This review, like the story it follows, is going to be in multiple parts. I simply have too much to say on the matter. And now, onward!

On Thursday night (technically Friday morning) I went to the IMAX 3D HFR midnight premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. There have been reviews swirling around all over the place, a lot of them mixed. I didn’t read many of them before I saw the movie (though I was aware of the general consensus), but now I have to say that I definitely see the merit of their criticisms.


Before I go further, I’m going to lay out my biases as a reviewer up front. First of all, I’m a Tolkien fan. I’ve read (and loved) The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion, and am slightly over-obsessed. This is fairly standard, but it does say a lot about what kinds of things I’m lenient with. Secondly, I also love Peter Jackson’s adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. (For convenience, when I discuss the filmmakers, I’ll simply refer to Jackson, unless I’m obviously talking about someone else.)

I don’t delude myself into thinking that they’re flawless, but I’m willing to accept the liberties that Jackson took with the text if they made pragmatic sense for an adaptation. My own personal view on this score is that Jackson is interpreting Tolkien, and a lot of what Tolkien wrote doesn’t look good on-screen. As an adapter, it’s Jackson’s duty and responsibility to make the story fit his medium. I think he accomplished this admirably with LotR for the most part.
With that said, the question is inevitable- does Hobbit measure up?


I don’t think it does. The cast is great, and I actually did like some of the changes that Jackson made, or at least saw the necessity of them. On the other hand, I have to wonder how much the filmmakers actually understood the fundamental nature and tone of the book. I’m going to attack a lot of these issues individually in more depth, but before I go further, I’ll just say that if I had to give this film an overall grade, it would be a B.

This may sound overly positive, considering what I’ve just said, but my grading rubric goes something like this:
A- This is a great movie!
B- This is a flawed movie but I still enjoyed it.
C- This is a flawed movie and I didn’t enjoy it, but I didn’t hate it, either.
D- This is a bad movie.
F- This is an awful movie!

And I did enjoy myself when watching The Hobbit, primarily because of the cast (special props to Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, and Andy Serkis, honorable mention to Lee Pace’s memetastic eyebrows), and despite my deeper, storytelling issues. So my score is reflectively forgiving. Others may be more or less severe, depending on what they were looking for, but if you want a good fantasy holiday movie, I think The Hobbit is a great choice, regardless of how disappointing it may be as a film version of the book. Also, the Riddles in the Dark scene is absolutely amazing and worth the price of admission simply on its own. If you need a reason to watch the movie, this would be it.

And now, we’re free to dive into more substantial waters. In the interest of keeping this installment at a reasonable length, I’ll discuss three aspects that have been the object of a lot of controversy- the 48-frames-per-second HFR, The Hobbit as a trilogy, and the overall tone of the film. (In future, if anyone is interested, I’m planning on discussing the cast and more particular changes from the book in greater detail. But for now, I’ll stick with more general matters.)

Jackson seems to be an absolute believer in HFR (as are others such as James Cameron, apparently) but he’s hedging his bets by showing both 24 fps and 48 fps versions of The Hobbit. I think it may actually be more difficult to find the 48 fps version, but if you can, I would recommend it, if only because it’s the sort of thing that really should be experienced and judged by you yourself, as a viewer. I don’t know that I’m completely sold on HFR, but it was certainly an interesting experience.

No, I did not vomit or have a seizure as many articles warned I might. The HFR didn’t completely ruin the entire movie. But it did take some getting used to. Initially, all motion seemed to be in fast-forward, or as I’ve heard it put elsewhere, ‘on speed’, which seems a fair description to me. Jackson was definitely correct in saying that it looks more realistic- at several points, I did feel as if I was inside Bilbo’s hobbit hole along with all the dwarves. This was especially apparent in tighter, more constrictive settings. Battle scenes also looked much more visceral and striking with the HFR. But at the same time, the movie also felt less grounded as a result. I’ve seen HFR compared to television soaps, but I think a more accurate comparison would be to an intimately filmed, staged play.

There was also a greater reliance on CGI in this film that was not served well by HFR. Gollum, as usual, looked magnificent, but distance shots of places in particular suffered. I couldn’t help but remember the tangibly real sets in LotR (Edoras in particular) and wonder how many sets were actually built for The Hobbit and how much was green screen. However, I must say that the natural landscape of New Zealand looked stunning and crisp, and there were several shots of the Eagles flying against a light-stained mountain backdrop that were awe-inspiring.

As an aside, I hate 3D glasses. I don’t have a particular aversion to 3D itself beyond the glasses, provided it’s done well. The 3D itself was actually quite good in this movie and not obnoxious at all, but wearing glasses on top of glasses is a massive inconvenience for a lot of moviegoers that really should be eliminated. Rant over.


