By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 3, 2012 at 8:58PM
Finally, the last films of the year are being screened, just in time for early critics voting. Early reactions to this weekend's "Django Unchained" were upbeat, but reviews are embargoed. Reactions to Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." first came in from both the New Zealand premiere, held on Wednesday, and a slew of Los Angeles screenings. Complaints from the premiere took the form of dizziness and even motion sickness from watching the controversial 48 fps, while some L.A. critics found the film padded, overlong and shockingly lacking in women. UPDATE: With more reviews filed, though, "The Hobbit" is currently 71% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
I was entertained but underwhelmed by "The Hobbit," which is an extraordinary VFX achievement and should land its only Oscar nomination in that category. Not surprisingly, the grand narrative of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" is missing from "The Hobbit," which even as a book feels like a ramp-up --it's 60 years ahead of those events--to a more ambitious effort. Nonetheless, "The Hobbit" will play for holiday audiences, not on the scale of "TLOR," but well enough. Jackson is clearly happy to return to Middle Earth, whether or not he can top his Oscar-wiinning trilogy, which would be tough to do. And legions of The One Ring fans will be happy to go back too.
The first time around I wanted to see the film in the flat 2-D 24 frames per second format, so I could compare and contrast with its intended format, 48 fps, which remains controversial. Some submit to while others fight against its crystal clarity. Even at 24 frames, this gorgeous film marks an enormous breakthrough in VFX production. It has astonishing digital scale and scope, but often falls victim to the-more-pixels-the-better syndrome. I do recommend seeing it at 48 fps in 3-D--even though scenes shot in full daylight look like horrid television video--in order to understand the film's foreground/background depth and design. You get used to it.
You can see Guillermo del Toro's contribution in the character creation--vast numbers of gruesome trolls, goblins, and orcs. Suddenly you're back underground with Bilbo and Gollum and it's the best sequence in the movie--even though Weta VFX master Joe Letteri says they completely changed what was under the hood in order to create him. That said, Ian McKellan as Gandalf, Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Richard Armitage as dwarf King Thorin all carry the movie.
There has almost certainly never been an adaptation of a novel more studiously, scrupulously and strenuously faithful as Peter Jackson's film of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Spending nearly three hours of screen time to visually represent every comma, period and semicolon in the first six chapters of the perennially popular 19-chapter book, Jackson and his colleagues have created a purist's delight, something the millions of die-hard fans of his Lord of the Rings trilogy will gorge upon. In pure movie terms, however, it's also a bit of a slog, with an inordinate amount of exposition and lack of strong forward movement.
It's hard to see the maps of Middle Earth and hear Howard Shore's score and not brace yourself for the sweeping emotions and battles of Lord of the Rings, but anyone who has read The Hobbit knows to expect a lighter, smaller story, one more about amiable dwarves and a grouchy hobbit than stirring calls to heroism. And though The Hobbit feels in its first half very much like a brief story stretched far too thin, it eventually settles into its own enjoyable rhythm, a comic adventure that's a good enough excuse to make a return visit to Middle Earth.
At this point, audiences pretty much know what to expect from "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," despite the title's insistence to the contrary. That's hardly a knock on Jackson's fourth installment in the franchise, a prequel that takes place 60 years before the earlier movies' events but basically resurrects the same world of limber and furry-footed humanoids, fire-breathing dragons and deadly Orcs. Plot comes secondary to the care involved in bringing Middle Earth back to life. While Jackson hasn't delivered a hit on par with his "Lord of the Rings" movies, "The Hobbit" proves he can still do justice to the tricky blend of fantasy and action that made the earlier entries such enjoyable works of popular entertainment.
Fulfilling just a fraction of J.R.R. Tolkien's "There and Back Again" subtitle, "The Hobbit" alternately rewards and abuses auds' appetite for all things Middle-earth. 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." The primary advance here is technical, as Jackson shoots in high-frame-rate 3D, an innovation that improves motion at the expense of visual elegance.
"The Hobbit's biggest sin is being simply pretty good. Entertaining but rarely enthralling."
"First half is kind of a disaster. Pleasant, but shaggy and meandering. Second half is action-packed and saves the movie."
"Also, are there any female characters in the book? Because right now, THE HOBBIT makes THE AVENGERS look like THE WOMEN. #1939thankyou"
"HOBBIT is also way less emotional than LOTR. No real tear-filled moments. A lighter time all around."
"If the Hobbit didn't add Galadriel, there would have been NO speaking roles for women."