The Hobbit

Yesterday, we went to see 'The Hobbit' in glorious HFR 3D .... and left feeling somewhat disappointed (spoilers below). The 3D itself didn't give me eyestrain in the way that 3D usually does, so that's the high frame rate's benefit right there. That said, I'm still not sold on the virtues of 3D, it can look like a series of cutouts overlaid on each other. A few times I closed one eye to remove the 3D effect, and the picture looked a lot more 'integrated' (though some of the effects noted below did not vanish).

The film itself is well put together, and I enjoyed the opening a lot, it was lovely to see Bilbo, Frodo and The Shire. Gandalf's opening scene was really nice, as one might expect.

Plotwise, I was somewhat concerned when the dwarfs broke into song - in The Lord of the Rings they cut out all the songs (and still had to jettison some plotpoints, such as the scouring of the shire) - with the Hobbit I thought 'Three films? They're keeping it ALL!, Oh no....'

This didn't feel like the same universe as Lord of the Rings - I know that is true to an extent with the books having different characters, but with the production team knowing before they started that these were all connected, a luxury Tolkien didn't have, I hoped this wouldn't be an issue - but it was. It felt foreign to the films already in existence, it had the same sets, many similar actors, but yet, it felt different, and not in a good way.

The look and feel of the film is best described as 'patchy'. It felt like a 'made for TV' movie, albeit with a big budget. There were scenes of spectacular scenery, intermingled with quite poor CGI (by modern standards) of the type an XBox might generate.The poor CGI would have stood up to scrutiny a few years back, but by today's standards the characters often felt animated rather than real (trolls, white orc etc).

Then there were shots which looked like they were filmed on a soundstage with very sharp, directional lighting. I know that many shots were on a soundstage, but the point is that it should not feel like that. This left me with an impression of a BBC play of the 60s or 70s - examples include when the company was leaving Rivendell and were clambering along mountain pathways, or going into the mountain cave. The mix of visual tones tended to throw me out of the film.

The film suffered somewhat from sticking too closely to the raw material, and so things could feel like non-sequiturs at times, for instance, the battle of the mountain trolls came from nowhere - in the book it works reasonably well, a gap can be bridged more smoothly, a few seconds of real time can take much longer to read - but in film the reverse is true, and it jarred.

Later on, the whole escape from the misty mountains sequence felt massively over-done to me, it was a case of 'more is less' (as I felt for some of the 'Return of the King') - and a part of me looked at those ricketty bridges and thought 'totally unstable, not practical even for Orcs'). It was too much to be believable. The falls were massively overdone (huge falls kill the bad guys, but not the good guys). I know it's fantasy, but if you're going to have falls like that (as you must), soften the impact somehow!

I'm also sorry to say that James Nesbitt keeped giving me jolts back to reality, I thought he was going to suggest looking up a taxi cab in the yellow pages - his voice is too distinctive in my head for him to be a dwarf.

What worked well? Even in spite of the problems (which were mostly technical, but spread through the film), I did enjoy the film. Martin Freeman as Bilbo was well cast and utterly believable. The sequence with the riddles (he said euphemistically for anyone not familiar with the story) was absolutely superb. If I was to watch this film again, I'd go for the straight 2D version - though I don't think the issues with 'obvious studio work' relate to HFR, I don't think the 3D helped.

Honestly, though - having seen the film, I think I should have waited for it to be on TV (although that would have felt like I was missing out).