Is this a moneygrubbing tactic or an expansion for the sake of storytelling? Let’s not kid ourselves- the studios are definitely smelling the money. But is it entirely a corrupt mercenary maneuver? I had my doubts, but in the process of re-reading the book, I realized that a lot more happens in the space of three hundred pages than I remembered. Thinking over everything that happens, it became apparent to me that adapting The Hobbit into one movie would inevitably result in the trimming of a lot of beloved scenes. We felt this a bit in LotR with characters such as Tom Bombadil, but the episodic nature of The Hobbit as a whole would definitely result in the elimination of some more significant or enjoyable aspects simply in the name of time.

This goes back to the fundamental difficulty of adapting a book such as The Hobbit. Even though the book had a brisk pace, everything could fit in a relatively small book because of the narrative structure. There is a prominent narrator that glazes over things, brings things up and then drops them as necessary, allowing the story to move along. This is quite impossible for a movie, at least without a voiceover, which I think would have been iffy at best. For one thing, who would be the narrator?

There have been a lot of complaints about the movie dragging, but I don’t think this is intrinsically related to the three movie split. In fact, the split provides a lot of opportunity to tie the events of The Hobbit much more closely to LotR. Tolkien provides more than enough material to cover Bilbo’s storyline and all the other interesting things that are going on in Middle Earth simultaneously in three movies (assuming that the content of The Hobbit takes up around two) without resorting to filler. For instance, the White Council makes an appearance that sets into context how exactly Sauron began to come back to power in the first place, and promises a greater focus on the power in Dol Guldur than was ever provided elsewhere.

This may not be true to The Hobbit as a book, but it is entirely appropriate for a prequel to LotR- and with the expansion, I believe that the latter is Jackson and Co.’s ultimate goal. And with that, we’ll head into my last and most serious general critique of the film.


Looking at The Hobbit trilogy as a prequel to LotR, rather than a straight-up adaptation of the book, actually explains a whole lot about the way this film works. On the one hand, I really did want a Hobbit movie that reflected the whimsical, fairy-tale nature of the book, because it would have been a lovely contrast to the mythical gravity of LotR. For this reason alone, I’m going to be blasphemous and wish that Guillermo Del Toro had stuck with the movie. Jackson is great for epic sweep and he worked fantastically well for LotR, but being faithful to The Hobbit requires a different vision, which I think Del Toro would have provided. Additionally, Del Toro’s fondness for prosthetics, and animatronics might have given The Hobbit some of the tangibility and earthiness that the Jackson version simply lacks.

Jackson seems to be aiming for unity between The Hobbit and LotR instead. Which is not a bad thing, specifically, but in his effort to make the epic tone consistent, The Hobbit seems to be a parody, at times, of the high fantasy that LotR embodies so thoroughly. For example, the homilies that Gandalf spouts, while touching and wise in LotR, seem overdone and excessive in The Hobbit (through no fault of Sir Ian McKellan, who does more than can be reasonably expected with what he’s given).

The most glaring example, to my ears, occurred when Galadriel asks Gandalf why he bothered to bring Bilbo along. Gandalf goes on this spiel about the power of ordinary people in dark times and so on and so forth. If the writers had excised everything but the final line, “Because I am afraid, and he gives me courage”, the whole scene would have been much more touching without losing any of the intended impact. We know that Bilbo is as ordinary as ordinary can be, and stating that Bilbo gives Gandalf courage implies, in itself, that common people do have some kind of worth that even the great don’t possess on their own. There wasn’t any need to spell it all out for us.

LotR was excessive at some points, but somehow it worked. Unfortunately, that same magic doesn’t seem to hold here to the same extent. The Hobbit opens, not with the classic, understated introduction to hobbits, but with a protracted and rather clunky battle scene explaining the history of the dwarves of Erebor. This was a very early indicator that those looking forward to seeing the old-fashioned, fleet-footed charm of The Hobbit faithfully replicated on screen would be disappointed.

Jackson’s Hobbit is deliberately more epic than Tolkien’s- the film’s dwarves spend a great deal of time fighting their way heroically through challenges in many (many) battles, whereas in the book, they’d just get captured. Bilbo himself is much savvier than he ever was in the books, functioning more like a trickster hero than clueless, innocent baggage, while Thorin’s self-importance is no longer an object of amusement. I suspect that part of Jackson’s reasoning for this change has to do with the worry that a modern audience wouldn’t accept such protagonists, as written by Tolkien, on screen- that they are expecting heroes.

Whether this is a fair question or not, the fact remains that The Hobbit is very different from the book in tone. There is humor, and the movie is genuinely entertaining, but it is less of the old-fashioned, gentle humor of Tolkien and more physical and raucous. Different as it is, this humor is the saving grace of the movie. If Jackson had tried to make The Hobbit a full epic, the fans would have risen in mutiny. As it is, the movie is a strange amalgamation of the simplicity of the original book and the grand ambitions of LotR. It is flawed in some kind of niggling, elemental sense, but figuring out exactly what those flaws are is, oddly, part of the fun.

