The Hobbit Review: An Unexpected Disappointment

Before the One Ring was rediscovered, before the Fellowship was formed and before the return of the King, an unexpected journey involving a company of dwarves, a wizard and a Hobbit took place in a faraway land. Welcome back to Middle Earth for the very first time. Get set for disappointment.

What Is It?

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is Peter Jackson's latest foray into the land of magic, rings and walking, and it's the first of three movies set to tackle the J.R.R Tolkien prequel to Lord of the Rings.

It goes for 169 minutes, it's shot in HFR 3D (48 frames per second rather than 24 frames per second) and the best time to go to the bathroom is either when Bilbo Baggins first denies the quest and the dwarves start to sing by the fire in his Hobbit hole, or when Lord Elrond offers the dwarves food in Rivendell. You've got about four minutes at either of those.

More: What Is HFR 3D?

What's It Like?

You all likely know the story (and if you don't there's still time to find out), so a plot synopsis seems irrelevant. Despite the well-known source material, it's worth noting there are spoilers beyond this point.

Stand-out characters include Martin Freeman (Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, Sherlock) and his portrayal of the slightly selfish, Hobbit-homebody Bilbo Baggins and the ever-brilliant Sir Ian McKellan (Lord Of The Rings, X-Men) as Gandalf the Grey.

There are a lot of familiar faces back for this unexpected journey — including Aussie favourites Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Transformers) and Cate Blanchett (Babel, I'm Not There) — and it's nice to see everyone back on-board for the ride.

As far as characters are concerned, there's not a tedious or ill-thought out character to speak of and all of the performances are solid, believable and thoroughly entertaining.

So the billion-dollar question is: what's HFR 3D actually like? There are many ways to describe it, but the best I think is that it's profoundly complicated and entirely contextual.

During the first half of the movie, we see a lot of well-lit, outdoor action scenes going on. Wargs and orcs chase Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarf company across wide-open plains, Bilbo flees the Shire while trying to catch up with his company, and Elves return to Rivendell after a hunt. At each and every turn, Jackson tries to be clever by showing you what HFR 3D looks like up close. It's at these moments the film is at its weakest.

You know when you hold your hand up in front of a fan or a TV and wave it back and forth? You'll notice that the hand looks blurry, right? That's what the first hour-and-a-half of The Hobbit look like: blurry and badly rendered.

3D shot at 24 frames per second looks fine because the special effects that are being made 3D blend into the shot nicely due to the soft blur and slightly dimmed scenery (thanks to the 3D glasses). With HFR 3D, it's double the frame rate, so you know exactly where the seams are in all of the special effects, especially when the scene is well lit.


It's not until the indoor and cavern scenes that this film takes your breath away. It's in the goblin cave and Bilbo's game with Smeagol (Andy Serkis) that The Hobbit comes into its own. Everything is super-sharp and insanely well thought out. Each shot is pieced together in layers and it really shows. Each layer that has been spliced into place has been adjusted so that the depth of the scene is just right. In these darker scenes you never feel like you can spot the special effects like you can in the cold light of New Zealand day.

Another example of perfect HFR 3D use is the arrival at Rivendell. If you can find a better looking waterfall on film as this, I'll pay you whatever it grosses at the box office. Water is stunningly realistic in this film. These effects alone — if you're into that sort of thing — warrant the price of an IMAX admission ticket.

My only other real concern with The Hobbit is the length: 169 minutes of film happened right before my eyes yesterday morning, and it's something I could recap in 10 minutes. There are so few key plot points in this film that you can get up and go to the bathroom pretty much whenever you want and still come back without skipping a beat or whispering to your companion to catch you up.

That's not so bad with the first movie: it's setting the scene like Fellowship of the Ring did, right? Right, but Lord Of The Rings is far more action-packed than The Hobbit, with battles left, right and centre, more characters than you can poke Gandalf's stick at and relevant backstories to boot. It was an layered film that you miss when you see The Hobbit.

How they plan on getting another two films — presumably as long — is beyond me.

The Worst Part

Massive spoiler: giant birds fix everything in these goddamn ring movies. Why can't we just call the giant birds up at the beginning of the quest, get them to ferry our heroes over to their destination, kick some arse and fly back in time for dinner?

The giant birds are cheap, Peter Jackson, and you know you ought to be cutting around them.

Also, there are four songs in this movie. Save those for the director's cut, buddy.

Should You See It?

It's not the best-looking 3D film of 2012 — that honour still goes to Life of Pi, but it's technically magnificent and the first film to be shot in HFR 3D: something I'd like to see more of here and there in the future.

