Mixed early reviews for The Hobbit

Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy says "it's a bit of a slog" but quite likes the overall tone of the picture:

There are elements in this new film that are as spectacular as much of the Rings trilogy was, but there is much that is flat-footed and tedious as well, especially in the early going. This might be one venture where, rather than DVDs offering an “Expanded Director's Version,” there might be an appetite for a “Condensed Director's Cut” in a single normal-length film.

James Rocchi, writing for Box Office, loathes the 48fps projection offered by some theaters as much as he likes Martin Freeman's Bilbo.

What the 48 frame-per-second projection actually means is flat lighting, a plastic-y look, and, worst of all, a strange sped-up effect that makes perfectly normal actions—say, Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins placing a napkin on his lap—look like meth-head hallucinations. I wanted to ask the projectionist to double-check the equipment, but really, I should just ask Jackson why he wanted his $270 million blockbuster to look like a TV movie ... But thank Martin Freeman for his work as Bilbo, the ostensible hero of the series, although he does precious little in this first throat-clearing film. His Bilbo is an immensely human, warm and humble everyman hurled into danger and threat by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who insists he aid a group of dwarfs determined to regain their ancestral home from a dragon.

Variety's Peter Debruge is disappointed:

While Peter Jackson's prequel to "The Lord of the Rings" delivers more of what made his earlier trilogy so compelling -- colorful characters on an epic quest amid stunning New Zealand scenery -- it doesn't offer nearly enough novelty to justify the three-film, nine-hour treatment, at least on the basis of this overlong first installment, dubbed "An Unexpected Journey."

Indiewire's Rodrigo Perez ridicules the bloat, which includes dual nested prologues and a three-hour running time, but likes it when it gets moving:

As epic, grandiose, and emotionally appealing as the previous pictures, 'The Hobbit' doesn’t move far from the mold, but it’s a thrilling ride that’s one of the most enjoyable, exciting and engaging tentpoles of the year.

Germain Lussier:

On a consistent basis, it’s almost as if Jackson forgets he has two more films to release and is forced to pump the brakes. Tangents pop out of nowhere, dialogue scenes are stretched into infinity, and a familiar structure of capture followed by rousing escape, is consistently repeated. Much of the film feels like it’s purposely attempting to stall the dwarves’ quest from progressing.

Sounds like the decision to interpolate it out over three movies was a poor one: there simply isn't the material to cover the stretch. This is too bad, because Jackson's technique is "high-budget BBC miniseries", not "cinema", so the decision to go long (whatever its motives) should have played to his strong suits.


      1. He’s a genius!  He took King Kong, which had 90 minutes worth of interest, and stretched it out to eleven hours of repetitive special effects.  He’s obviously a brilliant conceptual artist.

  1. Its inevitable that people will moan about 48 frame-per-second projections. All film critics are conservatives at heart, harking back to the old art of celluloid. Sooner or later though we’ll all get used to it and wonder how we lived with 24fps.

    1. Agreed. It really does seem to be a case of disliking the new for it being different.

      I completely expect to find the 48fps projection really odd to begin with, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it with time.

    2. The thing is we have higher framerates, and they already have their place in the film grammar.  Live sports, soap operas, local news, infomercials, and low-budget sitcoms (basically anything shot directly to video) have been 60 (50 in PAL-land) fps (well, half-frames) for decades.  And we associate the extremely smooth motion, lack of motion blur, and necessity for stronger lighting (faster shutter speed) with low production values.  That’s why primetime dramas and big-budget sitcoms shoot 24fps and pull down the results to video framerates after editing.     

      1. Thing is, people stuck with the 24 fps back in the early days of cinema due to the technology not being up to snuff, and it just became a habit as time went by. I’m pretty sure if they had a higher framerate back in those days, high frame rates would be the norm.

        1. 24p has become an aesthetic standard for western culture. It’s not about what’s technically superior, it’s about what our eye’s have gotten used to from a century of film making.
          Now, my question in return, what is actually better about a higher framerate?

          1. It’s a matter of taste. Framerate isn’t set in stone, placed upon the highest mountain, written by God himself. It’s mainly just a habit the film industry got set in. Seeing things in a different framerate is just something we’re not used to. In an alternate universe, if the 48 fps was the standard framerate for decades, people would think 24 fps looks weird. Neither framerate is better or worse (though I’m sure a very low frame rate would look like a slideshow), just a differing matter of aesthetic taste.

