For those of us who read the Hobbit B.C., (by which I mean Before Computers, Before Cellphones), before the digital age, back when books were books and kindle was what you did to a campfire, there is something more than mildly unsettling about seeing a 3D version (real 3D, high frame rate, no less) of this children’s story. What would Tolkien (who was anti-industrial revolution never mind anti-technology) say, especially about a slender book made into three movies, which climaxes with an hour long battle scene with those nasty old Orcs? Hide the women and children (which is exactly the advice of Bard the Dragonslayer in the new film)!! I think he would be upset, especially with making the film as if it were simply the earlier chapters of the adult story called The Lord of the Rings. But let us allow Peter Jackson his poetic license, and suspend our disbelieve and purist desires. How should we evaluate the film as a film, on its own merits?
First lets talk about the high frame rate 3D. Honestly, there is nothing like it, and this third film looks better than the second one using this technology. When I say there is nothing like it what I mean is that it makes it appear as if you were present on the set with the actors watching the whole shebang. Now this provides pluses and minuses. On the minus side the aerial shots where you are panning over a large landscape can make you queasy, like your third straight ride on that monster roller coaster. Then too, it appears so much like you are there on the set, you don’t get the sometimes helpful sense of merely watching the action from a far, which creates a sense of comforting unreality. You don’t start ducking when the orcs start swinging their swords and maces directly at you when you are watching the film without the real 3D. On the plus side, you see everything perfectly clearly, no fuzziness, and the close up of faces and the like are so real, so vivid, you feel like you can count the pores in Bilbo’s face, or the hairs on his hobbity feet.
What of the story telling? I have to say, this is the best of the three Hobbit movies on that score. Though the battle scene is long, there is enough variety and surprise so even it doesn’t seem interminable. The beginning thirty minutes which finishes the Smaug story, and the final thirty minutes about the return to the Shire (of its 2 hours and 24 minute total) are really good, and the happy ending comes as a relief. Along the way there are some wonderful scenes involving Bilbo with the Elves, Bilbo with the Dwarves, and Bilbo with Gandalf. There is also a powerful scene where Galadriel rescues Gandalf himself. There are some nice scenes involving Legolas (aka Orlando Bloom) as well.
The constant theme of the battle of really powerful evil against sometimes wavering good is punctuated throughout. There are no redeeming features in the evil orcs etc. but Thorin struggles with greed, the elves struggle with being self-focused, and even Bilbo sometimes has trouble distinguishing right from wrong, self-sacrifice from being self-serving. And there is even a moment or two of straight levity to lighten the otherwise dark and heavy mood. Martin Freeman is especially wonderful as Bilbo and there are some poignant moments with him which are unforgettable.
On the whole, I’m very glad that Peter Jackson finally won the legal rights to film the Hobbit. It has enough redeeming features and scenes and drama to make it worthwhile. I doubt this film will win any Oscars, though perhaps it may receive a nomination for its splendid CG. The Hobbit is certainly a tale worth-telling, and telling it in beautiful New Zealand was perfect. When I visited Hobbiton some years ago, it felt like I had come home with Bilbo, having gone ‘there and back again’ with him on his journeys. It’s a pity I didn’t get there quite in time for second breakfast! But having watched over six hours worth of the Hobbit in these three films, I’m stuffed, to say the least.