The Hobbit Countdown runs every other week and geeks out on all things related to Peter Jackson's upcoming trilogy based on The Hobbit.
NOTE: Larry D. Curtis spent five weeks on the set during film of The Hobbit and freely acknowledges his opinion of this film is compromised.
At the first public showing of a moving picture depicting a train coming toward the viewers, people scattered in alarm trying to get out of the way... or so the story goes. Some may do the same with director Peter Jackson’s new film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, if they see it in the 48 frames-per-second format.
Of the approximately 24,000 theaters that will display The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, around 1,000 will have the technology to display it as it was shot, in a high frame rate and in 3D. But for those 1,000, hang on to your arm rests, because cinema has taken a leap forward. Jackson has pushed boundaries with 48 fps versus the normal 24, and makes the fantastic look so real that for many it will look unreal.
For those viewers who are Bagginses and want their movies the way they are used to, feel free to stay in your hobbit holes. This is really different. The comparison isn't mine originally, but I like best the thought that somebody has taken the window out and now you're not looking through the filter of film, but looking at the real world. This is like nothing you have ever seen, and it will jar not just your eyes but your brain. It's a risky movie that should pay off in the end. For me, it demands repeat viewings for the story and for the technology, but I agree with Jackson and James Cameron: This is the future. That said, being first isn't easy.
Ironically, the titular character, Bilbo Baggins – masterfully portrayed by Martin Freeman in a performance that will be lost amidst the eye-popping action sequences – doesn’t like to take risks in a film that revels in them. Baggins relishes his comfortable life in the familiar Bag End, and is interrupted by a gaggle of dwarves and a meddlesome wizard who think Bilbo needs to travel with the dwarves.
All of this is familiar ground for readers of the original single book of source material by J.R.R. Tolkien, and as everybody can expect at this point from Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies, the screenwriters (Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro and Jackson) make great effort to continually raise the stakes and ramp up the tension.
Fans who haven’t been paying particular attention to the promotional campaign leading up to the film may be surprised to find that joining Bilbo and Ian McKellen’s Gandalf is Richard Armitage’s Thorin Oakenshield. The character is a deeply scarred and tragic character and Armitage -- with his already fervent fan base and masculine good looks -- seems likely to be launched into the stratosphere with his role. Thorin gives the children’s tale a Shakespearian disaster angle and the film makes the most of it in ways that may not surprise viewers but will delight them.
Also returning is Andy Serkis working his performance-capture magic as Gollum, and as in the previous trilogy Gollum is easily one of this film's most memorable characters. And then there are the dwarves, who despite excellent design and characterization just aren't set apart enough. If there's one downside here, it's that this thing is just too packed with characters.
It goes without saying that not everybody will like everything. Forgetting technology for a moment, sections of the film that will delight some will frustrate others. Gandalf uses a familiar storytelling device that some will appreciate, and to others will seem like a rehash (this happens a handful of times). Also, the 100% CGI Azog may come off cartoonish despite (or because of) his technical perfection. But putting aside the quibbles, Jackson has delivered a tightly paced action flick that is rollicking great fun with exemplary performances that make the fantasy feel more real than any technician could.
Viewers need to evaluate: Are they like Bilbo? Do they want safe, familiar cinema or do they truly want to go on an adventure? The real answer is that, in this film, there's room for both. Technically masterful, this children’s tale churned out by the Jackson moviemaking machine is grand and glorious cinema that is indeed lighter than its Rings cousin.
Whatever the public and critics say, Jackson and his team must be admired for operating high above the crowd with no net or safety line in sight. As for me, I'll take that cinematic experience every time.
Larry D. Curtis, as part of the team at TheOneRing.net, has been comprehensively covering the works and adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien for more than a decade, making the not-for-profit site the leading source about The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings for fans and film makers worldwide. Curtis represents the site at conventions and events around the U.S. including the San Diego Comic-Con. You can read his The Hobbit Countdown here at Movies.com every other week.