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Yesterday was the first day of The Vacation. Today, I hit the pause button. Tomorrow, I guess The Vacation will resume.

There's so much I've meant to put down here that I haven't. Such frenetic, fretful days. I've disliked them.

Spooky and I began reading Cloud Atlas last week, and it's wonderful. The film certainly did it service. The last time a film of such importance was treated with such baffling, shameful contempt was The Road (2009).

Anyway. Yesterday, Spooky and I saw Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Below are my thoughts on this thoroughly delightful and profoundly flawed film, behind a cut, for those who've not seen it.

The Good: Going into the film, people need to recall that, unlike The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit actually is a children's story. Therefore, in order to be faithful to the book, a film adaptation must, obviously, have a tone much more in keeping with a children's story. Which, as it happens, The Hobbit does. The screenplay is, for the most part, very good. Not surprising, as it was penned by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro. Casting Martin Freeman as the younger Bilbo was a stroke of genius. He's absolutely, spot-on perfect. As for the thirteen dwarves, again, brilliant. I was especially pleased with Richard Armitage as Thorin, and that, despite the requisite slapstick, Jackson allowed dwarves to do something other than serve as comic relief. Not surprisingly, Freeman and Andy Serkis steal the show with their riddle game in Moria. Perfect. And the Tolkien fanatic in me rejoiced at seeing Galadriel again, and Elrond, and Saruman, and how the hell does LJ know how to spell those three names, but not...never mind. The film is, despite what I will say below, beautiful, and one feels, immediately, plunged back into the Middle Earth of Jackson's The Lord of the Rings. I was delighted by the Radagast scenes, no matter that they are an invention for this film. Still delighted. Howard Shore's soundtrack? Exactly as it should be. The sequence from the War of Dwarves and Orcs, that was very, very excellent.

The Bad (sadly, this section is longer): I'm going to write much of this section by quoting film reviewers with whom I agree, and who are more articulate on the subject than am I. All in all, despite it's undeniable beauty, The Hobbit: An Expected Journey was, for me, often difficult to watch – physically difficult – and we were lucky enough to get a good 2D screen. To quote Peter Travers of The Rolling Stone:

First, you need to get past the look of it. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is making a bizarre kind of history by going out in limited release at 48 frames per second (double the usual standard). Couple that with 3D and the movie looks so hyper-real that you see everything that's fake about it, from painted sets to prosthetic noses. The unpleasant effect is similar to watching a movie on a new HD home-theater monitor, shadows obliterated by blinding light like – yikes! – reality TV.

Travers is a good critic, and that encapsulates the problem so succinctly I may not have to quote many more. Richard Lawson of The Atlantic Wire writes, " too many shots that I'm sure were lovely at some point but are now ruined and chintzified by the terrible technology monster." And Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian writes, "...the traditional filmic look of Lord of the Rings was better." To all of this, yes, yes, yes, ten thousand times yes. There is no denying that the film has a visual majesty, but its drenched in the palette and stuttering pace of Radagast's mushroom-fueled hallucinations. I will add, only a fool would watch this film and say that it hasn't been harmed by the demands of 3D. To do so would require one to have absolutely no comprehension of cinematography (or even still photography).

Summation: Once, Jackson did the impossible, turning Tolkien's epic into twelve hours that feel like three (and I've seen the entire three-part film at least twenty-five or thirty times, at this point). With The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, he takes two or three steps backwards, and the fault has nothing to do with tone, direction, pacing, script, cast, or the decision to turn a book the length of two chapters of The Lord of the Rings into three films as long as his adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. I'm also fine with the points where Jackson diverges from Tolkien's novel. But, for me, there is no getting past the fact – and it is a fact – that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is, visually, a garish mess. Why 48-fps? To attempt to make the 3D look smoother. Why 3D? Because it rakes in the money, it's the new toy, the It Girl, the Future. Yeah, I know. Believe me, I know. In Hollywood, the dollar is the bottom line. Yet, in spite of this, in 2001, 2002, and 2003, Jackson proved he could show us the grandeur and the beauty and the terror of Middle Earth. He could work a miracle. Here, this time, I don't know. The film leaves me deeply conflicted. Sure, I'll see the next two films. And yeah, I'll own this on Blue-Ray. As I said, it is a thoroughly delightful and profoundly flawed film, and I'll see it in theaters again, most likely, even though I do have to occasionally look away from the screen to wait for my eyes and brain to stop screaming.

