As a massive film and fantasy geek, I was incredibly excited about The Hobbit, and about it being in Eleventy Vision* (aka Higher Frame Rate, or 48 Frames Per Second). I was going to see it, and I was going to see it in Eleventy Vision no matter what, although the reviews had prepared me for disappointment, or at least mixed results. Armed with these thoughts, I entered the cinema. I feel my reactions are best summed up by visual re-enactments of my expressions as the movie progressed.
Initial response to the impressive 3D, seamless CGI, and awe-inspiring Eleventy Vision**:
Which, segued naturally into grinning like the happiest child to ever hap:
Which gradually relaxed into:
interrupted with violent flaily for the 2.5 seconds Lee Pace was on screen:
And frantically clutching at myself in the scary bits:
All of which is to say that this was an exceedingly pretty and very well-executed movie. I’m also very, very glad I saw it in Eleventy Vision, which was stunning beyond anything I’ve ever seen in the cinema.
On Eleventy Vision
I’d read that it could make the film look sped up, and that this sensation could last for anything from ten minutes to an hour. I did experience this… for all of about five minutes. In all honesty, I adjusted to it very quickly and only had a few minor moments every now and then when an odd camera angle would make things look sped up again.
I had also read that the level of detail was actually a detriment, making the expensive fantasy sets and make-up look cheap. Nothing could be further from the truth. I should say that my Geek Film Buddy, Lee Harris, completely disagrees. He thought Eleventy Vision looked stunning in the panoramas of the landscape, but cheap whenever characters were in view. I don’t know what to say except that I just didn’t find that. And I was actively looking for it, as it was a thing a number of reviews had mentioned, and I wanted to try to be balanced, but it just wasn’t there. For me, at least, CGI and make-up and fantasy set-dressings have rarely, if ever, looked so real. I found myself wishing the Lord of the Rings films could be reshot in this way, although they had been very impressive at the time. True, I could see the pores and flaws in the actors’ faces, but I actually found that a good thing – they looked like real people, rather than ultra-smooth unreal beings.
I had also read that people who were impressed by Eleventy Vision still found it distracting – that the level of detail constantly tugged at one’s attention, drawing one out of the action to marvel at the pretty. Again: not for me. It was only an enhancement and added absorption. Where elsewhere CGI-smoothness can make fantasy films look cartoony, I felt submerged in the other world, the details merely making it more convincing and beautiful.
The 3D was also pretty good. At one point it really did feel like there was a flaming pine cone flying out of the screen at me, which is something few modern 3D films have actually achieved.
I will say that I did find Eleventy Vision tough on the eyes. My eyes still feel achy a couple of hours later, and I did have to remove my glasses several times to rest my eyes. I wonder if this is a symptom of my getting used to the new format so quickly? Like, maybe my eyes were working overtime to compensate? Who knows. All I can say is that the eyestrain was worth it.
If normal 3D particularly upsets your constitution, Eleventy Vision probably isn’t for you. If, like me, good quality 3D doesn’t really bother you (Dredd and The Amazing Spider-Man were both notably easier on the eyes for me, for example) I’d really make the time to give Eleventy Vision a go.
I’ll keep this as brief as possible: Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), uncle to Frodo (Our Hero from The Lord of the Rings), receives a visit from an old friend of the family, Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen). Gandalf is one of five highly skilled wizards who protect Middle-Earth with their magic, but in Hobbiton, where Bilbo lives, he is mostly known for his fireworks. Gandalf invites Bilbo on an adventure, which Bilbo is none too interested in. Bilbo is a hobbit, and hobbits like the quiet life, in their idyllic Shire.
But Gandalf sees something in Bilbo that the hobbit doesn’t see in himself. He suspects Bilbo might like adventure if he had a taste of it, and he believes there to be a quiet strength of character in hobbits that may be of need on this mission. That, and their stealthy way of moving about unheard. So Gandalf invites his 13 dwarven friends to ambush Bilbo at his home, and he is ultimately persuaded to come along on a quest to take back the dwarves’ city, mines, and gold, from the fearsome dragon, Smaug.
Between here and there, Bilbo encounters many adventures, including an interlude with the curious creature, Gollum, from whom Bilbo steals a rather significant ring, which grants invisibility.
This is the first part of three films and takes us through Bilbo’s adventures tricking three trolls out of eating him and his companions, bumping into Radagast the Brown (Sylvestor McCoy) escaping from orcs, visiting with the elves at Rivendell, riddling with Gollum, and at last catching a glimpse of the Lonely Mountain, where Smaug squats on his hoard of dwarven gold.
Additions to the Film
Many fans have been shocked that The Hobbit, a fraction of the size of The Lord of the Rings, has been given the Peter Jackson treatment and spread over three films. However, I had heard that Jackson had not so much invented plot as augmented the story with context drawn from The Silmarillion – a collection of works from Tolkien’s notes, collected by his son, that fills out the world of LotR and The Hobbit. I wanted to reserve judgement until I saw exactly what he had done with the film.
