Now Playing: One Prequel to Rule Them All

Like the majority of those who have seen them, I love the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies and have been excited to revisit Middle Earth since ‘The Hobbit’ films were announced. The act of stretching J.R.R. Tolkien’s short book into three parts has done minimal damage to the first chapter (subtitled ‘An Unexpected Journey’) – especially compared to the 48 frames-per-second format!

The 169-minute ‘An Unexpected Journey’ only spans the first six chapters of Tolkien’s original novel. As I feared, some content feels “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” The Hobbiton opening is dragged out – but not in a fluid way like the extended editions of ‘The Lord of the Rings‘ do. No, ‘An Unexpected Journey’ has a tendency to feel poorly edited and/or over-indulgent. At least fifteen minutes could have and should have wound up on the editing room floor.

At the same time, because I’ve only seen ‘The Hobbit’ once, I wonder how much of the initial drag was caused by the highly distracting and unnatural look of the latest theatrical gimmick, HFR (High Frame Rate). After my first bout with 48 frames-per-second, I have vowed to never willingly partake in an HFR showing again. I cannot begin to describe how awful it looks. All of the negative buzz that we’ve heard for months claiming that it looks like home video recordings, soap opera footage or sitcoms shown on a TV with the SmoothMotion setting fully engaged is 100% true. Production value goes out the window at 48 frames-per-second. Even during a nearly three-hour movie, there wasn’t a single minute where I wasn’t pulled out of the film by this atrocious distraction. The upside: Wide angle sweeping shots and slow motion are smooth, which gives a new depth to the 3D. The downside: Absolutely everything else about it blows.

The only other aspect of the production that bugged me is the same complaint that I had about ‘The Two Towers’ and ‘Return of the King’ – too much CGI. ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ remains my favorite film of the franchise (thus far) because of how epic and grand it feels. Shot mostly on location on huge sets or in front of massive beautiful landscapes, the practical nature of the first film makes it the most realistic of the original trilogy. But along comes ‘The Hobbit’ and we get even more CGI than ever. Things that were shot practically in the previous trilogy are now replaced with CGI. The majority of the outdoor Shire footage is digitally enhanced, and looks almost nothing like it did in the previous series. Remember the hairy Wargs and the Orcs who rode them? Well, they’re all CG now. No more makeup. No more costumes. No more life-size replica Wargs or props. ‘The Hobbit’ is set in an obviously CG Middle Earth, one that doesn’t match the look of ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

As for the movie itself, once we finally leave the Shire (about 30 minutes in) and set out on the quest to reclaim a Dwarf city from a legendary dragon, ‘The Hobbit’ jumps right into the same tone as ‘The Lord of the Rings’, which is really all I hoped for. Greatness ensues. From time to time, we’re told a story from before the narrative in the form of flashbacks. These scenes initially seem like filler pulled from the Appendices, but they actually tie into the story in ‘An Unexpected Journey’ and preface things to come.

To give a current perspective of my feelings, I can say the same thing about ‘The Hobbit’ that I said about ‘The Bourne Legacy‘. I really liked the movie, but it’s surely the least of the four films set in this world.

Rating: ★★★★☆


  1. I think what happened is that Jackson decided to shoot in 48fps, but no one really thought out how different things would look in 48fps…it’s like shooting in HD with makeup/sets designed for SD. I’ve already decided to see my first viewing in 24fps. If I like the movie, I’ll see it the second time in 48fps.

  2. Mike

    I think everything Luke said falls in line with my expectations. I will definitely see it at 24fps non 3d because I want to replicate previous Lord of the Rings theatrical experiences, and I say this as a 3dtv owner. Might check it out in 3d later in theatre and will probably buy it on blu ray. I expect to love this film, but still be my 4th favorite of the series.

    Have to call BS on your CGI comments on TT and ROTK. A lot of practical models and miniatures ‘bigatures’ as well as extras in suits of armor. You can’t fault them for the amount of CGI used given the larger scale these 2 had and the battle scenes. But there were a lot of great practically built set pieces like the golden hall in edoras, parts of helms deep etc.

