30 December 2012

Review: The Hobbit

Peter Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkien’s works are equations in which addition and subtraction are crucial. In The Lord of the Rings, Jackson solved the equation well. Subtracting extraneous elements, such as Tom Bombadil, the Barrow Downs and the Scouring of the Shire from Tolkien’s narrative made for a better movie. Additions were minutely scrutinised and, for example in the case of a stronger ‘warrior Arwen,’ largely abandoned.
In The Hobbit, Jackson has made a number of additions, both to the story and to the viewing experience, which are largely unsuccessful. The Hobbit is of course a far lighter text than The Lord of the Rings, really a children’s story largely free of the deeper mythology and symbolism present in the LOTR, and, as such, open to additions in order to improve character and story. Unfortunately, Jackson’s additions seem largely to be present in order to create enough material for three movies rather than any other consideration.
Least successful is Radagast and his rabbit powered sleigh. The character, barely mentioned in The Hobbit, is given a larger billing in the movie as part of the sub-plot concerning Sauron’s rise as the Necromancer of Dol Guldur. In some respects this is a good addition; it presents the story in the wider context of a prelude to the LOTR, and the scenes in Dol Guldur itself, and the meeting of the White Council, are satisfying additions. Radagast however, is drawn as a largely comic character in a story already full of comic dwarf, goblin and troll characters.
A second large addition is that of the orc Azog. As the conventional hero of the story, Thorin Oakenshield requires an antagonist not present in The Hobbit, and voila, another character, mostly reproducing the role already filled by the Great Goblin, is introduced.
The addition of a major character is a symptom of Jackson’s largest change to the equation, that of form. The Hobbit could have been adapted as a single movie with some of the less successful elements, for instance Beorn, removed. It could have been adapted quite faithfully over two movies, perhaps with a little playing up of the Dol Guldur/Necromancer subplot to give it more coherence and relevance as a prequel. To make the adaptation over three movies, introducing multiple characters and story arcs not present in the original text is an addition that would not have been tolerated in a LOTR adaptation, and is only permitted now that Jackson has attained golden child status amongst Tolkien fans.
My last gripe about form is the choice to shoot in HFR 3D. From a purely personal and aesthetic standpoint 3D has been completely pointless in nearly every movie (Avatar is the only exception) I’ve seen. HFR was continually distracting for the first hour of the film, after which either I was used to it or the proportion of action sequences was higher (it is most noticeable in non-action sequences). We are a media savvy/saturated culture, and that that saturation has occurred in 24fps. Until the visual language of our culture is migrated to 48fps it will always seem jarring for the first hour of any film. But, since our culture is unlikely to swap to HFR en masse any time soon, I will have to call the horse bolted on this one. Beta video might be better quality but VHS won. HFR might be better, but it’s too late.

Final word: Decent movie, a few cringeworthy scenes, a few spectacular scenes. See it in good old 2D, 24fps. 67%