This movie has a long history. It ended when Peter Jackson decided to take the directors seat by himself again. Originally Guillermo Del Toro was a name attached to that seat. And I’m fairly sure he would have done some great things. Ultimately I think the production problems drove him off and Jackson decided to do it. Del Toro nonetheless helped with the writing and I think, in some parts, you can clearly see that. This review is written from the ‘did not read the original book’, perspective. I usually have no problems when it comes to movies from books. I can understand that some book parts do not translate well on screen. So it’s natural and often necessary to compromise.
On a technical note this movie generated a lot of buzz because of a new 48 frames per second projection. Naturally a movie has 24 frames per second. That is basically all information our eye needs to enjoy a movie. 48 frames per second make movements look much more crisp instead of motion blurred. Which gives, especially fast cutted action scenes, a much clearer picture. The downside is that a lot of other parts of the film look very very amateur handycam like. But more about that later. How was the actual movie you might ask? Well. Let’s see.
It starts out in the Shire. Bilbo Baggins lives a good life and doesn’t want that to change. One day a weird old man appears and recruits Bilbo for an adventure. That old man is Gandalf The Grey. Together with the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield, Gandalf wants to take back their city. They lost it due an attack by the dragon ‘Smaug’. Who is still holding the city captured, which happened a long time ago. The dwarven civilization basically lost its home. Thorin wants to reclaim the city as well as the gold and riches burried under the mountain! Not without help. Beside Gandalf there are eleven other dwarven friends who want to go with them. Loyal to the core and willing to fight everything that is crossing their path. And then there is Bilbo. He is not exactly happy when the company of dwarfs marches into his home. Gandalf has a plan though. He wants to have Bilbo with them. As if he knows that Bilbo will play a part on that journey that no one else would be able to play.
After some hesitation Bilbo decides to go with them. That’s something I can relate to. I’m a little like Bilbo when it comes to these things. I’m not the adventure guy too… but I know that it’ll be fun when you look back and you will also have some stories to share when it’s over. I guess that’s what Bilbo drove when he decided to join the adventure. From that point on it’s Bilbo who kind of works as the point of view for the audience.
From then on we follow the group to their first adventures. The dwarfs have their doubts about the role Bilbo could possibly play. He got no experience with anything… except being a hobbit and liking good food. Bilbo, however, will get his chances to prove himself to the group. Eventually he’ll gain their respect and becomes a valuable asset.
Instead of preaching down the whole film, which would be like writing a short story, I want to go to a few things I really liked and don’t liked, about the film. It could involve spoilers!
What I liked are the little homages to the characters of the first trilogy. Not necessarily the scenes that involved Frodo and old Bilbo. It was more the use of specific images we know from ‘The Fellowship’ movie. The behaviour of Bilbo in the beginning, when he tried to get rid of Gandalf. Martin Freeman almost to the splitsecond re-enacts the reaction of Bilbo in ‘Fellowship’, when unwanted visitors knocked on his door. There were a couple of scenes like that. Again in Bilbo’s home, when Gandalf hits the light with his head, for example. That’s a little fanservice to the true fans of the first trilogy.
Then there is that one scene in the mountains. Again there were a couple of scenes/camera angles that reminded me of the ‘Fellowship’ movie. For some reason we have some giant mountain/rock people having a fight. Our band of heroes is trying to move along a cliff when they see that they are part of a giant moving rock. For some reason this rock is having an argument with another giant rock and you have this amazing fight sequence going on. Our heroes, of course, try to get out of there alive. All that while these giant things fight each other, causing immense tremors and falling pieces of rocks. This scene was a lot of fun to watch. I would love to know why these giants were fighting. I guess we’ll never know.
Another thing I enjoyed was Radagast. He belongs to Gandalf’s people and has quite a knowledge when it comes to magic and especially nature. Even if his whole short plotline feels a litte ‘thrown in’… I enjoyed it. It gave a different perspective on things.
One of the highlights, again, was Gollum. From a technical point of view, with all the technical progress since the first trilogy, he now looks even better. The integration into the live action footage looked pretty much seamless and his interaction with Bilbo flawless. Andy Serkis (who plays Gollum as reference in the live action footage) brings out the best again. The animation of Gollum’s face, when he’s arguing with himself, is just great to watch. He makes Martin Freeman look pale in these scenes. And don’t get me wrong, I think Martin Freeman does a great job playing Bilbo.
The movie to me felt very much like a rollercoaster ride. You have these action sequences that work pretty much great all together. Then you have some quiet scenes that, I feel, could have been reduced a little bit. One scene for example is when the dwarfs begin to sing their song in Bilbo’s house. While I understand that it’s trying to set a mood and tone for that group of people, I also think that this wouldn’t have been necessary. You can see that this company of dwarfs is a tight pack of wolves when they’re having their meal. No need for that song in my eyes.
Back to that scene between Gollum and Bilbo. I heard that it’s accurate to the book and that can’t be a wrong thing, right? Well, it felt a little long for my taste. To see Gollum in action was great but somehow I felt that whole segment was a little stretched out. Sometimes it’s better to cut down certain things.
At the same time, when Gollum and Bilbo have their standoff, we follow Gandalf and the other guys on their escape from Goblin city. This whole escape sequence also felt a little too long. Don’t get me wrong, that chase/escape scene was entertaining and they had some cool ideas with it. Maybe it was because of the 48 frames per second. I literally felt exhausted when this scene was over. I think all the speed and extra detail (that otherwise would get lost in the motion blur of the usual 24 frames per second) was a little too much.
Let’s talk about that 48 frames per second issue. I have a mixed opinion about it. On one hand the extra visible detail, in some scenes, really worked nice. Other moments did not look so well. The biggest problem is that it immediately makes you see that the environment is fake. Everything feels unnatural. You immediately know where a matte painting or cg was used. Due to that we lose a lot of magic that the original movies had. Which brings me to the conclusion that the 48fps would be great for animated movies – since it makes the 3d effect work more crisp. Movies that mix live action and cg… no, I don’t think that works well.
It’s a little funny. The 48 frames per second make the movie having almost a video game aesthetic. On the same note the 48 frames reduce the motion blur to make the picture sharper. While video games nowadays implement an extra motion blur effect, to make the game more feel like a movie and therefor more cinematic. Do movies now want to look like video games while video games want to look like movies for the longest time? Strange development. Which brings me to the visual effects.
And for the visual effects there is not much to say. The 48 frames per second spoiled the experience a bit. The whole film looks very fake. Even scenes with real backgrounds looked fake. Which is a shame. If the movie would have been projected on a usual 2d/24 frames setup… I think it would look just beautiful. A lot of beautiful matte painting work as well as superbly detailed 3d characters.
While they did cut out elements from the first three movies, that made fans go wild, it makes the impression that they’re almost desperate to get everything they possibly can, into the new movies. Understandable when you think about the fact that the first trilogie had three massive books on their backs. The new trilogy has only one book to go from.
But enough disection for now. Would I recommend the film? Yes I would. It’s one of the better productions these days. Even if it doesn’t have as much heart as any of the first trilogy’s movies, it still works. It also manages to bring over the charme of Middle-Earth very well. I would also suggest to skip the 48 frames per second as well as the 3d. If you can catch a normal 2d screening, it’s probably the best way to enjoy this film.
A solid 7.7 from me. (Rating for the 48fps/3d version)