Watching Series: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

We Revisit The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Movies

by , and | December 13, 2014 | Comments

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, we here at RT decided to take a look back at the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the first two films of the Hobbittrilogy. Our latest installment covers The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which editors Tim Ryan and Ryan Fujitani rewatched for some fresh perspective.

The Fellowship of the Ring | The Two Towers The Return of the King

An Unexpected Journey | The Desolation of Smaug


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Luke: Thinking about the much-debated visual style of this movie, I can’t keep from hearing the immortal post-guitar-freakout words of one Marty McFly: “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet… but your kids are gonna love it.” Yeah, I had very conflicted feelings toward The Hobbit. Like those ’50s squares puzzled by McFly’s discordant futurism, I simply could not grapple with the look of this. Let me rephrase that: I think it looked horrifying. We all went to a screening in 3D 48fps, so I was prepared for some ocular recalibration, but nothing could ready me for just how jarring this looked. The Hobbit‘s clarity is astonishing. Too much so, in fact. While many of Weta’s effects sequences looked outstanding, I felt like I was right there on set with the actors, which might be the kind of detail Peter Jackson was aiming for but, for me, just rendered everything too empty and everyday. I kept looking for boom mics or waiting for a make-up artist to roll up and touch up Gandalf. Call me a cinephile snob, but if I want high detail I’ll take 70mm. The other issue visually was the weird jerkiness of the high frame rate. Admittedly, my eyes may not have evolved — and, like the races of men in Middle-earth, my kind may soon be extinct — but I had trouble dealing with the staccato movements of the actors. In even the most mundane situations, like Bilbo and Gandalf taking tea, motion looked strange, as though someone had left the “2x fast forward” speed button on the Blu-ray player. It was kinda embarrassing to watch. I’m not sure human vision is equipped for this. Yet.

 

 

Tim: I love the following things, in no particular order: cinema, video games, and BBC series. However, The Hobbit taught me an important lesson: I don’t like it when my movies look alternately like video games and/or BBC series. There were moments in the film where I wasn’t sure whether I was watching the making-of featurette or a cut scene (for a millisecond after Gandalf showed up to rescue the dwarves from the Great Goblin, my brain instinctively steeled itself for an intense boss battle). I really don’t want to sound like the guy who walked out of The Jazz Singer and griped, “This talking picture business will kill the cinema!” (Presumably, such a sentiment would be pronounced in an old-timey mid-Atlantic accent.) But while 48fps may be the future of movies, it really doesn’t feel like the present of movies.

That said, I still found The Hobbit to be a pretty involving yarn; story-wise, it’s a cut below the original trilogy, but I didn’t think it was the draggy mess that some people did. The set pieces are thrilling and vivid as always; I particularly liked the campfire scene with the oafish trolls, and the escape from the underground goblin lair is propulsive and tense. Plus, Gollum remains a marvel CGI technology — name another digital creation that inspires as much revulsion and pathos. Overall, I thought The Hobbit was solid, but again, a word of advice: if you’re planning on seeing it and you have all the time in the world, I recommend watching it in 24fps, and then going back to see it in 48fps to compare and contrast.

Ryan: I will agree that the visual style was too aggressive for my taste. I suspect that Jackson’s aim was to draw the audience further into the picture, to make the experience more immersive, but it had the exact opposite effect on me. I don’t like being reminded that I’m watching a movie, but it was hard not to feel that way when I found myself thinking, “Whoa, that looked bizarre” at regular intervals throughout the film. That said, I still don’t think I hated it as much as you two did; every once in a while, just for kicks, I’ll watch a movie at home with that motion-smoothing effect turned on, so I was somewhat prepared for it here, even if the final product did sort of look like an extended video game cut scene.

 

 

What’s interesting for me is that, on paper, the film had a lot of narrative problems, but I still rather enjoyed it despite these problems, and despite the visual distractions. The whole movie is essentially one long chase sequence, with short breaks for some necessary exposition here and there, and chase movies tend to bore me. Bilbo and friends would escape narrowly from one life-threatening catastrophe only to find themselves in some other gargantuan peril, over and over and over again. What’s more, each time it seemed they were helplessly screwed, Gandalf would appear and save the day. Whether threatened by mountain trolls, orcs in hot pursuit, or underground goblins, never fear, for Gandalf will appear. And you know, he did this a couple times in the LotR series, as well — I’m starting to think Gandalf is just a stand-in for God, and he simply lets everyone get into trouble so they can learn valuable lessons from the experience. I don’t know how much of this was in the book (I’m speaking from a novice’s perspective again), but these are all things that would have bugged the hell out of me in any other movie. The bottom line is, though The Hobbit doesn’t quite capture the same sense of majesty and epic wonder as the LotR did, it was still an entertaining little romp that somehow convinced me to put aside my storytelling pet peeves and go with the flow.