    3. Dude, truly you’re saying this as someone who’s never been forced to watch it.

      It’s awful — just hideous-looking. It’s that judder-removal look that badly calibrated new televisions have, where everything looks like a shitty soap opera. 

      1. Start the revolution without digital

        Roger Ebert / December 12, 1999

        I have seen the future of the cinema, and it is not digital. No matter what you’ve read, the movie theater of the future will not use digital video projectors, and it will not beam the signal down from satellites. It will use film, and the film will be right there in the theater with you.

        I’m intrigued to see it, but what I’m hearing is that PG may not have figured out how to make it work.  One criticism I heard was that the effect is so deeply real that you instantly deduce that you are looking at a soundstage covered with props.  I can also believe that lighting would need to be rethought.

    1. The critics gave overwhelmingly positive reviews to all of the LOTR movies. Now they are giving middling reviews to The Hobbit. This implies that there are serious issues with this movie regardless of how “cool, hip, [and] trendy” they are. Don’t get too emotionally invested in this movie being great. Critics exist for a reason and when many of their reviews take a nosedive, you shouldn’t expect greatness. The critics didn’t rake Star Wars Episode I over the coals just because they wanted to be hip and trendy.

    2. Certainly none of the haters could be people who were really, really looking forward to this movie and hoping that it would be better than it is. (See also: Star Trek: The Motion[less] Picture.)

    3. I suppose that, if I only left the house once a year, I’d pretend that I had a good time no matter what happened.

  2. I always thought the decision to make this in 3 films was a bit odd, given that the book is a skinny little thing you can read in half a day tops, a LOTR sized tome it ain’t.

    1. Three films surprised me, but two didn’t.  The Hobbit is slim on paper, but filled with action, which stretches on film.  LotR is thick on paper, but filled with talk and exposition (c.f. The Council of Elrond) which either consumes little screen time because it can be displayed pictorally, or must be cut or worked around.

      For what it’s worth, both quests begin and resolve themselves in about a year (although pushing Frodo out the door technically takes twenty-two years in The Fellowship).

      1. Three films surprised me, but two didn’t.  The Hobbit is slim on paper, but filled with action…

        Yeah, but much of that “action” is a bunch of little folks crashing on other people’s couches and singing songs about food. If you can’t tell that story in one movie (especially a three-hour movie) then you need to find yourself an editor.

  3. “3-D glasses/ bad framerates
    That’s what Peter Jackson hates
    That’s what Peter Jackson hates
    So carefully, carefully, with the… early reviews…”

    OK, filk: not my strong suit.

  4. Peter Jackson made a movie that meandered too much and was stretched out for too long? I never would have guessed. 

    Am I the only one who thinks the LoTR trilogy is the only good thing Jackson has ever made? And even then, I could honestly do with a few less shots of Frodo staring blankly toward the horizon contemplating his quest while a recording of the same fucking line of dialogue from Gandalf plays in his head just one more time. It’s like he felt the need to bash the audience over the head with movie’s ideas rather than trust us to understand that, yes, this is scary important stuff and, yes, we do remember why because we just saw the explanation less than an hour ago.

    I honestly think that a lot of the stuff from the extended editions could have made it into the theatrical releases if he had just spent a little less time zooming in on Frodo’s tears or Sam’s worried gaze or Legolas’ eyebrows. I know, some great acting would have been on the cutting room floor then, but it felt like a really boring form of needless exposition to me.

    Christ, I miss Kurosawa and every other director who trusted their audience.

    1. Am I the only one who thinks the LoTR trilogy is the only good thing Jackson has ever made?

      I’m just rewatching LOTR after about five years. And I’m not finding it very watchable. I’m not sure why I didn’t see this so much the first few times, but the cheese factor is pretty high. There are innumerable scenes where every line is Pompous Exposition. It’s completely off tonally; everyone’s personality has been changed from the books. And pretty much every plot point is incorrect. And I don’t mean the need to compress things to get them on screen, just wrong. It’s a visually beautiful mutilation of the books.

      1. I too have just rewatched LOTR, with my 11-year-old daughter (in preparation for “The Hobbit”, which she really wants to see). And your point about cheese resonates strongly. My daughter laughed often at what I initially thought were pretty inappropriate points (how could she not see the dramatic significance?), but as the movie went on and I got off my high horse I started to feel the same way. At the start of “The Return of the King”, she stated that if Frodo stared off into space and declared something she already knew one more time she was going to call it quits. By the end, I think she was secretly rooting for Sauron. 

        I read LOTR in the mid-70 when I was a middle teen, and it’s been one of my favourite and most loved stories. I loved LOTR when it came out. But now; not so much. 

