I wish this movie had done better than it did. It broke my heart walking into the theater for the midnight opening, the tickets I ordered weeks in advance clutched in my hands, only to see that there were a total of six people sitting in the theater with me. Four of them were my friends. While ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ overtook ‘I Am Legend’ for the most money grossed by a movie in December and beat the opening weekends for each of the other Lord of the Rings movies, the increase in ticket prices as well as the prices of 3D and IMAX tickets should have blown records out of the water had the movie had the same volume of viewers as its predecessors.
As we learned with ‘The Last Airbender’ though, just because a lot of people see a movie doesn’t mean it’s any good. Shyamalans crime against humanity filled theaters around the country but that didn’t save it from taking the Razzie for worst picture of 2010. Likewise, the abysmal midnight showing attendance of ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ doesn’t mean the movie was a flop, it just means not many people went to see it. The movie, in fact, was dead on the money as far as what an adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit should be.
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are written for two completely different audiences: the prior for children and the latter for teens and adults. This is important because fans of Jackson’s monster hit from the start of the 2000’s will be disappointed if they expect the same intensity from ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.’ Where ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was more concerned with wars, politics (both social and between nations), and ultimate destiny, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ focuses more on showing how cheeky and fun loving the dwarves are and how uncomfortably useless Bilbo feels throughout the adventure. And while the movie is loaded with stunning visuals that are sure to entertain viewers of all ages, it is clear that many of them are meant to awe the younger crowd.
It was a bold move on Jackson’s part to film the movie to be more childish (even though it is still totally in line with the playfulness of the original novel) since the whole ‘Lord of the Rings’ universe is much more popular with those who grew up with the original movies and books. But that isn’t the only bold move he has decided to make. There are two that have been major points of controversy, and those are turning a 300 page book into a movie trilogy that will total about eight hours in viewing time once fully released, and shooting the 3D version in 48 fps.
Personally, I was excited about the book being broken up into three movies. While many people are complaining loud enough to raise the dead over this, crying ‘greed’ and ‘sell out’ as if they were screaming ‘bloody murder,’ I say the more the merrier. I take it as an offense when parts of my favorite books are excised in their movie adaptations, so if the story is split into three movies to include everything and more, I say let them make more money. If it makes me happier then they should be paid more.
Even so, many complain that three movies is too much for the amount of material in the book. It’s a valid point, but that problem was fixed with a brilliant solution that would appease even the diehard fans. Jackson, in order to make each movie worth watching, added additional scenes and information from The Silmarillion, the encyclopedia for the Lord of the Rings universe. Using these added scenes, like the meeting between Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf, and Saruman
that was only loosely mentioned in the book, Jackson explains the subtle connections between the original stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that were never explicit in the novels. While I think choices like making the dwarves too silly to be taken as seriously as their quest needs them to be, Jackson was absolutely right when adding these extra scenes and because of that his three film gamble is going to pay off.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the choice to film the 3D version in 48 fps. I’ll get into that in a second, but first a brief history lesson:
When movies first went into production, the film used in the cameras was very expensive and so the fps (frame rate per second) was kept as low as possible while still preserving the fluid movements of the actors. This lowered the cost of filming but also made 24 fps the standard for every single movie. Chances are that you have never seen a movie that wasn’t filmed at 24 fps because they simply aren’t in theaters, but Jackson in an interview has said that he believes in the progression of technology and the responsibility of tradition to keep up with it. That is why he decided to change the fps to 48 instead of the standard 24.
What increasing the frame rate does is make the movie seem much more fluid and crisp, almost too much so. While by technical standards the quality is ‘better,’ many people are saying he should have stayed at 24. 48 fps makes the film look like those old soap operas. If you want a preview of what 48 fps video looks like, go to Best Buy and ask to see their 120 hz televisions. If you don’t like the way the built-in anti-judder systems make the video look then you won’t like 48 fps video either. Jackson has received a lot of grief about this, but, as they say, the first one through the wall is the one with the headache. Luckily you can still see the movie in 24 fps if 48 isn’t your cup of tea. Even if you don’t like the 48 fps at least you were given the option to choose, and that makes Jackson a good guy to me.
But bold decisions aside, the movie is worth watching. While it wasn’t as good as the movies from a decade ago, once you get past the first third which is dominated by the dwarves being annoyingly woodsy and rugged and Bilbo being unbearably stuffy and sheltered, the movie takes off. The action scenes are awesome, you fall right into the back story without being beaten over the head by it, and the reappearance of Gollum has made him far more terrifying than you could imagine. Peter Jackson hasn’t given us a reason to doubt him yet and so there’s no reason any of us should. Maybe he’ll mess up with the last two installments of ‘The Hobbit,’ but for now he’s four for four.