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There and Back Again With 'The Hobbit'

Today sees Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth, as The Hobbit hits theaters everywhere. It’s been a long time coming and fans of his Academy Award winning Lord of the Rings trilogy will certainly find plenty to enjoy. Now, if you’re looking for a plot breakdown and some kind of star rating, there are plenty of reviews out there. But that’s not what we’re doing here. What I’d like to do is take a look of some specific aspects of the film that Script readers in particular might find interesting.

First things first, we should probably address the whole 48fps controversy that has been brewing around this film since the first sneak peek was revealed at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. The difference between 48fps and the standard 24fps is immediately apparent as the first scene unfolds, and not in a good way. While your eyes will grow accustomed to this higher frame rate, the end result of the crisp and vivid images is actually a lowered level of realism rather than an increased one. To me, everything seemed flat. The depth of field was lost. Instead of being immersed in another world, it feels more like watching CGI cut scenes from a video game. The only good news is that, while Peter Jackson is a huge proponent of the 48fps format, there is a standard 24fps version being released. That’s the version to see if you have the choice.

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For me, the biggest worry about The Hobbit was always the fact that Jackson was taking such a short book and turning it into a trilogy. Unfortunately, that concern turned out to be well founded. As it turns out, the plan to get three movies out of one book comes from shoehorning in a bunch of superfluous material. One of the best examples is right at the beginning as Elijah Wood and Ian Holm make cameo appearances, setting up the main story of a young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the company of dwarfs that lead him there and back again. This is a common thread throughout the first hour of the film, as Jackson trots out several familiar faces from The Lord of the Rings that don’t really serve any role other than to placate fans of that original trilogy. This blatant pandering to the audience at the expense of basic story rules (if it doesn’t move the story forward, cut it) bogs down the script and keeps the story from moving at a more engaging pace.

That’s not to say there’s nothing of value to be had in The Hobbit. Martin Freeman is perfectly cast as Bilbo, giving a truly superb performance, and Ian Mckellen’s Gandalf brings an instant smile of familiarity to the face of everyone in the audience. There’s also one stand-out scene. It’s the best part of the film by far, and it should come as no surprise that it involves Andy Serkis (can someone please give this man an Oscar already). The game of riddles scene between Gollum and Bilbo is brilliantly written and acted, and gives a small glimpse into what could have been if the entire film had been executed at the same level.

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And this brings up what has, upon much digestion of the film, become the most disturbing flaw of the film. The tone of The Hobbit is significantly more light-hearted than its predecessors. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that on face value, but it’s being played out in a universe we’re already extremely familiar with. Audiences have spent more than 9 hours (12 if you have the Extended Edition DVDs) and close to a decade immersed in this dark and extremely realistically portrayed world. So when the same sets, the same characters, the same world, are then put into this new world of over-the-top slapstick humor, bodily function jokes, and groan inducing one liners delivered by a certain villain, something just doesn’t feel right in Middle-Earth.

Are you planning on seeing The Hobbit this weekend? If you do, come back here afterwards and let me know whether you agree with my thoughts or not.