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.