The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has come under vicious attack from critics. Almost every aspect of the film has been condemned, from the run-time, to the makeup, to the 48 frames per second. The latter in particular has had everyone running around in hysterics, claiming in fits of rage that the picture resembles that of live sports on a high definition television. It’s true that the viewing experience is a lot different to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The previous films are almost velvety in texture, faces are warm and smooth, and the background blurs and is un-intrusive. The Hobbit on the other hand, possesses a sharpness and a realism that is disconcerting. Every detail is noticeable, every twig of a tree, every spark of a fire, every line of a face, every bad bit of CGI in the distance. This overload of detail has upset some people to such an extent that they claim the film is unwatchable. I personally feel that bad reactions to the quality of the picture are a result of the shock of the new.
Initially, even I found the high frame rate irritating. The opening scenes where Ian Holm sits down at his desk as an old Bilbo Baggins looked like they were cut straight from a television drama. Close ups of his hand dabbing ink on a quill were so real, that rather than set the scene, they prevented any immersion in it. However, there came a point (around when the dwarves are feasting and singing) where I reached a crossroads. I could either carry on being offended by the film, or just get over it and enjoy it. I chose the second, and left the cinema considering The Hobbit one of the best fantasy epics in a long while.
Brilliantly acted by a stellar cast, I was especially impressed with Martin Freeman as Bilbo, who achieves an innocence that is never twee. Stuck between cowardice and bravery, he is the perfect antihero and jumps into danger not really knowing what he’s doing, or why. Richard Armitage is fantastic as Thorin, the displaced dwarf King with little direction but a lot of pride. His bitterness is never two dimensional as it so easily could have been. There are in fact well rounded performances from all of the dwarves, most especially Ken Stott as Balin and Peter Hambleton as Gloin. Aidan Turner and Dean O’ Gorman are also good as the brothers Kili and Fili, the youngest of the band, whom I couldn’t help but compare to Pippin and Merry. Strong and careful characterisation is what makes all of the scenes an enjoyable experience, and deserves a mention in amongst all of the fuss over frame rate.
Bilbo’s scene with Gollum ends up being one of the funniest pieces of dialogue. This is helped by the fact that Gollum is better characterised and is more impressive visually, especially in close ups. Every now and again some movement will come across as jarring, and admittedly this is down to the HFR. A similar moment occurs when Radagast is riding off on his bunny sled; his fast moving image looks like a poor computer game graphic. Aside from these minor flaws, I actually ended up appreciating the film quality in battle scenes. The Goblin Town fight is brilliantly directed and shot, and there are moments where it feels as though you’re sat on a ledge watching the action unfold. Where I thought it paid off the most, though, was in any scene at night where fire is used. The red sparks and flames are brought out beautifully against the indigoes and blacks. The scene towards the end of the film, where Azog the Defiler hunts down Thorin, was for me, visually, one of the highlights of 2012.
With some inspired moments of magic and well-designed magical creatures, including the epic storm giants, the comedic trolls, and the grotesque Great Goblin, The Hobbit is full to the brim with entertaining content. I have no issue with the book being split into three parts if it means attention to detail like we’ve seen in The Unexpected Journey. It seems as though if it’s not complaining that Peter Jackson has left things out, it’s complaining that he’s put things in, or that he’s stretched things out for too long. Okay, so this film is not for everybody. You may not be able to get over the look of it, or you may just find 13 dwarves a few too many for a three hour film. But there’s no denying that a great amount of love and effort has gone into this adaptation, and I am eagerly anticipating the next instalment.
FINAL VERDICT: ★★★★