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A journey into digital purgatory and fan sadness.

Hello. I'm writing from the future. In fact it's 2027. And in the 15 years since Peter Jackson introduced filmgoing audiences to the wonders of 48 frame-per-second 3D elves and dwarves and wizards and hobbits, they've finally figured out a way to make it look like real life, only more so. Here in the future, all the movies are in 48fps and we like it just fine. It's too bad, though, that back in 2012 something as expectation-logged as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was the movie Hollywood decided to use for our collective guinea pigging moment, microwaving a beloved world like a bag of robot popcorn and crisping it up to within a millimeter of insanity, exploding every visual element into tiny, exquisitely detailed parts, forcing you to look, LOOK, LOOK!!! at what they've done. At this point in its development, you won't be distracted by it one bit. It's visually coherent now. So lucky for all of us that they finally got it right. But they probably should have experimented on a Kate Hudson rom-com instead. Nobody would have minded.

Okay, now I'm back in 2012. And I need to backstory you a bit. I'm not a hobbit hater. Like many of you, I'm a huge Lord of the Rings fan. I am the target market. For the moment, maybe you should forget that I make my living writing movie reviews. I'm not a film critic right now, just a fan. And as a fan, the flame that burns in my LOTR-loving heart has been diminished to a little blue gaslight. It took three hours of nonstop visual dissonance to do it, but it happened. I'm feeling sort of lost here.

I barely have to explain the plot, but the basics are that Gandalf (Ian McKellen) approaches hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and entreats him to join in an adventure with a band of dwarves out to reclaim their lost kingdom. Bilbo does so, more or less against his will, eventually encountering the dragon Smaug (next movie) and LOTR's Gollum (Andy Serkis), ultimately acquiring that creature's "Precious," the one ring to rule them all. This initial installment painstakingly details and pads out the first section of the original book.

And that's fine. Betraying my chosen profession for just another moment, I'm the audience member who doesn't care if this thing plods along and meanders down paths that would have been chopped in a leaner, more efficient adaptation. Any opportunity I get to live in this world, even if it takes nine hours to get to the end of the story, is a chance I'm more than eager to take -- kind of like when your favorite band puts out a new record that everyone else says is tedious and overblown. You don't care. You might even know it somewhere deep down. But you like that band. You choose to hear everything but the bloat. I would be that guy right now if it weren't for the fact that I never got used to the horrifying looking technological "advancement" the makers are so proud of foisting on us. I could never stop thinking about process and how movies are made or unmade, about how geeking out on the tech-y details can sink a thing under the weight of its own creation, a thing that, at its heart, courted and built its loving audience with dramatic significance and the emotional power of the smallest of people re-creating themselves as courageous, lion-hearted heroes. I could never not see the dismantling of that beating heart.

There are other issues here, ones that involve pacing and tone and narrative momentum and Bilbo's own lack of significance in a story that's allegedly all about him, but all I can think about right now, 30 minutes after exiting the theater, is how badly I need to go see it again at a reasonable 24 frames per second in regular old 2D in the hope that I can fully immerse myself into this too-long, too-repetitive saga. I've been left cold. I'm going to give it another shot, one that's somewhat less tricked out, just to see if I can get warm again.


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