular, one scene where the company has left Rivendell and the backdrop of mountains looks so fake that it’s almost childish. There are several instances of this throughout the film and I hope it improves for the latter films in the trilogy.
This brings me to my last point, and biggest gripe about the film. With most of the Orcs and creatures and surroundings being computer generated, the film loses the realness that The Lord of the Rings films had. Scenery and items to the side of the main action were unruffled by movements of trolls or the actions of the characters. Combat especially, was very fake. There was no friction or contact with any strikes or blocks, making it very easy and effortless. There’s little sustained combat and I just felt disillusioned by this, especially in comparison with the last films. I understand it’s hard to fake a sword cutting through something that isn’t there, but with the time, effort and money being put into Middle Earth, I expected more. Cartoon style violence and combat should be in cartoons, not in films like this.
However, this is a fantastic film and while I plan to watch it in 2D, standard frame rate, I have no regrets about seeing it in HFR Imax. I recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen this format to do so, just for the experience. It is a real eye opener and this is a great film to watch.