Yesterday Courtney and I took the day off work so we could see The Hobbit at Cinerama. This is probably the most excited I’ve ever been for a movie release. The Hobbit is the book that got me into fantasy. I may have read other fantasy books before it, I don’t really remember, but none of them stuck. The Hobbit was perfect. I’ve read it some uncounted number of times since the first and I love it just as much, or more, every time.
So yesterday when I saw my perfect fantasy utterly ruined on the big screen I was pretty disappointed.
We decided to see the HFR 3D version of the film. HFR stands for High Frame Rate. It’s High Frame Rate because it was recorded and played back at 48 frames per second instead of the usual 24. Even though the film was being released in 24 FPS alongside it’s high speed cousin, I wanted to see the HFR version because that’s the version Peter Jackson wanted us to see. I had fostered a great respect for him for his work on the Lord of the Rings films, which were incredible, and I figured that if he felt the HFR 3D version was the best version then that would be the one I would see.
It was apparent from the start that this was a poor choice. From the very beginning everything looked incredibly fake. Where Lord of the Rings made you believe that The Shire truly was a magical place tucked away in a corner of the world we can’t see, in The Hobbit it looked like a cheap set designed for a high school play. The costumes, instead of looking right at home, looked absurd and silly. Once the dwarves started showing up it took a turn for the worse. I felt like I was watching a live theater rendition of a Disney film about funny pirates.
The HFR 3D film experience made it seem as if I was sitting right there on set. At first that sounds perfect! It would be just like being there! But it is not perfect. It’s awful. Instead of suspending your disbelief for a few hours and believing you are in a world with Hobbits, Wizards, Dwarves, and Goblins you instead feel like you are watching a bunch of well funded kids role playing in the forest. It’s TOO real. There is nothing separating the reality that this does not actually exist from the fantasy of believing that it does.
I can go on and on about how badly the HFR ruined the experience for me, but other people have said it better. Here is a whole page of quotes about it and they are all right on the mark. http://www.vulture.com/2012/12/critics-on-the-hobbits-high-frame-rate.html
I am told by a friend who saw the 24 FPS version of it yesterday that it was great. There were none of the problems that I am talking about here. That brightens my spirits quite a bit. I think that if I see it again and really enjoy it I can easily forget about the bad version. So sometime soon I’ll do that, and I’ll hope for the best.
Until then, I’ll talk about the things I didn’t like about the actual film itself.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! EVEN IF YOU HAVE READ THE BOOK THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD!
There were four specific scenes that really bugged me in the film, and one overall theme.
In the book, Bilbo never makes a conscious decision to join the party. He wakes in the morning, relieved to find the dwarves have left (and not cleaned up) and he sets about his day, dismissing any ideas of an adventure. Gandalf arrives and basically pushes him out of the door telling him there’s no time to pack or to think about what is happening. Bilbo finds himself joining an adventure that he isn’t quite sure he wants to be on. This theme repeats throughout the book.
In the film, Bilbo wakes up in the morning and decides that, by golly, he’s going on an adventure! He signs the (absurd) contract and runs out the door shouting along the way that “I’m going on an adventure!”
By changing the way the story starts it changes the way the story proceeds and it changes Bilbo’s character altogether from a slightly bumbling person out of his element to a willing participant with heroism on his mind.
The next scene that really bugged me was with the trolls. We all know that the trolls are eventually turned to stone by being tricked by Gandalf into staying outside when the dawn arrives. In the film, Gandalf cracks a giant boulder in half, letting the sunlight come through. In the story Gandalf tricks and confuses the trolls by using their voices to get them to argue with one another. They argue and argue about how to cook the dwarves until finally the dawn arrives and they are turned into stone.
It may seem like a small change, but to me it represents a loss of innocence in the film. In the story, Gandalf is quiet and mysterious and prefers to get involved as little as possible. The film has him exploding boulders from the start and it seems very heavy handed.
Overall I thought the goblins and Gollum scenes were handled well. We didn’t get much backstory about Gollum and his ring, and it’s not really clear how upset he is that he’s lost it. It seems more like he’s upset that he’s lost a meal. The goblin city was a bit overwrought and there was a hell of a lot more running around and battling than needed, but overall it was good.
My problem comes with the scene afterwards, where Bilbo rejoins the party. In the original, the dwarves and Gandalf have just discovered that Bilbo did not escape with them and are upset at having lost their burglar and suddenly he appears among them. They are shocked that they could have gotten past them and then even further when they hear about his adventures. They begin to have a grudging, but solid respect for him and for his abilities.
This is truly the first part of the story when the party begins to believe that he may have some use and it does a huge amount for Bilbo’s confidence in himself. In the film, this scene is just thrown away and glossed over with no real explanation and the audience is just left to wonder how this transformation of character happens.
Finally, perhaps my biggest disappointment comes when the party is treed after being chased by the wargs. The film brings back Azog, the orc chief, in a down and out battle with Thorin that Bilbo eventually joins in an effort to save Thorin’s life. This scene just disgusted me. We suddenly have this hero of a Hobbit facing down the enemies of Middle Earth with his glowing sword. In the book the orcs set fires around the trees until the eagles come and rescue the party. There is no epic battle where Bilbo wins Thorin over with his bravery.
This last scene, and really all the scenes that I am complaining about here make up the theme that bothers me. The theme is that of Bilbo as a hero. It clashes utterly with my reading of the book and my memories of the story. In my mind, Bilbo spends the first half of the story lost, bewildered, scared, out of place and barely getting by. Only with the help of Gandalf, the dwarves and in some cases, extraordinary luck is he able to survive.
We fall in love with a character who truly seems like what he is. A very small person from a very small place thrust into a huge world and epic events. It’s through his small, but increasingly important discoveries about himself and the world around him that he eventually grows into the Hobbit of legend.
At the start, Bilbo is truly innocent. He has no knowledge of the world and events around him. The Hobbit is a story about the loss of innocence and the joy of finding confidence and power within yourself.
I feel like the new film has removed that incredible feeling of joy that we get with each new boost in Bilbo’s confidence and it is that journey of discovery that makes the book so magical.