Tuesday, December 18, 2012

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012) – Film Review

When director Frank Darabont decided to film The Green Mile, a prison story based on a serial novel by Stephen King, he willingly invited the world to hold him to a high standard. Having already garnered acclaim for The Shawshank Redemption, itself based on a prison-themed novella by Stephen King, could Darabont live up to the high standard he had raised for himself?

Similarly, when George Lucas decided to create Star Wars prequels, expectations couldn’t have been higher. After all, the original trilogy was wildly successful and revered by fans worldwide. Would this new set of films live up to the quality of the original movies?

In a hybrid of the above two scenarios, Peter Jackson faced a daunting task: return to Tolkien-penned source material in an effort to create a prequel trilogy to his enormously lauded Lord of the Rings films.

Whereas Darabont largely succeeded at his task, and Lucas largely failed at his, Jackson has done the impossible. The Hobbit may have the lowest Tomatometer rating of any of Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations to date, but I submit that this movie both stands alone as an excellent piece of filmmaking and fits exceptionally well with the original trilogy. Peter Jackson has shown his quality—the very highest.

CONTENT (C): 9 out of 10
If anything is to be considered potentially objectionable, it would be the violence. If you’ve seen The Lord of the Rings, there’s probably nothing here that will surprise you. Compared to the book—which, while being a children’s tale, still has its fair share of violence—the movie may have increased the violence/grossness quotient. There was one brief instance of gore that I thought unnecessary, but it passed by quickly. It definitely stood out as a Peter Jackson fingerprint. (He loves his gore.)

ARTISTRY (A): 9.5 out of 10
The Hobbit was filmed at a high frame rate (HFR)—48 frames per second, to be exact, which is twice the amount of frames found in a traditional film. Evidently, the resulting effect is image clarity never before seen in film, a factor that has been both praised as an asset and criticized as a liability.

According to Fandango, and depending on where you live, the film can be seen in 2D, 3D, IMAX, IMAX 3D, HFR 3D, or HFR IMAX 3D. Having seen the film in traditional 2D, I cannot comment on the quality of the HFR look. All I can say is that the only visual glitch I noticed was a panning shot early in the film that remained slightly blurry throughout its duration.

The screenwriters are to be commended for how they adapted The Hobbit for the big screen. Much of the delicious dialogue is lifted directly from the source material. And while I cannot completely agree with every stylistic choice, I can appreciate the desire to effectively translate the book’s narrative into an appropriately cinematic form.

One such change involves Bilbo’s character arc. He develops faster in the film than in the book, but I think the audience needed to see some development before the first movie ended. This change also allowed for a touching and cathartic climax.

Practically everything about the film is top-notch. The cinematography, acting, and set design (to name a few) are exquisite. The musical score, including a wonderful new theme for the dwarves, is a particular highlight of the movie.

PREFERENCE (P): 10 out of 10
I fought hard to keep my expectations low, especially in light of the sizeable portion of negative reviews. To my delight, I was pleasantly surprised. Many critics think the film has a glacial pace, but I never once found the story to lag. The prologue didn’t captivate me as much as the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring did, but that’s a minor quibble.

I felt completely immersed in Jackson’s/Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. The familiarity of a handful of characters, musical themes, and locales did wonders in making this film a complementary companion piece to the original trilogy. Jackson found the perfect balance between adjusting some of the tone and content of The Hobbit, which is a children’s book, to fit with the tone and content of The Lord of the Rings. He even found a way to incorporate two of the songs from the book into the film without being cheesy. Both songs—one funny and the other serious—work splendidly.

I also loved the additional material, gleaned mostly from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings. Radagast the Brown is probably my least favorite insertion, but his actions are still nowhere near the insipid depths of tomfoolery that Jar Jar Binks sunk to in the Star Wars prequels. The narrative additions only further the thematic bond that exists between this movie and The Lord of the Rings.

The only element I thought to be completely inappropriate was the brief inclusion of one musical theme from The Lord of the Rings during The Hobbit’s climax. Composer Howard Shore must have had some reason for this choice, but I found it to be jarring and unnecessary.

Of all of Tolkien’s books dealing with the One Ring, I admit that I prefer The Hobbit over The Lord of the Rings. And if Peter Jackson keeps it up with the next two Hobbit films, I will end up liking this new trilogy just as much as—if not more than—the original series.

CAP score: 95%

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