Movie Review: The Hobbit
By Matthew Huntley
December 20, 2012
Many people consider Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy to be a classic film series, and indeed it is, but to me its “classic”-ness stems from its enormous scope and once-groundbreaking technical achievements rather than its storytelling. On the latter level, it always felt just average to me - and yes, I know I’m in the minority on this - because dramatically and emotionally, it left me a little cold and distant. There was never a character I felt I could get behind, root for or sympathize with to the point where I deeply cared about what happened in the grand scheme of the LOTR saga. Everyone in it seemed too spread out and, as a result, the substance was spread too thin.
Now, over a decade later, comes The Hobbit, based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved children’s story that started it all, but with this film, which was once again directed by Jackson, there’s more of a reason to be excited about and invested in it. It has the all the makings of a delightful, adventure-filled children’s tale, which it duly lives up to, with a strong central character at its core. But like its brethren before it, it’s not exactly up to the “masterpiece” label. To me, there’s just something standard about all these films that hold them back from pure greatness.
Still, you can’t deny these films their virtues. As I mentioned, LOTR was a crowning technical achievement for its time, especially in regards to its sets, makeup, costumes and special effects, and The Hobbit, which takes place in the same universe, takes those elements and technology even further. This is a magnificent film too look at. It’s bright, colorful and incredibly sharp and convincing, even in the close-ups.
I’m still not sold on Jackson’s decision to shoot it at 48 frames per second (the standard is 24) as a means of giving it more detail; the effect actually makes the action appear sped up and the camera motion jerky, although I’m willing to accept this could be my eyes and brain not being used to it. Ultimately, however, the film is technically superior, especially in its long and aerial shots underneath and above Middle Earth’s mountains.
On a narrative level, the film is jolly and exciting, light and dark, and all-around fun. I know many people will extend their praise well beyond that, but I wonder if their opinions are simply a reflection of the giddiness they feel upon coming returning to this world and the memories of the former series, not to mention the book they probably enjoyed as kids. Regardless, I happen to have recently read Tolkien’s book and can veritably say that Jackson’s film captures its innocent spirit and humor. He fortunately keeps it within the realm of children’s fantasy and resists the urge of making it too dark, violent or gloomy just to cater to the older and more mature LOTR audience. Not that he couldn’t have done this and still made it worth our while, but I believe Jackson’s intentions were to be faithful to Tolkien’s prose, and that approach works because we seem inherently more willing to accept children’s fantasy over adult, perhaps because the concept of fantasy is inextricably linked to - and the product of - our inner child.