Fanboy– noun: a boy who is an enthusiastic devotee (as of comics or movies)
I am a “Lord of the Rings” fanboy. The fantastical world of Middle Earth, created on-page by J.R.R. Tolkien and brought to cinematic life so brilliantly by Peter Jackson is frankly a place I can’t get enough of.
So when Jackson signed on to adapt “The Hobbit,” the delightful and not-so-heavy-handed prequel to “Lord of the Rings,” I was so far in the tank for this movie that I may as well have gotten “Frodo lives!” tattooed on my chest and had my kids’ names legally changed to Galadriel and Legolas.
So it is fair to say that this won’t be the most unbiased, levelheaded review you’ll happen upon, and probably comes as no surprise that I absolutely loved this movie.
But I am self-aware enough to realize that while I happily recommend this film to casual moviegoers and hardcore fanboys and fangirls alike, there are two large and potentially divisive issues surrounding “The Hobbit” that could prove to be problematic.
Fortunately, the story and the cast are not either of these. For those of you who went outside periodically in your childhoods, “The Hobbit” is the story of Bilbo Baggins, the uncle of our hobbit hero Frodo from “Lord of the Rings.”
Bilbo was played by Ian Holm the first time around, and Holm is back to narrate this rather straightforward story of an adventure embarked upon by his younger self, played with tremendous warmth and humor by Martin Freeman.
Bilbo is asked to join a quest by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen, back in the role he was born to play) to help a group of dwarves reclaim their mountain homeland and their fortune within from a fearsome dragon.
The dwarves are a lively bunch, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and their journey leads our heroes into all manner of perils and battles with goblins, trolls, and orcs.
In addition to McKellen, we see several familiar faces reprising their roles, like Cate Blanchett as the elven queen Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as the wise elf Elrond, and motion-capture-king Andy Serkis as everyone’s favorite jewelry-obsessed creature Gollum.
All of this leads us to the movie’s first potential problem. “The Lord of the Rings” divided nicely into three movies because it was based on three separate books. “The Hobbit” is a singular, slim (by Tolkien-standards) book that is being divided into three films, the first of which is subtitled “An Unexpected Journey.”
Jackson and his creative team have padded the movies with bits and pieces from some of Tolkien’s other Middle Earth texts which means “The Hobbit” isn’t as tightly plotted as “Lord of the Rings.”
I have absolutely no problem with this, but I’m also the same guy who loves exploring the backwoods of Middle Earth so much that the nine-plus hours (including the extended cuts) of the first trilogy felt a little light. See, I told you I was a fanboy.
Audience members not as interested in such an immersive experience (read: those with lives) may find sections of “The Hobbit” to be a little draggy.
The other issue with the film is purely technical and limited to only a handful of screens around the country. Some theaters will be presenting the movie in 3D at 48 frames per second. Every other movie since the dawn of celluloid has been shown at 24 frames per second.
Jackson claims that this technological advance provides a crisper and smoother viewing experience and for the most part he is right. The dwarves’ subterranean escape from a goblin stronghold rendered at 48fps is one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen on film.
Other times, as is the case with many new technologies, it fails completely. Much of the success of 48fps seems to depend on lighting, and when scenes are poorly lit the movie looks like a high-school renaissance fair shot on the set of “Days of Our Lives.”
The other problem with the extra-sharp presentation is that it makes it harder to fudge on the special effects and there are a few sequences where the computer-generated characters look a whole lot more clunky than they would have otherwise.
I would suggest seeing “The Hobbit” first at the good ol’ frame-rate of 24 frames per second and enjoying the movie without distraction, and then if you like the film enough, go back and try it out at the when-it’s-good-it’s-great-and-when-it’s-bad-it’s-terrible 48fps. Once they get the kinks ironed out, it is unquestionably the wave of the future.
What it all comes down to is that if you in any way, shape, or form enjoyed the “Lord of the Rings” movies then you must see “The Hobbit.” Many happy returns.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.