The Hobbit

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I suppose there’s not much drama in a review of The Hobbit following it’s inclusion in my Best of 2012 list of my favorite movies. Still, I wanted to expand on some of the reasons I enjoyed the movie both as a dramatic work and the format in which it was presented. I went to see it in IMAX 3D in the 48 frames per second presentation, which pretty much means I couldn’t add any more bells and whistles without watching it on a mountainside in New Zealand with a live orchestra while defending myself and family against orcs.

Luckily, this was a thoroughly entertaining film. Having Jackson return as director, the movie is the first piece of a trilogy now designed to lead into Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, rather than simply being an adaptation of the Hobbit. We begin back in the shire, with Elijah Wood and Ian Holm returning as Frodo and Bilbo before seeing the younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) meeting Gandalf (Ian McKellan). The frame gave me the opportunity to see how Freeman bases his performance on Holm’s before deepening and expanding Bilbo’s range through the rest of the film. Martin Freeman is a remarkably talented actor, and he shoulders this film magnificently. As the titular Hobbit, he needs to run quite a gamut. While the other actors have the opportunity to shine in one or two scenes and then fade into the background, Martin Freeman needs to either carry or support nearly every scene, and he does so with remarkable skill. I get the impression that, once the other two have been completed, it will add a different sort of weight to Holm’s performance in LotR.

Even given Freeman’s excellent performance, he’s still matched and possibly exceeded by the incredible Andy Serkis, who continues to amaze while never actually appearing on screen. Voicing Gollum (as well as having his motions captured by the technical wizards as Weta), Serkis is both moving and frightening. Really, this performance might even exceed his work in the LotR trilogy.

To a certain extend I keep returning to wondering what this movie would have been if Guillermo del Toro had stayed on as director, as was originally intended. That version most likely would have been crafted to stand on it’s own. Jackson, on the other hand, has upped the violence and action to re-craft the story of The Hobbit into a prologue to The Lord of the Rings, and it’s been widely reported the three Hobbit films will draw from Tolkien’s appendices to flesh out the backstory and lay the ground for Fellowship of the Ring. Much of what was referenced but not dramatized in Tolkien’s writing here is put up on screen. Ultimately I was actually happy to see this, as it will make these films when all three are released, stand as an enormous accomplishment I fully expect to return to many times in the coming years.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to do so in an IMAX theater, in 3D. The 48 frames presentation didn’t bother me, as the movie is a bright and jewel colored piece to begin with, so the sharpness allows the film makers to move quickly over the landscapes without the traditional blur that comes from 24 frames. Jackson has always been a kinetic film maker, using all sorts of dramatic angles and sweeping tracking shots, particularly in chases and battles. Watching in this presentation, The Hobbit didn’t feel like watching a traditional movie, which is a pretty obvious statement as it represents a shift in presentation, much like talkies, technicolor, and VistaVision changed the way moviegoers of earlier generations related to the experience of watching films. I noticed the sharpness and the difference of presentation, but my son didn’t notice anything different. I’ve had nearly thirty years to adjust to one style, so I was more keenly aware of a change, while he, a relatively new moviegoer, wasn’t fazed.

Overall, the movie was thrilling and eye-popping, and a definite highlight among the movies I’ve seen this year. Luckily 2013 looks to have a number of excellent movies to make the wait until next December more tolerable. And for those seeing it now, I would recommend the higher definition presentation. The bells and whistles were well worth the time and price of admission.

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