You'll go and see The Hobbit for one of two reasons: the first is that you loved Lord Of The Rings and couldn't wait to get back into Middle Earth. The second is that you enjoy the technology of filmmaking and the intricacies of production. The look of this film (in the right places) is simply stunning, and if it's not released onto 4K at the time of the home-cinema launch, it'll be an opportunity missed. If you're looking for a light popcorn-movie or an action film, skip this one.

Images: New Line Cinema/Warner Brothers


Comments

    I'm trying to decided if this is meant as a review or to get more page views.

      Little Mexican girl: "Why can't we have both?"
      *triumphant Mexican music*

        Or for those that have decent spanish: "¿Por qué no podemos tener las dos cosas?"

      I've noticed that too. Mediocre, unknown and frustrated journalists pan this film just so somebody will notice their daily tweets. Should be ashamed of yourself Luke.

      Personally, I think Luke is a glorified Tweeter, no offense Luke, we can't all be brilliant like Peter Jackson yaknow XD

      Last edited 20/12/12 4:01 am

    I was quite surprised when I heard that The Hobbit was being made into three movies. WTF dude! LOTR was three movies and the book(s) amount to about 10 times as much content!

    Will be seeing this on boxing day anyway, but if I'm not seriously impressed I'll give the other two a miss and catch 'em when JB has 'em on BRD for $20.

      I was also surprised that this was going to be three movies. I've seen a pretty damn good puppetry play of The Hobbit that captured the whole thing pretty well, but they're expecting to drag it out to 8-9 hours worth of movie? It is not a large book.

      Having said that, I'll be watching it in Premium Lounge at Dendy since we have some gift certificates.

      Last edited 19/12/12 10:52 am

        You have to remember that the movies incorporate far more material than just The Hobbit book; Tolkien wrote extensive appendices in LotR describing what Gandalf was actually doing when he disappeared for chapters on end in The Hobbit, and more detailing events between The Hobbit and LotR. The whole third movie is about these events.

        The other thing to consider is that The Hobbit was aimed as a bedtime story for kids, whereas the movie is trying to be a full-fledged action/adventure story for adults, as well as a prequel of sorts for LotR. The original Hobbit story is quite different in style and tone to LotR, but Jackson is trying to make it "fit" more with LotR - giving it a more "epic" feel.

          You've given an explanation - and I appreciate that.

          However, all of these points fail to convince me that what Jackson is doing with The Hobbit is good. My feel is WWTD? It's not meant to and was not written to have the same tone ('epic') as LotR. It was not written to be as long - that there is extra in the appendices in LotR says that this info is extra to the story - not part of the story itself. 3 movies for The Hobbit = fail in my book.

            The brilliant pacing of the film and the seamless addition of back story and additional information would indicate that you are wrong.

            If one insists that a movie called The Hobbit confine itself to Tolkien's book called The Hobbit, then this trilogy will indeed disappoint.

            However, for those of us who want to see as much of Tolkien as possible translated to the screen, this first movie of the new trilogy is a joy and a triumph. As the owners of the Tolkien copyrights not already available have made clear that the remaining material will not be made available, the chances are extremely small that anyone will come along to make a movie about the various bits and pieces of Tolkien's work other than The Hobbit book that are still available to make into movies. Jackson is trying to give us as much of Tolkien as the copyrights allow. And I for one am grateful for it. The end result will be a six-part glorious visualization of most of the Middle Earth stories available.

            I do hope, though, that Peter Jackson will eventually make from The HObbit trilogy a two-hour cut of bare bones material from The Hobbit book, allowing about the same time as Tolkien did to the various events (which will give you, for example, maybe thirty seconds of the stone giants and ten minutes or so of the Battle of the Five Armies, and none of the fascinating material from the appendices). That way, the many people who resent seeing any more of Tolkien's world than he saw fit to show little children can be protected from all the extra - unfilmed by anybody other than Jackson - material for adults. This will also be wonderful for families of young children. (Well, younger than nine anyway, if I may judge by my grandson, who thought the first Hobbit movie great fun and too short.)

            As for the HFR, I wonder if there was something wrong with the projector when the reviewer saw the movie. I saw it first in 2D, and then in 3D HFR. With the HFR, from the very first moment, I was astounded at how much of the wonderful detail I had been unable to see clearly in the 2D version. For me, it was analogous to first watching the movie with my glasses off, and then watching it again with them on. I left thinking that every non- HFR movie I ever see in future will suffer by comparison.

    One of these days you'll give something apart from an Apple product a favourable review.

      One day.......one day.

        and when we notice it, and believe you me we WILL notice it, it's going to be a long way down for you sweet cheeks.

