Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I feel like the internet has already written libraries worth of reviews and commentary about this movie before I even got a chance to see it. So I'm not entirely sure what I can add that hasn't been said.

First though, I should point out that I have not actually read The Hobbit and so this review is from the perspective of someone who has read none of the books, but did greatly enjoy the Lord of the Rings films. I'm not unfamiliar with Tolkien's world, the assistant manager at the bookstore where I worked when Fellowship came out was the "read every book every year" type. I would ask him questions about Middle-Earth and he would tell me all about it.

But I discovered that I had a lot more fun hearing Kyle tell me about the world than I did actually reading the books.

Also, I have a rule that is opposite most people: if I haven't read the book when they announce a film version I want to see, then I won't read it until after I've seen the movie. I've found that for me at least, it helps me to distinguish the two as different art forms and go into the movie with a more open mind. I almost always pick up the book afterwards if the movie is good or the storyline is interesting, but I wait so that I can judge the movie in it's own merits.

Which is why even though I've been told that The Hobbit is a more fun read than The Lord of the Rings, I haven't picked it up yet because I knew they'd get around to making a movie. Apparently this was the right choice, because a lot of people seem pretty upset about changes that were made. I can't analyze that, so this is how I felt going into this almost completely fresh:

Wow, that movie was beautiful and really, really long.

There's just nothing else you can come out of it thinking, really. Every frame is absolutely stunning (except perhaps a few of the effects that were somehow not as well made/rendered as the previous films). The acting is top notch, from every single actor. They are giving it their all, and that is a great achievement for them and for Peter Jackson as a director.

The set design is fabulous, the cinematography is gorgeous. There is a lot to like, and I did in fact like the movie. I did like it, this is not me saying I hated it.

But this is me saying that the script needed another draft and the editing was not particularly great. I'd be intrigued to see if fans are going to make an edit after it comes out on DVD, because I think if you gave me a couple days I could probably chop 30-45 minutes out of the movie without changing the story. The only thing that would change would be the pace, and with it the tone. If scenes didn't drag, then you'd feel more tense and anxious about the events. And if the movie didn't have twelve endings, maybe you'd feel worried for our heroes when they're cornered in the climax, rather than thinking "AGAIN? ALREADY?"

I get that it's an adventure story, but how poorly thought out was this quest that they're in mortal danger just trying to walk through a field? Sure, the world is dangerous. But there's not a pause anywhere in between the long and drawn out battles and danger. When you maintain a level of tension too long, it has the opposite effect of what you want, you get used to it and you get bored. Add on the fact that it felt like many of the shots were direct references to the earlier films, and you don't have as much excitement as you could.

I don't want this movie to be Lord of the Rings in tone or in story. But I do want it to be like those films in the fundamental ways that made them great. I wanted it to give us characters first, and action next. I wanted more interpersonal relationships. I mean come on, we all know Fili and Kili could have been more great than they were, the seeds were there, there just wasn't enough follow through.

I'm hoping that since the post-production hasn't been finished on the second two films that Jackson goes back to the cutting room and starts snipping. It wasn't even about scenes that were unneeded (though there were some of those) it was about how every scene went on a little too long. They just need to trim some heads and tails, and it would be so much better.

Like I said, I liked the movie, I'll be seeing the next two in theaters for sure. I just like my films a bit shorter.