        I ended up telling my daughter to read the books instead. I will still take her to see “The Hobbit”, but I have lowered my expectations a little. Nevertheless, I still maintain that some of the posters for the movie are among the best I’ve seen.

  5. Nice pithy line from the Nerdist’s review: “the birdshit-bedecked hippie wizard Radagast the Brown”.

    And Benedict Cumberbatch as the Necromancer? Interesting, so long as no one goes back and Lucases the LOTR in new releases.

  6. It does not really matter what the ‘critics’ think as it only really matters what you think.  They hate it but you may very well love it or not.

  7. Sometimes I long for the days when we didn’t have to listen to douche bag critics who have to nit pick everything and have to be different and for snarky haters chiming in online for shit they haven’t even seen yet. See it first and objectively judge for yourself. 

    1. Actually, I read reviews exactly because I can judge (and think) for myself.  

      Sometimes they say something I hadn’t thought of, or express succinctly an inchoate suspicion I’d already had; other times, they’re flat-out wrong and I have to think carefully to construct an argument as to why they’re wrong.

  8. I’d love to see any of these critics get off their butts and create something themselves. Anyone can flap their lips; it takes no talent, skill or effort at all.

    But to get out there and become a target for other peoples’ slings and arrows? That takes cojones.

    Recently, I was utterly blown away by the astonishing job the Wachowskis did with the adapted screenplay for “Cloud Atlas.” Anyone who had read the book would be gobsmacked by the way they managed to take six separate narratives and weave them all together. 

    But the critics, by and large, didn’t even perceive this; they spent more time talking about Tom Hanks wearing makeup. Oy.

    1. You are assuming that criticism requires no skill or effort. That is quite an amazing conclusion. Do you honestly think that the major newspapers or magazines hire people at random to be critics because “anyone can flap their lips; it takes no talent, skill or effort at all”?

      I find that aggregations of critics reviews sometimes don’t suit my tastes, but they are generally on the mark. And I find that when the reviews take a nosedive compared to a previous work, I should be cautious. For example, I found that the exceptional critic’s reviews  introduced me to movies like Pan’s Labyrinth, games like Grim Fandango, and music like St. Vincent. And I’ve ignored critics reviews at my peril such as for the Star Wars prequels. To me, critics serve an important purpose. Otherwise, we would have to use acquaintances and random people for reviews. The result would look like YouTube or amazon .com.

      1. Bzishi, I absolutely see your point. Exceptional criticism is an art. There are many professional critics I have the highest respect for. 

        But there are also those who, in fact, lack any distinction of their own, and who love to denigrate in order to inflate their own self-image. It is these, the ones without ability, I’m referring to.

        I know; I’ve worked for a number of them, and my statement that “anyone can flap their lips” applies directly to those who have never actually display any creativity of their own. My own criticism was not meant to apply to those who create, but to dilettantes. 

        Experience has left me a little, um, sensitive.

        1. The idea that only Jackson’s peers can criticize his work is ludicrous. You don’t have to go to chef school to criticize a meal that literally tastes like shit. If Jackson isn’t making the film for “those who have never actually display[ed] any creativity of their own”–a goodly portion of whom love LotR, of course–then who is he making it for?

  9. “there is much that is flat-footed and tedious as well, especially in the early going”  

    Sounds faithful to the book at least!

  10. It’s a dangerous business, going out your door, or creating an Epic Film. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to. Sounds like the film mirrors the book, and it’s most important theme, very well. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d love to take a long, meandering journey with Bilbo and company — as they take a long, meandering journey.

    1.  Y’know, people just have short attention spans. I think its good that every once in a while there’s a movie that treats itself more as a novel and takes its time to tell a story rather than bowing to the fleeting whims of Hollywood.

      God forbid we get enough time for character development, world-making and a deep, rich mythos instead of the worn-out ratatat of plot point, set-piece, plot point, set piece, set piece.

  11. “a familiar structure of capture followed by rousing escape, is consistently repeated”

    Has this guy READ The Hobbit?

    1. Heh, everything I’ve read about it sounds exactly like the book. It’s a children’s book that draws upon ancient, time-tested tropes from various legends and fairy tales. Of course a movie based on a children’s book written in the 1930s is not going to have the most modern of plots, and I’ll be very happy with that.

  12. I find it disappointing and uselessly distracting when some give their opinion of the experimental technology as though it were an integral part of a review of The Hobbit. Every critic needs to watch the movie in the soon-to-be widely available non-3D 24 FPS, and then review the movie itself. Later a second review of just the purely optional experimental 3D HFR technology would be interesting. 