          *jumps and points to telephone cable*

          GGAAOOOOOOOOOOUUHHOOOOOHHHHHH!!!

      Do you even read Gizmodo?

      iPhone 5 review. Should you buy it section...
      In a word? No. Not because it’s a rubbish phone or because it deserves to be a doorstop on your back gate or anything awful like that, but because right now, getting an iPhone 5 is just a bad deal.

      http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2012/09/apple-iphone-5-review-and-4g-speed-test-the-best-and-worst-iphone-ever/

        Just by that quote it seems they were quite neutral, the only thing they were pointing out that was bad was the pricing, not the actual hardware or software of the device. More of their "sitting on the fence" view on it is visible by reading the title of that article alone. Hardly a negative review.

          A neutral review proves my point as well as a negative one.

      lol. What a dick.

        Verified dick.

          *said in Dr Evil Voice* Dick move Scott, DICK MOVE.

          Hey, he got verified before you Luke!

            NOW WHO'S THE DICK, DANIEL

              +1

              Ohh

              @nekp I believe you stated that Gizmodo and/or Luke have not given a good review for anything other than an Apple product. Here's just one article contradicting your statement:
              http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2012/10/lytro-light-field-camera-review-i-have-seen-the-light-field/

              You may now stfu.

              Merry Christmas.

    It would be nice if this was a review of the film and not of the technology. I agree with comment about the the birds saving the say every time, and sure the songs could have been left for the extended edition but you can't give a sub par review of a film then barely comment about the content while focusing on a new tech that no-ones seen before. Poor form...

      +1
      Still a bit worried that they decided to wring as much cash out of it as possible by making what should be a one movie story into three movies.

      Last edited 19/12/12 11:24 am

      Gizmodo is a tech blog, I would have been disappointed if there was any less info about the technology, that's why I come here. Even if this were on any old film review site, I'd still want to hear about how HFR effects the viewing experience because Jackson is using this film to push that technology.

        That's fine but why make it sound like shit because the OP didn't like the tech?

    I certainly will start to pay attention to waterfalls more often in movies from now on...

    I thought the film was incredibly fun to watch, it was a heart warming adventure that kept me on the edge of my seat the whole way through. I honestly cannot understand why people are complaining.

    3 movies is doable for the hobbit. I mean, he's sure to reap in profits from the movie. LOTR SHOULD have been a miniseries, it was sooo hacked up to squeeze into 3 movies (even the directors cut) I would have loved to see the scourging of the shire on film.

    You've seen the HFR 3D and I haven't, but how can it be blurry, and so sharp you can see the seams, at the same time?

    I can totally imagine it revealing any flaws in makeup or props (just like HiDef originally did too), but the whole point of HFR was to reduce blur from motion - it should be significantly sharper, not blurrier.

      it really must depend who's eyes are watching it, I went to it at VMax in HFR last night and it was so smooth and clear it now makes any other 3D I watch look choppy in comparison, not sure if it is a different experience at different cinemas, but the VMax at Garden City was incredible.

    the awesome thing about having low expectations of something [in this case, a film] is that it usually always exceeds your expectations! if that makes sense....

      I was thinking the same thing when I saw the title. I hate it when something gets overhyped

    By far the most useful information I've ever come across in any movie review: "the best time to go to the bathroom is either when Bilbo Baggins first denies the quest and the dwarves start to sing by the fire in his Hobbit hole, or when Lord Elrond offers the dwarves food in Rivendell. You’ve got about four minutes at either of those.".

    Really useful, especially when one decides to buy a large coke and popcorn for a 3 hour movie. Your liquid intake is bound to catch up with you at some point.

    Gizmodo redefines for me the magnitude of looseness with which term "review" can be applied...

    So are we going to see some Silmarillion stuff in these Hobbit movies?
    ..Or is that going to be for the next 6 movies to come ;)

    It might be the fan-girl in me, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Hobbit when I saw it last night, my eyes had trouble with the screen in the first part of the movie but that sorted itself out after awhile. My friend and I were trying to guess where the film would end (which we got right, but struggle to see how the rest of the book can be split into two films as well) and how they would "pad out" the movie, which we got mostly right. Perhaps we thought about it too much beforehand, so the movie -could- be stretched, and the length didn't phase us as much as others who saw it at the same time.

    Worth it:
    Riddles in the Dark. I -adored- this part of the movie.
    The Hill Giants and the capture of the party by the goblins, not 100% canon but well executed.
    While not completely canon I actually thoroughly enjoyed how close to the storyline Jackson kept it. Some of the dialogue scenes were so accurate my reading of the book this morning, I heard the actors in my head.
    The "filler". Not for everyone, I expect but I am a huge fan of Tolkien's work, so I enjoyed seeing the parts of the movie that aren't in the book. Some have said it detracts from the story, I feel it adds to it. Each to their own I guess.