    That being said if the level of CGI in Hobbit is excessive as you say even in places like the shire where it isn’t warranted, then it may bother me a bit too.

  3. Seeing it in 24FPS at midnight tonight. I wonder if it won’t look so “CGI” in 24FPS? I am planning on going back in a few weeks and seeing it in 48FPS just to see what it’s all about. But a good movie is a good movie, I don’t need all the supposedly superior technology.

  4. Well we think different and that is Ok, and yes is true, too much CGI specially the backdrops, I think they should have used the same kind of combinations used in the first film. Fortunately I saw it in a 24 frames normal Teather (in 3D) and didn’t have any complaint about the look, it looks like a film. So that probably helped me to not be distracted by the CGI, I think it was muuuuch less obvious than it was for you.

    On other matter true it could be 15 minutes shorter but that is not a problem for me, and I think this is a better start IMHO than Fellowship of the rings, I mean I love all of them, but I don’t Know I just feel this movie was more exciting and adventorous (made that work I think) specially is more fantasy.

    I really enjoyed this movie had a real blast (I am sure anyway that this prequel trilogy will be much better than another sci fi space franchise about some war in the stars)

  5. To stretch out the book into three parts is asinine. Jackson made the other films far too long and messy as well. I’d see this film if it was the entire book, but to make a near three-hour film for just a third of it is ridiculous. Jackson is terrible.

      • Adam

        I expect his explanation omits the most obvious reason – money, money, money.

        Anyway most reviews are stating in one way or another how plodding this film actually is. Since it’s nearly 3 hours long I’m sure they could have lost 20 minutes and still strung it out to 3 movies without anyone complaining. It would give them lots of filler for the inevitable extended edition.

        • Pedram

          After seeing it I didn’t feel like it dragged at all. I don’t think Peter Jackson did it for the money (even if I hadn’t heard his explanations), and if the next two are like the first then I think it will be just fine as a trilogy.

          I can see how some felt it had a slow start, but I didn’t mind it. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t take that long and emphasized the world Bilbo was leaving and why he didn’t want to.

    • besides being overly anal about book continuity, how can MORE middle earth be bad, I dont watch anything but the extended cuts of the Lord of the Rings movies, far superior to the theatrical in every way IMO.

      And I hate to say but you can easily make a long film out of a book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was 5 hours and was still missing a ton of stuff, it could have easily had a couple of hours more from that book and been just fine, wanting to put full detail and pull in extra work from Tolkien isnt a bad thing and I cant figure out why people get so upset over stuff like this.

      Jackson brought fantasy film making to the forefront with gusto and he’s terrible because of it? You need to check your priorities here 😉

  6. Brendan Carroll

    I’ve seen alot of reviews that say CGI takes over this movie, but I think they miss the point. Jackson has ALWAYS been a director that loves what a computer gives. Even going back to Heavenly Creatures. The origial trilogy had an awful lot of CGI elements, and probably would have had more if the technology was available at the time. King Knog showed where he was going as a director, so I don’t think we should be surprised. I just hope it’s not at the expense of story.

  7. Andreas

    I can not agree more. I liked the film , but the HFR was so distracting that I feel this made me like The Hobbit less. I will never se a HFR movie again and will go and see The Hobbit once again in 2D 24fps.

  8. Dude, they built the entire town of Edoras to scale on the top of a hillside. It’s right there in the special features. How much more practical can they get? Meanwhile, Fellowship had CGI cave trolls, CGI fellowship running through Dwarrowdelf, CGI Kraken, CGI Balrog, and I could on and on. It’s actually my favorite too but those movies were CGIed out. There was plenty of practical FX as well. I’m not worried about the use of CG in this film. Does the CG serve the story, does it make it better? That’s what separate bad CG from good CG and great fantasy directors from the mediocre. Do they marry the CG and the practical in a believable way?

  9. Adam

    I think the whole 48fps thing smacks of unfamiliarity and snobbery more than anything else.

    24fps has really been showing its age for some time with scenes turning into juddery mush whenever something fast happens. This is most pronounced in 3D but every modern film suffers it, particularly those with fast cuts or hand held style action.