It seemed, for a decade or so, that the future of the fantasy and science fiction film was unbelievably bright. Now, though, it has been eclipsed by ugly gimmickry. Watching Radagast and his rabbit-sleigh, I said to Kathryn, "It's time for someone to do Watership Down." But, then, I thought, The fuckers would find some excuse to make it in 3D. Which is a fairly nauseating thing to have to think.

Later Kittens,
Aunt Beast


( 9 comments — Have your say! )
Dec. 19th, 2012 05:54 pm (UTC)
I'll probably get this on DVD, honestly. It's not something I'd pay to see in a theater...
Dec. 19th, 2012 07:08 pm (UTC)
I deliberately saw the film in 2D and I still cannot fathom why Jackson felt the need to use 3D for such a beautiful film. In 2D, the visuals often took my breath away. I would have felt completely cheated if I had seen it in 3D.

As a 2D film, I had ZERO complaints. Radagast was fantastic, much more so than I expected (although I do love Sylvester McCoy).
Dec. 19th, 2012 07:47 pm (UTC)
My wife and I do not do 3-D. I can't imagine how it would have looked. For us, the 2-D version was more than adequate and was an enchanting tale. The only down-side for me was some of the chase and battle scenes were to close-up/fast to follow with the eye. Much as I hated to hear how they were going to draw it out into 3 separate films, once I learned that they went back into Tolkien's Appendices to put the whole story together in its entirety, I was more anxious to see how it was going to play out.

Agreed - I wouldn't recommend it in 3-D, but I do highly recommend seeing it.
Dec. 19th, 2012 07:51 pm (UTC)
Anyway. Yesterday, Spooky and I saw Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Thanks for the thoughts. Despite the presentation aspects, it sounds like the story adaptation is mostly successful. I re-read the book earlier this year, delighting in the experience much as I did when I first read it as an 11 year old. So I am rapt to hear the iconic moments you mentioned have been preserved.

My only hope is that I will be able to see it in cinemas.
Dec. 19th, 2012 08:10 pm (UTC)
and Guillermo del Toro.

not a name I would normally associate with a childrens story...unless they were very very different children to begin with..
Dec. 19th, 2012 09:54 pm (UTC)
I didn't know about the FPS issues, which sort of explains why my eyes were twisting in circles during a few of the scenes. There was a moment during the escape from the Goblins where I think my eyes swapped sides in my head from all of the twisting camera work. I concluded that the effect might have been intended to be executed in 3D, but damned if it didn't throw things completely crazy in my brain for a while.
Dec. 19th, 2012 10:30 pm (UTC)
Your comments on the use of 3D make me want to go and see it in 2D now. We saw it in IMAX 3D and I noticed that 'unrealness' particularly with the shots of Rivendell at a distance, which was disappointing because that had been one of my favourite places from the Lord of the Rings films. I don't know whether the version we watched was 48fps, but I did have some visual discomfort and it took a while for my vision to settle down enough for me to become immersed.

I agree with you regarding Martin Freeman - I don't think they could have picked a better person for the role of Bilbo. He was wonderful.
Dec. 20th, 2012 12:06 am (UTC)

Haven't seen the movie yet, so I skipped your description. I'll check back afterwards.

On another front, I enjoyed the latest installment of Alabaster in today's 'Dark Horse Presents'. Nice ramping up of the tension.
Dec. 20th, 2012 07:18 am (UTC)
As I said, it is a thoroughly delightful and profoundly flawed film, and I'll see it in theaters again, most likely, even though I do have to occasionally look away from the screen to wait for my eyes and brain to stop screaming.

It is a film I am interested in seeing in theaters only if I can find it in 2D and 24 fps. The best I've heard about the new format is that it makes the film feel theatrical in the sense of a stage production, and that sounds like salvaging a curate's egg, not celebrating an intended effect.
( 9 comments — Have your say! )