Unexpected the unexpected

Kenny and I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey today. I can see why it’s getting a mediocre 65% rating at rottentomatoes.com. Not that I (or Kenny) would call it mediocre, just that I can see why a fair fraction of the critics wouldn’t like it.

In fact, it’s strange to me that so much money is being spent making three movies that don’t look like they’re aimed at much of an audience. That may seem an odd statement given how well The Lord of the Rings did, and how well The Hobbit is doing so far, but I’m wondering how well the trilogy will do in the end. The thing is, this is a very odd kind of movie, almost seemingly calculated to fail to appeal to most viewers.

The pace is very different from that of The Lord of the Rings, and from that of most modern Hollywood blockbusters. As one might guess, knowing that instead of three movies made from a three-volume, six-book tome, The Hobbit will be three movies made from a single, not particularly long or dense book. (Supplemented by other writings of Tolkien’s, of course.) The result isn’t going to satisfy most action-and-adventure moviegoers. Watching The Hobbit is not so much like seeing a Hollywood movie as seeing a novel in visual form. It has a novel’s pace.

So, for example, there’s a good deal of narrated backstory before Gandalf ever arrives at Bilbo’s door; and then when the dwarves arrive, the unexpected party and subsequent discussion are shown at great length… complete with two dwarf songs. I wasn’t timing it but I’d guess we’re about 45 minutes into the movie before Bilbo even leaves the Shire.

None of which bothered me at all; I didn’t feel like it was dragging, just that it was moving at a more deliberate pace. But then, I like reading novels.

On the other hand I’m not particularly a purist with regard to Tolkien, or much of anything else. So Jackson’s deviations from the story as told by Tolkien didn’t bother me, either. I thought they were reasonably true to Tolkien’s vision while making the story better suited to the medium. In fact, I thought The Hobbit had fewer (though not zero) moments that seemed drastically out of place than any of the Lord of the Rings movies did.

So I expect these movies to annoy people who don’t like reading novels, and some people who like reading Tolkien perhaps a little too much. As neither of the above, I enjoyed An Unexpected Journey quite a lot.

Oh, and then there are those people who are annoyed by 3D and by HFR (High Frame Rate), two technologies with very vocal critics. But again, not me. I actually like 3D, as long as it’s done with reasonable care and not too much depth-for-depth’s-sake. There were a few places the 3D was too obtrusive but for the most part I thought it worked well. As for HFR, I didn’t consciously notice it at all. Certainly I didn’t think there was anything wrong-looking about the film that could be attributed to HFR. Nor, on the other hand, could I identify any way in which HFR noticeably enhanced the viewing.

Well, that was a lot of paragraphs about pacing, purism, and technology. I suppose I should say more about the content of the movie, like how Martin Freeman worked really well for me as Bilbo, or how Jackson’s vision of Thorin was completely different from mine but I’m willing to go along, or how I’d be willing to give several of my right arms for a house like Bag End (but with higher ceilings), or how I liked Elrond better here than in The Lord of the Rings because he was being much less of a pompous ass, or how I’m not sure whether I’m going to end up liking what Jackson did with Radagast or not, but I’m willing to wait and see, or… well.

I don’t like giving the mainstream movie industry much of my money. I have too many issues with how they operate. But I’m glad I saw this one in the theaters, and I’ll be there for the other two.



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