    I wonder if the internet was around for the last 100 years if people would be complaining so vocally about the introduction of sound and colour, or the large number of other innovations that have affected the screen size, aspect ratio, film grain, judder or other factors over the years.

    I think if there is a failing in The Hobbit’s presentation is they probably didn’t post process to make it “film like” enough and therefore the difference was perhaps more noticeable. Maybe softening the image and throwing in some noise to compensate would stop it feeling so “uncanny”.

    But I know in principle if the choice was 24 or 48fps I’d choose 48 every time.

  10. Kim Brennan

    Saw it in 48FPS, and didn’t notice it. Honestly, I think critical commentary on HFR is completely overblown. I thought the adaption from the book was much better than the LOTR movies. I only noticed 2 notable deviations (and maybe 2 other minor ones) from the book tale (not counting the “extra” scenes essentially added from the LOTR appendices.)

    Curiously 2 scenes shown in the trailers were not shown in the theatrical release. Neither was important.

  11. Saw it in 2D 24fps at Midnight. Absolutely loved it. Didn’t seem overly CGI to me, but there was obviously more than the previous movies. Didn’t notice any excess CGI in Hobbiton which was good.

    As for the movie, absolutely loved it. I was a little unsure about the “added” stuff, but it’s all in the ROTK Appendix and really does set up the back story well. Overall I have maybe 1 or 2 MINOR quibbles, but nothing compared to ROTK (which is my least favorite from the original trilogy).

    “Riddles in the Dark” was quite simply one of the most amazing scenes I’ve seen in any movie … EVER. I’ve read the book over 20 times and it was exactly how I always pictured it in my head. The movie is worth seeing for that scene alone.

    • Pedram

      Yes, that scene was definitely the highlight of the movie for me. Gollum was really well done, especially his facial expressions and the emotion he showed.

  12. Pedram

    I was all excited to see this in HFR since I’ve been waiting for that even before they announced it was going to be used for The Hobbit.
    Then when I get to the cinema they said that they were having problems with it and we had a see it in 24fps.

    I don’t know if it was because I was looking for it or not, but it seemed even more stuttery than normal. Every time the camera panned (mostly in outdoor scenes) I could see how un-smooth and juddery it was and made me want to see it in 48fps even more.

    Overall a great film though, and I left the cinema quite happy with what Jackson had done with it. I also felt it ended in a nicer way than FOTR. Leaves you hanging less than that did.

    • Pedram

      Oh I forgot to mention that the Atmos was great! If you have a chance to see it with Atmos definitely do. There are quite a few moments that I could easily notice the benefits of it.

  13. I remember hearing how Peter Jackson kept saying “you will get used to it after about 15 minutes in”. Yeah, I did, but I think the issue isn’t the “getting used to it”, but rather, there was an issue with about the first 15 minutes of the movie. I swear, it was like the whole first 15 minutes of the movie was actually filmed at 24fps and then played back at double speed. It is really jarring, to the point that I felt like I was going to barf. Litterally. I was getting motion sickness from it. Ever taken a video clip on a PS3, and play it back at 1.5x speed on a 120Hz television? That is what it felt like.

    However, after the opening sequences, when the movie settled into Hobbiton, I LOVED the HFR. By the time they got to the caves, I was just thinking how HFR and 3D just go hand in hand, how natual it looked. I LOVED it! And I will see it in HFR again!

    Yeah, I think the issue was with how a lot of the early parts of the movie was shot, not the actual 48fps. We got to practically relearn how to shoot films if we are going to go to this HFR thing. And the main thing is, not to do really fast camera movements and cuts, especially in the first couple of minutes of the film when people are trying to get used to the new format.

    So yeah, loved the HFR, but definately need to rethink how we shoot movies for the format.

    As for the movie itself, some of the scenes did feel a bit drawn out. The riddles in the cave. The trolls. For the most part, I loved the pacing – one of my biggest complaints when a book gets made into a movie is that stuff gets rushed and you never really get to establish a mood. That wasn’t the issue with this movie, but yeah, probably about 5-10 minutes of it should have been cut down a bit.