So I say unto you- go ahead and see The Hobbit if you want to, regardless of what the reviews say. See it with an open mind, without expectations of mind-blowing awesomeness (except the Riddles in the Dark scene, because that was awesome), and then think it over. This is probably an obvious conclusion to make, but in spite of all my criticisms, I still think this movie is worth seeing- and I’m still looking forward to the sequels. As far as movies go, I suppose that speaks for itself.

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  1. swenson on 18 December 2012, 09:08 said:

    Well, I don’t know what my expectations were, precisely, but I’ll keep this in mind when I go and see it. I’m pleased, at least, that you thought it was decent. I was getting worried after seeing some of the very negative things people were saying about it.

    Also, I just have to say—I forget not everyone has read the books, so I had to keep my mouth firmly shut when some people of my acquaintance were discussing the movie and trying to predict what might happen!


  2. Snow White Queen on 18 December 2012, 15:03 said:

    I’m pleased, at least, that you thought it was decent. I was getting worried after seeing some of the very negative things people were saying about it.

    I definitely had a lot of fun, I just think that people should keep their expectations in check.

  3. Rocky on 18 December 2012, 19:22 said:

    I can’t pass judgment, as I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m not sure I can get behind the higher frame rate movement. Basically every discussion I’ve heard about it, specifically in regards to this movie, is that it would provide a better 3D viewing experience.

    Changing the language of onscreen imagery just to make a less blurry pop-up (or pop-in) movie just doesn’t strike me as a justifiable reason.

  4. Cristina on 19 December 2012, 09:20 said:

    I must say that I quite enjoyed it, too. I was aware of the criticism, but I didn’t let it dampen my enthusiasm. Honestly, I was kind of expecting Jackson to try and make it more epic, get more of the background history into the film, and make it feel like a LotR prequel. I think it did its job more than well, and quality-wise fares so much better than the Star Wars prequels.

    In any case, the Riddles in the Dark scene is beyond criticism in its awesomeness. Andy Serkis is simply amazing.

    Everyone else did a good job, too, and I think the dwarves, heroes though they might be, did convey at least part of their light-hearted disposition (with the notable exception of Thorin), without it clashing too much with the serious undertone of the story.

    I recommend it, but I also believe people should view it as part of the Jackson movieverse without thinking about the book too much. It works better that way.

  5. Fell Blade on 19 December 2012, 11:50 said:

    I really enjoyed this film. I remember feeling the same satisfaction at seeing certain events on screen that I felt with Fellowship of the Ring. I understand a lot of the criticism, particularly that the film lost a lot of the narrative power when it tried to include too many details from the book and from the LOTR Appendices. But it was still a great film!

    I saw it in 2D 24fps, and I really want to watch the 3D HFR. I have a really hard time focusing on 24fps pan shots in a theater because it looks like the image shakes, and there were a lot of times during the Hobbit where I was distracted by choppy movement like that (both camera movement and subject movement). So I’d like to see it with the 48 fps and see how much difference there is.

  6. Prince O'Tea on 19 December 2012, 14:31 said:

    The Great Goblin terrifies me. Everything I hated as a child about Jabba the Hutt, but with increased mobility.


  7. The Drunk Fox on 21 December 2012, 13:53 said:

    I saw the movie last Sunday (2D, I’m assuming regular FPS but honestly don’t know), and I agree that it was well done. It might have been because I read The Hobbit not long before going to see the movie, but I did find the attempts to more firmly tie it in with LotR very distracting, and in a couple of cases even unnecessary. Aside from that, it was a perfectly enjoyable movie.


    In any case, the Riddles in the Dark scene is beyond criticism in its awesomeness.


  8. Rhymes with Orange on 27 December 2012, 02:39 said:

    I found the film to be very enjoyable but I have to agree tha a few subtle edits would have been benificial to the overall pace. The one real complaint I have is the shortening or outright removal of songs that appear in the book. To me those songs are a major part of what differentiates the Hobbit from the LOTR.

  9. Cristina on 30 December 2012, 04:34 said:

    I watched it once in 3D and HFR and twice in 2D, and I honestly didn’t notice much of a difference.

    YMMV, but I have no complaints… I remember reading once that Tolkien himself kind of misliked the childish tone he wrote the book in (though I would have to go home and dig up the reference to be sure), and although he was not fond at all of people messing with his source material, I myself am very happy with the result. I mean, I love the book, but I also love the way Jackson tied in all the other stuff that was happening in Middle-Earth at the same time, such as the White Council or the Necromancer occupying Dol Guldur. All of this got, I think, the depth it deserved. The tone of the film matches the actual plot and background story more accurately, but still, the film is less dark and gritty and more light-hearted than LotR (imo of course).

    …and of course, Gollum keeps getting more awesome every time I watch the film. :-)

  10. Etherbeard on 20 January 2013, 03:36 said:

    It was the Phantom Menace of LotR movies.