Monday, December 17, 2012

THE HOBBIT - an expected journey

Bored? Peter Jackson to the rescue—usually. No one disputes the fantastic job he did with Lord Of The Rings. He ushered in a whole new way to appreciate fantasy with adult sensibilities and stunning special effects. His two subsequent efforts were first good then terrible. The King Kong remake was enjoyable but the dreaded Lovely Bones adaptation was just plain awful. His earlier works like Dead Alive, Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners were all marvelous in their own right. We could, perhaps, throw in Bad Taste and Meet The Feebles for good measure. 

In comes The Hobbit with it's troubled path to production. You will hear things about high frame rates, an unnecessary trilogy and how Guillermo del Toro was on board, then left and so on and so forth. You may have even asked yourself why he didn't immediately choose to direct this years ago, when offered, as I did, because I thought—who else could direct The Hobbit? But, I now see that it may have been a good choice to stay away. No matter how good The Hobbit could be it would never eclipse the greatness of LOR and so you have thrown yourself into a situation that will be underwhelming. He went ahead anyway and what we get should be expected—more or less.  

A quick aside regarding 48fps. Is it another gimmick? No. A slice of film history is needed with a dash of tech. The first moving pictures appeared in the 1880's and 90's with special cumbersome devices that captured light and overlaid onto film in rapid linear sequences. The history is of course riddled with details and goes much further back than the late 19th century but in the interest of brevity I will keep the description terse. Edison, the Lumiére Brothers and Méliés et al. all tinkered around with this new medium and eventually projected it for audiences to their horror and delight. Many of the first mobile cameras were operated by hand cranks which in turn enabled different frame rates for the light to pass through the film and emulsify. Many times 15fps was chosen and that is why many silent films look sped up to your eye because less discrete pictures/frames pass during each second. Moving pictures is the great illusion of motion and hence the magic of the movies

In the early 20's, groups of filmmakers decided that 24fps was the most realistic speed, and still retained a certain ethereal quality. Despite a number of experimental attempts, the 24fps statute has remained virtually unchanged. No one can say it is right or wrong. So in the age of digital, it may be time to try out new frame rates for mass audiences. You will be seeing twice as many pictures per second and hopefully a fuller and richer second by second image. Is it any good though? I leave that to you—it seems hyperreal and strange at first but so did high def, which, now I want not to live without. 4k is on the way with OLED displays which will also change your perception with cumulative saccadic lethargy—but well worth it, I assure you. Get ready for the best visual experience of all time in the next decade. 

Enough digression. How was The Hobbit? Mediocre as a stand alone film. Maybe as the first part of a nine hour film this movie becomes acceptable. That statement needs a brief clarification. If I were to sit down and watch a nine hour movie—straight through—then I think I would except this section as is, however tedious and needed, to build up the future drama and action. Next—the makeup and costume design is poorly done and just downright irritating. Of all the races in Middle Earth, the dwarves are the most annoying and make a poor choice to accompany a silly hobbit and an antiquated wizard for three hours. Obviously there is no choice here but to follow the storyline in the book. But Jackson created characters that were excessive, bad humored and histrionic with little character development. Namely, you simply don't care if anyone lives or dies. Even Bilbo is given little screen time to win your fancy until the very end. 

I believe that the overall superficial look and vibe of a character, for better or worse, influences your apt  reaction to immediate likability. Consider comparing Aragorn to the likes of Thorin. Yes, this concept may seem blatantly racist but I think I can explain otherwise. Certainly humans feel a palpable connection to other humans even if you happen to be unrelated and have no reason to care about them. Thus you can feel vicarious pain for those in need or those worse off than yourself. When creatures are anthropomorphized in movies (made humanlike) ie the Ents (living trees) from The Two Towers or like Wall·e the robot, you subconsciously identify with them because they have arms and legs and eyes like you as well as, presumably, emotions and a brain to feel with. To deviate too far from this yields unwelcome results. Try to relate to a volcanic rock that has no features. Simply, you do not empathize and therefore feel nothing. Also, if a creature or costumed character deviates too far from this model or designed just plain ugly like dwarves and orcs, you tend to care little. Its in our nature to love beauty and aesthetically pleasing things—generally this helped us to survive once upon a time and still does to some extent. Why do you think babies are so cute? Do you like bunnies or bats? I say all this to point out that it's hard to care and connect with hideous and abstruse beings, however negative that sounds. In summation—the dwarves persist in being a cognitively strenuous group of vagabonds that yield a modicum of affection, but a gifted director could have changed this perception. Consider the The Huntsman earlier this year, that was not a good movie but the dwarves are likable and probably the best part of the film. I could and probably should elaborate these ideas further but for now I will choose to move on. 

As expected, much of the special effects were astounding, however, certain sequences were poorly done—especially the dragon fire near the beginning. The great lizard looking creature (Azog) was a formidable bad guy and appeared well designed as well as Golem and the Great Goblin. Still, The Hobbit seemed to be directed by some protege of Jackson's trying to capitalize on the success of the LOR trilogy with certain scenes guest directed by the master himself. The movie crawled along with many scenes taking far too long to move on. You know when your whispering to yourself that you wish this part would just end already, that something is amiss. 

This is no Lord Of The Rings and barely worthy of critical homologous treatment but as I have argued, the story and characters simply aren't as good as those in LOR and despite the inevitable comparisons, will not live up to hopeful expectations. That said, I still believe Jackson has it in him to do a much better job—this movie may be a slow moving stepping stone toward the grandeur that, perhaps, is yet to come. 

Recommended Viewing: LOR Trilogy extended - Wizards - Logan's Run

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 6.3   -   The Fan: 7.4
             MetaCritic: 58
 Rotten Tomatoes: 65
                    IMDB: 8.6

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