The Dim-Post

January 9, 2014

Notes on the new Hobbit movie

Filed under: movies — danylmc @ 7:46 pm

I saw it today at the Embassy in 3D with the high frame rate. I didn’t really like it. Some comments:

  • I have yet to see a 3D movie other than Avatar and Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams that justifies the irritation of sitting through a movie wearing 3D glasses over my normal glasses. I think that’s it for me and 3D.
  • The high frame-rate kept reminding me that I was watching a bunch of actors dressed in costumes with bits of plasticine stuck to their faces clambering over piles of latex and moulded plastic. I don’t think this technology is a winner, at least for the kind of movies Peter Jackson makes.
  • There’s a scene about half-way through in which Gandalf is just about to enter Dol Gulder. Radagast asks him: ‘What if it’s a trap?’ Gandalf turns to camera and his eyes gleam, and he rumbles, ‘Of course it’s a trap.’ Gandalf then enters Dol Gulder, which turns out to be a trap and he gets trapped. What exactly was Gandalf’s plan there? 
  • There’s quite a lot of this in the movie: characters behave in ways that are dramatic but totally non-nonsensical. Why did Thorin turn down the Wood-Elf king’s deal? That was a pretty sweet deal! I get that he doesn’t like the king, but is that worth spending a hundred years in his dungeons and forsaking all his dreams for?
  • This sort of thing really annoys me. Writers spend huge amounts of time and energy trying to resolve the tension between (a) being true to their characters and (b) telling an interesting, dramatic story, and the way contemporary Hollywood gets around this tension is to tell stories about characters who act in ways that make no sense. (Prometheus is the canonical example of this. Nothing that happens in that movie makes any sense at all.)
  • I don’t mind the lack of fidelity to the original book or the love triangle between Orlando Bloom, Kate from Lost and one of the Dwarves. The book is still the book. Jackson hasn’t ‘ruined it’. Besides, I don’t think I’ve read the Hobbit for about twenty-five years. But the introduced elements are awfully banal – like someone trying to imitate Game of Thrones. which is absurd when you consider the source-material and resources Jackson has available to him. It’s both funny and sad that these movies have come full circle to the point where they’re imitating people who are imitating Tolkein. 
  • Whenever the movie meandered back to an original scene from the book – like the dialog between Bilbo and Smaug – I felt a thrill of excitement.
  • I liked the set-design for Laketown.
  • Smaug poses a huge – probably unsolvable – dramatic problem to the film-makers. He is supposed to be destruction and evil and death incarnate and yet he can’t capture, injure or kill any of the dozen-or-so small, very slow protagonists because that would break with canon. So Smaug is more like a stormtrooper from Star Wars, shooting at the characters to get them to run around to different sets and improvise different plans, but posing no real risk. 
  • I would like to see a short story/film on the Giant Eagles of Middle-Earth and their odd policy of rescuing adventurers from certain death but refusing to transport them anywhere useful, even though their failure to do so repeatedly endangers the whole world.


  1. “…tell stories about characters who act in ways that make no sense.”

    It strikes me that this is not only a problem with Hollywood, but also for contemporary media reporting on politics in the Western world.

    Comment by Rinso — January 9, 2014 @ 7:58 pm

  2. Same!

    Comment by jeanette xanthe parker — January 9, 2014 @ 8:29 pm

  3. Several answers to the Eagle Problem from webcomics: (warning, this comic is fine, but a bunch of their others are hella NSFW)

    Comment by xy — January 9, 2014 @ 8:30 pm

  4. Its a rort expecting people to shell out for 3 admissions when one would do. I’m boycotting the whole affair.

    Comment by Adrian — January 9, 2014 @ 8:44 pm

  5. To be fair, a lot of characters acted in fairly nonsensical ways in the source material.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — January 9, 2014 @ 8:50 pm

  6. Agreed with your views on 3D until I saw Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder at the film festival. It brought to life a movie that was basically a filmed stage play. First time I have ever thought 3D turned an ordinary film into an extraordinary one.

    Comment by tinakori — January 9, 2014 @ 9:29 pm

  7. Agreed. The high frame rate lends it an 80s TV drama shot on video feel. Even the out of focus raindrops look wrong. And once the magic is lost with the visuals, the dialog and music all seem wrong too. The house of cards falls over.

    Comment by nigelsagentinthefield — January 9, 2014 @ 9:32 pm

  8. Had the same views on 3D until I saw Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder in the film festival. 3D turned a rather ordinary filmed stage play into an extraordinary movie. Seeing it at the Embassy added to the experience.

    Comment by tinakori — January 9, 2014 @ 9:33 pm

  9. Been tossing up seeing the second one in HFR – first one had me unconvinced, and friends who worked on the film HATE it.

    Agreed on Promotheus, man that movie fucked me off for how awesome it could have been. Apparently Mr Lost Screenwriter thinks he can leave plot holes and nonsense all over the place now and everyone will thinks its “mystery”.

    The Eagles thing is always bought up but I don’t see it. At the very least it’s an acceptable deus ex machina, but even getting all Tolkien-nerd on it I fail to see why this grand old race should work as a taxi service for hobbits and whatnot? Saving a wizard a couple of times from mortal peril isn’t the same as just flying a bunch of dwarves wherever they want to go…

    Comment by garethw — January 9, 2014 @ 10:05 pm

  10. Towards the end of the movie, Gandalf loses a fight with a bad guy and gets imprisoned on a tower, from which he can watch the mobilisation of an orc army. Once the deja vu cleared, I decided Jackson is taking the piss and I just paid him to do it. Not chuffed.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — January 9, 2014 @ 10:26 pm

  11. #6: I’ve heard HFR being likened to something straight out of a Shortland Street episode. The rationale is that HFR is meant to be more immersive, but in practice, it makes the actors’ movements less fluid and more jerky compared with the usual 24/25 FPS film. Maybe HFR should be kept to sitcoms and soap operas.