In all honesty, I’m positive about the move. As a fan, I would love to see a lovingly made production of The Hobbit that was simply the tale as originally told, but I think there is always time for that. Jackson has a unique opportunity to fill out Tolkien’s world for people like me who really couldn’t make it through the dense drudgery of The Silmarillion. Tolkien invented a rich, beautiful, haunting world that has become indelibly embedded in our culture. It had a powerful impact in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, but had slipped out of the mainstream (although still generally regarded as a classic, even outside of genre circles). To have the money, the production freedom, the cast – the power – to bring so much of that world to the popular consciousness is a rare opportunity that is unlikely to arise again, and I, personally, admire Jackson for taking this bold move. As I am also grateful to him, for enriching my understanding of Tolkien’s world. The Hobbit will be remade. You can depend on this story being retold and drawing audiences to the big screen again in the future, but a moment like this? I don’t think it will come again.
In addition to being stunningly beautiful, this was very well-acted and very well-cast. I wasn’t sure about Martin Freeman when I heard he’d been selected, but he more than rose to the challenge. Ian McKellen has always seemed natural in his role as Gandalf, and he only gets better with time. He seems to have relaxed into the role and delivers it effortlessly and spotlessly.
The dwarves are generally good. I’ve heard a lot about the ‘hot’ dwarves, but I didn’t feel particularly distracted by them. A few of the ‘background’ dwarves sort of blurred into one, and I’m not entirely comfortable with Bombur’s character essentially being ‘funny-because-fat’, but overall they felt true to the original spirit of the book. The Hobbit is in many ways a more joyous and light-hearted book than Lord of the Rings, and the more comedic aspects of the dwarves felt far more in keeping than Gimli’s ‘comedy dwarf’ persona in Jackson’s previous films. Moreover, as I watched, I realised that, seen as a complete work, we might even take Jackson as doing something rather clever. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are notably different in tone, and that makes for a challenge in presenting a cohesive world on screen whilst remaining true to the material. Seeing the dwarves together as sociable characters that like to mock each other and take everything in good humour, whilst also being capable of formidable warfare, Gimli’s character suddenly fell into place. He seems odd in Lord of the Rings because he is isolated from his culture and other people who are like him. I’m not saying that this completely overturns the flaws in Gimli’s presentation in Jackson’s previous films, but it does make for an interesting way to stitch the two tales back together and see a continuity of in-world culture that one becomes isolated from if one focuses on one specific story.
My only negative note on character presentation comes, surprisingly, for Galadriel. It will not surprise you to know that I am not against Jackson’s changes to squeeze female characters into the story by hook or by crook, and Galadriel was at least always a powerful figure in the original works. My problem is not with her inclusion so much as how she is treated on screen. Poor Cate Blanchett is subject to some very unfortunate and stilted blocking, and to a dress that, whilst stunning, is clearly almost impossible to move in without tripping up. She therefore alternates between standing unnaturally still and walking gracefully, but pointlessly, in slow steps designed to display the gown without tripping her up, and which bear little relation to probable moves the character would make in relation to her dialogue. I guess her strange movements and stillness are supposed to have an otherworldly impression, but I’ve never felt that an other-worldly air was a struggle for Cate Blanchett, and mostly came away thinking that the director and costume designer needed to step back and let her work, as opposed to treating her like a pretty pawn to move about the stage.
That said, Jackson did succeed in creating an impression of Galadriel’s power. In the magical actions she takes, and the understated ease with which she takes them, it is clear that she is a force above and beyond that of anyone else in the room: a knowledgeable weilder of a ring of power, in command of its abilities and capable of using it in more than the ‘accidental invisibility’ sense that we mostly see when the One Ring is used.
Above and beyond all these other performances, however, I have to take note of Andy Serkis as Gollum. He is, if anything, even better than his performance in The Lord of the Rings films. He strikes just the right balance of hauntingly pitiable and frighteningly repulsive. Truly, both Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman are to be commended for a flawless presentation of the riddling scene. And it really did have to be flawless. The keystone of the story, this scene is itself the most memorable – for me, and I’m sure for others. Much more so even those involving Smaug. The mix of humour and fear is carefully balanced, and all the iconic lines are delivered to perfection: what has it got in its pocketses…
The added content makes the pacing a little uneven, but much less so than I expected. It’s a long film, and I would have appreciated an interval to go pee in (I had to skip out on the last bit of Sylvestor’s performance, in the end, which was a shame) but it actually does a pretty god job of maintaining interest and tension.
The big moments are handled well: the arrival of the dwarves in Hobbiton, the encounter with the Trolls, Bilbo’s finding of the ring and riddling for his life with Gollum.
The additional material fills in the world and makes a more solid connection with the other films. As well as the cultural connection mentioned above, there’s a lot of foreshadowing, and the connection of the One Ring with the events that follow in LotR is less a curio and more of a cohesive part of the sense of something dark building in the South.
We saw glimpses of the spiders in Mirkwood – I hope that’s not all we’ll see. The most terrifying part of The Hobbit, for me, was the capture of our heroes by the spiders, and I would feel let down if it were missed out, but we do still have three films left.
Similarly, I would have liked to have seen more of Thranduil, but that’s mostly because I have the hots for Lee Pace. And because if ever a man was born to play an elf, it is the 6’4″, svelt and graceful Mr Pace.
And in contrast to the grumblings I saw in other reviews, I was completely bowled over by the beauty of the 3D and Eleventy Vision.
Honestly, this is a moment of cultural significance: go see this in all its glory. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
*Eleventy because eleventy.
**I apologise for the excessively dark and yellow tint – not an ideal time of night for snapping pics on the laptop-cam, and it’s far too late at night for faffing around with Photoshop.