    Meh:
    I had a few scenes I was rather looking forward to, and I was disappointed when they didn't follow the book verbatim.
    Jackson's attempt to add more action to the movie, it would be spoilery to explain how but it irked me. Judge for yourself on this one though. I do understand though that days upon days of them trudging through the wilderness doesn't make inspiring watching, so I can see why they done it.
    The eagles. NOT because of Luke's reasoning either, I disagree strongly in fact (half the reason why I'm posting). I was extremely disappointed to find they didn't stay faithful in this scene. I was very excited to see it given the eagles' importance to the Hobbit, LotR and the world of Middle Earth. I'd been disappointed in LotR with the portrayal of them, and had hoped for better in this movie. Jackson didn't deliver :'(

    Do I think its worth seeing? YES. If I can convince my SO, I'll be going again as soon as its released.

    But then, I am a fan-girl :P

    My ageing bladder yearns for the return of the movie intermission.

      Just drink more coke, or other sugar / caffeinated beverage that yearns to exit your body as fast as biologically possible before, or during the movie. Thats what all the other smart movie goers do who need to have toilet breaks.

    Life of Pi was such a Jungle Book ripoff mate it's unreal.

    I wish I watched it in 2D.

    The 3D sucked. Blurry as. For five minutes in the first 30, I even took off the glasses and tried to watch it without.

    I couldn't decide whether watching it blurry without, or blurry with the glasses was better.

    At the end of the day, I missed so much from this movie because I chose to watch it in 3d. I could tell there was a lot of details I missed, and my 7-8 out of 10 experience was downgraded to a 4 or 5.

      It wasn't blurry because you were watching in 3D, it was blurry because you were watching in 24 fps. Because it was filmed at 48 fps, they had to generate artificial motion-blur for the 24 fps version, and it doesn't look that great. It would have been just as blurry in 2D.

        Oh I see - that makes sense. What a shame. The plebeian cinema I went to didn't offer 48fps. Rorted.

        A rare visit to the cinema once again turned sour.

        Back to piratebay it is.

          I was going to say, it was easily the clearest 3D action I've ever seen, but that was in 48fps.

    WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THE FILM:
    Martin Freeman's performance of Bilbo Baggins was nothing short of superb, he fits into the role so perfectly well

    Andy Serkis's performance is worthy of an Oscar nomination, it's about time the Academy stops reserving nominee roles for live action performances and start recognizing that virtual performances are just as memorable as standard actors. Frank Oz was robbed by cinemaphobia in 1981 it's time to right that wrong.

    The Mountain Titans scene was absolutely incredible, it came totally unexpected and was pretty spectacular

    The riddle scene, need I say more

    The Cinematography was spectacular with some amazing shots capturing the sunlight perfectly

    WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE
    The length,

    The talking cave trolls, coming from how we saw them in The Fellowship of the Ring it felt really out of place.

    The scenes in the Shire felt really long and bland

    The "That's what Bilbo hates" song, felt like A BIG LIPPED ALLIGATOR MOMENT (Google it)

    The climax was given away by the butterfly and felt like such a copout.

    Overall 7/10

    Hardly an "unexpected disappointment" for me. I didn't enjoy any of the Lord of the Rings films and this looks like it will be even more ridiculous. I'll go and see it for technical/professional purposes but I have absolutely no expectation of enjoying it whatsoever.

    I'd also point out that there is no reason at all that the visual effects (VFX) should not be just as good at 48fps as there are at normal frame rates, particualrly given the depth of detail Weta always bring to bear. If they have not been well integrated with the live action, it is likely to be down to running out of time rather than any technical limitation.

    Saw it last night. Went in expecting crap and I thought it was awesome. (watched in 2d)

    Does this article get bumpe3d up each time someone comments?/?

    Saw it first in 2D.
    Looked for effects that showed up the increased frame rate. Saw few.
    Enjoyed the movie in general.
    Then went again for the 3D version. Verdict: overdone effects in 3D.
    Not as enjoyable as in 2D.
    Technically, good in both versions.

    I enjoyed it. watched it in HFR 3D... some of the shots were stunning, some of the acting was stunning. While im not sure how they are going to pad out (or add in sidestories). I am sure that the other two movies will be visually stunning, and hopefully fleshed out and not just husks of films.

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    2017 The Silmarillion - I can't wait!

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