Luke: Right. Well in terms of the story, my major concern going into this, really, was the potential for bloating Tolkien’s perfect little adventure yarn — and, at least on this count, I was somewhat relieved. The Hobbit‘s epic dwarves-and-dragon prologue felt unnecessary (as did the Frodo and older Bilbo framing device), but I get why they’re there: when you’ve fed audiences The Lord of the Rings, they’re gonna demand something equal in scope. It’s wrong for The Hobbit (I still wish it was a Guillermo-helmed single film) but it doesn’t do fatal disservice. Despite these and other diversions (the portents of Sauron, etc.), I found that once the movie settled into the groove of the actual story it was pretty faithful — and at times, really entertaining. Martin Freeman was a sound Bilbo Baggins, Andy Serkis was as good as he ever was, and the storytelling — at least in the back stretch — was well done. By the time the eagles arrive amid the final skirmish with the white Orc, I felt like I was at last deep in the real Hobbit again — and actually couldn’t wait for them to get on with the rest of it. But it still feels like a long way to The Lonely Mountain. And yeah, we gotta get there in high definition digital. But my corneal transplant should come through by this time 2013.


The Fellowship of the Ring | The Two Towers The Return of the King

An Unexpected Journey | The Desolation of Smaug

Tag Cloud

WGN elevated horror CBS aliens Drama The CW Tumblr TV TCM PaleyFest toy story festivals boxoffice Spring TV Superheroe Sneak Peek Pop Pirates Freeform Reality GoT TIFF A&E SXSW Reality Competition Paramount thriller Interview Comedy Central Heroines Brie Larson 2017 PBS Creative Arts Emmys AMC VICE Western casting Food Network serial killer true crime vampires Box Office USA mockumentary DC Comics Lionsgate adaptation spy thriller Podcast strong female leads BBC spider-man The Arrangement Musical Calendar The Witch Sci-Fi Action cooking Valentine's Day ratings Sundance Now Premiere Dates Logo Disney Channel Elton John sitcom streaming YouTube Premium finale anime FOX Fantasy game show Set visit Rocky CMT SDCC Fox News FX First Look Apple theme song cinemax Nat Geo Emmys VH1 Year in Review Sundance Anna Paquin 45 social media National Geographic Grammys Columbia Pictures Showtime Amazon crime thriller 2018 RT21 politics TNT Trivia Awards Tour ABC Comedy CBS All Access DirecTV Pixar television Rock LGBT police drama Captain marvel Cartoon Network Tarantino Martial Arts Writers Guild of America Universal Paramount Network TCA Mary poppins animated Adult Swim science fiction Disney binge Election mutant Pet Sematary Watching Series E3 romance YouTube Red Spectrum Originals Amazon Prime TV Land psychological thriller Red Carpet blaxploitation anthology Britbox transformers doctor who History Esquire Country supernatural 21st Century Fox Winners MCU harry potter Winter TV GLAAD Walt Disney Pictures Masterpiece President OWN Film Festival Spike spinoff Trailer Star Wars LGBTQ Certified Fresh Warner Bros. BBC America 2016 Rom-Com 007 MSNBC robots medical drama sports TCA 2017 Chilling Adventures of Sabrina jamie lee curtis composers FXX Animation cults RT History IFC Mary Poppins Returns Cannes 2019 Bravo war Musicals TruTV San Diego Comic-Con Extras Starz justice league DGA zero dark thirty sequel Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt unscripted HBO docudrama Chernobyl CNN Nominations crime Star Trek dramedy Countdown Mary Tyler Moore TBS Pride Month Lifetime Best and Worst singing competition GIFs hist disaster Lucasfilm cops political drama cats YA NYCC Video Games Thanksgiving Mystery teaser Marvel Summer Super Bowl Hulu comiccon Sony Pictures SundanceTV Dark Horse Comics what to watch Photos Tomatazos Opinion Polls and Games zombie DC Universe Nickelodeon Ghostbusters historical drama Women's History Month Schedule psycho Syfy Cosplay space APB Awards MTV Music facebook crime drama Comic Book TLC Mindy Kaling Fall TV travel Epix El Rey adventure Song of Ice and Fire New York Comic Con Acorn TV Marathons dceu nature dc biography Infographic Character Guide Rocketman Trophy Talk Kids & Family based on movie diversity Christmas Shondaland Oscars Ovation technology X-Men 2015 zombies crossover Comics on TV richard e. Grant IFC Films Holidays DC streaming service USA Network Stephen King E! Biopics witnail discovery ESPN Superheroes CW Seed ABC Family Horror Vudu Black Mirror Netflix comic award winner BET natural history talk show American Society of Cinematographers Crackle Shudder golden globes period drama NBC 24 frames Mudbound miniseries Toys 20th Century Fox Teen ITV Ellie Kemper dragons Quiz green book See It Skip It