    The Hobbit isn’t identical with the optional-for-viewers 3D HFR, and treating the technology as integral to the movie in the same way that story and characters are integral is, frankly, non-professional. In some of the first reviews, it’s very difficult to tell what the reviewer actually thought of the movie itself; in a few the complaints about the technology just sort of bleed over into some vague whines about the movie in such a way as to lead to the question of whether the reviewer just hates the optional technology so much that he/she then looks for other negatives to tack on.

    As people begin to dismiss the movie based on overall ratings strongly affected by some people’s dislike of an optional-viewing technology, Tolkien fans need to insist that The Hobbit not become a secondary and mauled-over sacrifice to technology quarrels.

    1.  Me and my dad are going to see an imax 3d high frame rate showing. We’re prepared for a different experience with the frame rate, and I’m sure he won’t mind it looking a bit like a BBC show, since him and my stepmom are always watching BBC shows on Netflix. I swear, they’re addicted to the BBC.

    2. Tolkien fans need to insist that The Hobbit not become a secondary and mauled-over sacrifice to technology quarrels.

      The time to do that was three years ago, and the person with whom to do it was Peter Jackson.

      1. Nonsense. Jackson has released the film in 2D and 3D versions of 24 fps, and in a small number of theaters with an additional version of 3D 48 fps. Complaining that the extra choice damages the movie is like picketing an ice cream parlor because in addition to more than one variety of chocolate, which you like, the store owner dared to add, in just a small percentage of his stores, his personal favorite of strawberry, which you don’t like, as an additional flavor for anybody who might want it. Enjoy what you like, but when you start demanding that choices be limited to your personal favorite so that other people can’t get their own favorite, you just sound cranky. If you think HFR is horrible, then watch the movie at 24 fps. Jackson made it readily available for you.

          1. And presumably you live in Palm Springs? Ah, now I understand. That would make me cranky too. I leave you to the gentle comfort of having the last word.

          2. It’s actually very weird that it’s not scheduled to show here. We normally get every major release unless it’s during the Festival, which isn’t until January. I wonder if it’s equipment related. It’s showing in all the surrounding towns.

  13. “a familiar structure of capture followed by rousing escape, is consistently repeated”

    You mean….exactly how things kept happening in the book?
    The Hobbit is much more a series of episodes than LotR is.
    Each chapter is almost a self contained short story and can be read as a bedtime story.

    1. Indeed, which tells me that, at least on that argument, its critic proof. They may find other points to criticize, but any criticism about that point is rendered moot by the fact that its following the plot of the book. And if they wish to bestow their great critical skills upon a book written for children in the 1930s, then they can go right ahead.

      1. They may find other points to criticize, but any criticism about that point is rendered moot by the fact that its following the plot of the book.

        Unless those critics subscribe to outlandish ideas like:

        1. A movie is a creative art form unto itself that must ultimately stand or fall on its own merits, or
        2. A good adaptation may include, even require, deviations from the source material now and then.

        1. Well, there will be several deviations from the book, we already know that, but if you look at the book, the whole plot can be distilled into “Dwarves get caught, Bilbo or Gandalf frees them, Dwarves get caught, Bilbo or Gandalf frees them, Dwarves get caught, Bilbo or Gandalf frees them, Dwarves get caught, Bilbo or Gandalf frees them, They get to the lonely mountain wake up dragon, kill dragon, everybody they piss off gets into huge battle” Now, the many, many times the dwarves get caught may be repetitive to some people, they are still important parts of the book, and Tolkien fans may not be happy to see them excised. So, you either make certain critics happy, or you make Tolkien fans happy, and that’s a tightrope bridge.

          1. I thought excising certain major events like Tom Bombadil and the scouring of the Shire were good editorial decisions for the LOTR adaptations even though they annoyed purists. There’s really no reason Jackson couldn’t have either dropped or consolidated some of the “Dwarves get caught/freed” episodes.

          2.  Well, the proportion of those events in LotR compared to the proportion of those events in the Hobbit is very different. Combined, Bombadil and the Scouring take up 30 pages out of a 1000 page (hardback) book. Meanwhile, the “Dwarves get captured” scenes in the Hobbit take up about 100 pages out of a 250 page book.

  14. I’m keeping an open mind about 48 fps.  A lot of the criticism reminds me of how people reacted to the ultra high def look of Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, a movie I admired a lot.

Comments are closed.