Many people, even film director Peter Jackson himself, concluded that one day when Jackson would
be no more, he would be remembered for his film version of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy—one of the most
epic achievements of modern cinema.
They say lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place, but in this case
it has. Jackson has now directed Tolkien’s introductory book to Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, some ten years
after he filmed Lord of the Rings. Has The Hobbit been worth the wait? The answer is a definite yes.
decision to film the book as a three-part trilogy, to lens the films in 3D, and to shoot them at 48 frames per second--which
is twice the normal projected film frame rate--in order to achieve additional clarity and realism, has further piqued interest
in the film.
And with so many characters from Lord of the Rings reprising their roles once again (both
on camera and behind the scenes), the result is that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is sheer delight—there
is so much to love--so many nuances and deft touches.
It is grand, funny, stirring, emotional—and it strikes
all the right balances and themes. Jackson and company have worked very hard to make this a special viewing experience.
it a perfect film? No. The seams sometimes show. But for comparison’s sake, the seams also show in Tchaikovsky’s
symphonies and Mahler’s symphonies. That doesn’t make them any less great. And Jackson’s technical legerdemain
and his ace cinematographer keep our eyes riveted to the screen.
What also helps is the 48 fps frame
rate in the Imax 3D version that I saw. The higher frame rate enhances both the clarity of image and the special effects and
it definitely increases the depth perception in the 3D—which incidentally is spectacular and thrilling to begin with
and the best since Hugo. It’s even a step beyond Avatar.
The 48 fps process does
give the image more presence and immediacy and it may become the future of cinema. Time will tell. Some viewers don’t
like it. But some also didn’t like high definition digital filmmaking when George Lucas introduced it with Star
Wars: Attack of the Clones. That was then. Today, most cinema-goers would not be able to distinguish which films have
been shot in digital and which have been shot on celluloid.
The Hobbit follows the adventures of the young Bilbo Baggins
who accompanies a team of dwarfs and the wizard Gandalf to reclaim a mountain kingdom protected by a dragon. Martin Freeman
is the perfect choice as Bilbo. Not only does he look like a younger version of Ian Holm (the Bilbo of the Rings
trilogy) but he can alternate between expert comic timing and dramatic weight with equal ease.
a pleasure it is to revisit Middle Earth once again and experience the same sense of wonder. Standout scenes include a Council
at Rivendell, with clever surprise appearances by Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman, and a superb confrontation in a cave with
Gollum as well as a dynamic sequence with giant rock monsters among many others. The sweeping scenic New Zealand vistas of
Middle Earth are sheer visual poetry.
The special effects are
outstanding and the literally cliff-hanging 3D is harrowing. Adding to the intensity is film composer Howard Shore who expands
on his earlier score of Lord of the Rings. As he couples familiar themes with new material, he is clearly building
another musical masterpiece.
For those who feel that Jackson has overreached by expanding The Hobbit
into three films by drawing on material from appendices of Lord of the Rings and other sources, it is important to
note that Tolkien himself revised The Hobbit more than once to have it conform more closely to Lord of the Rings.
Jackson has wrought is a beyond-the-state-of-the-art epic. The themes of selfishness, greed, heroism and maturity resonate
and mirror the even deeper themes in Lord of the Rings. One senses the intelligence that went into this script and
the grand design that Jackson is weaving. In addition, Jackson’s filmic style has matured and his showmanship is on
full display. He is building a six-part film masterwork. With any luck, he will visit Tolkien’s Silmarillion
when he is finished here and direct yet another great film.
But for now, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and its remaining chapters will serve
to keep us more than occupied and enthralled with its beauty, its adventure and its cinematic wizardry.