    Comment by deepred — January 10, 2014 @ 2:46 am

  12. I’ve always wondered about the Eagles to. In the whole LOTR universe the lack of appreciation of the applications of airpower by both sides is appalling.

    Why did the Nazgul ride on horses to Bree and launch a ground attack when they could have flown there on their fell beasts and bombarded The Prancing Pony whilst orbiting the town (after all, we all know that is the only way to be sure) and been back in Mordor in time for breakfast? And as for the good guys – way were they so blind to the possibilities of Eagle-eyed airborne reconnaissance? A routine high altitude fly-over of Isengard should have not bothered even the regally detached eagles and it would have rumbled Sauriman plans real quick.

    I will still go watch the Hobbit this weekend though.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 10, 2014 @ 9:42 am

  13. The high frame-rate kept reminding me that I was watching a bunch of actors dressed in costumes with bits of plasticine stuck to their faces clambering over piles of latex and moulded plastic.

    A late-80s article in American Cinematographer on test screenings of the high frame rate Showscan format noted that conventional methods of cinematography would have to be radically overhauled if the technology was ever going to work for anything other than IMAX-style documentaries. Issues such as the obviousness of a mascara line on an actor’s eyelid, or the feeling of intruding rather than being drawn into a conversation as the camera does an over-the-shoulder truck-in were specifically mentioned.

    Comment by Joe W — January 10, 2014 @ 10:56 am

  14. The Great Eagle Submit, Middle Earth, year 3022
    Gwaihir: Right that is the moose quota dealt with, now before I call this submit to a close does anyone have any new business?
    Landroval: I hate to harp on about this, but we really need to look at our transportation policy. Twice now we could have prevented significant hardship to our allies, if our transportation policy was not so rigid.
    Meneldor: Here we go.
    Landroval: I will choose to ignore that comment. Look guys this is really important Middle Earth was almost enslaved by Sauron.
    Gwaihir: You know full well, we review policies on a tercentennial basis; I see no good reason to make an exception.
    Meneldor: Yea, policy is boring, no one cares, just let it go dude.
    Landroval: But in both cases, we had to go into battle. Some early intervention transportation would have solved the problem. All we need to do is revise section 6 slightly…..
    Gwaihir: Meneldor is right; no one really cares bro. Policy total blows. If you insist, I can schedule a post implementation framework review in fifty years or so, but that is it.
    Meneldor: Look can we wrap this up; I have this sweet as bird to see.
    Meneldor: Look can we wrap this up; before I die of boredom.
    Gwaihir: Agreed, now who wants to prank Gandalf again by dropping his house in a lake?
    Meneldor: I’m in that guy is such a pompous asshole. You shall not pass getting wet!
    Submit closed at 5:30pm

    Comment by theunderhouse — January 10, 2014 @ 11:16 am

  15. The High Frame Rate is just different because of experience. It’s a higher fidelity presentation but off putting because 24 fps is what we’ve seen all our lives. It is the future and will likely change how some scenes are lit and filmed.

    3D however is toast. Avatar made it look cool, but most everything else is a blurred mess. I did like the eagles in the first Hobbit movie in HFR and 3D but it isn’t worth the glasses and dim screen for a whole movie.

    Comment by Fentex — January 10, 2014 @ 12:45 pm

  16. Last attempt to comment didn’t seem to work, so hopefully I’m not duping this.

    “I have yet to see a 3D movie other than Avatar and Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams that justifies the irritation of sitting through a movie wearing 3D glasses over my normal glasses.”

    Never saw COFT but I didn’t even think Avatar was worth it. For me I think it’s that so many directors are still trying to use 3D to wow audiences, so that it heavily influences their films. You can often pick movies that have been made for 3D because they’re still full of stuff leaping towards the audience and floating islands (which I still don’t get) and erratic camera movements through caverns, and so on. So I decided after a while not to go to any special lengths to see movies in 3D. Then the remake of Tron came out, and I went to special lengths to see it in 3D, and after that I stopped bothering.

    I remember really enjoying the movie adaptation of Life of Pi in 3D, though, and was even telling friends that I thought was actually the first movie worth seeing in 3D. Maybe it was just my own perspective but I came away thinking that the 3D aspect hadn’t dominated the story or the rest of the experience, but it had augmented it around the edges.

    I reckon 3D films will have come of age once it’s simply something that’s there. Colour adds very little to most movies (despite early ones like the Wizard of Oz going all-out on heavy colour effects). Today it’s ubiquitous in nearly all films, unless the director’s specifically removed it for effect (like Ed Wood, Shindler’s List, The Artist, etc), because it’s simply how movies are made and screened with modern technology.

    Comment by izogi — January 10, 2014 @ 1:12 pm

  17. The Hobbit: I won’t be going to see it. The Jackson enterprise has had as much of my money as it’s going to get. I can’t control what’s paid out in taxpayer dollars, but no more of my discretionary entertainment dollar.

    It was a nice little children’s story which I read with pleasure to my offspring, but I’m damned if I can see how he managed to make even one full-length feature out of it, let alone three. And as for the added bits, such as – so I hear – some sort of romance involving a female elf: good grief, gimme a break! It sounds completely, squirmingly awful.

    Somebody in this household thinks that the last good movies Jackson made were back in the “Bad Taste” days. It’s an argument…

    Comment by D'Esterre — January 10, 2014 @ 11:00 pm

  18. Saw it in 2D with the kids. As a kids movie it was OK but too long. Otherwise it was almost pure meh. Dragon good for first 5 mins. Fat guy wiping out orcs rolling in barrel sums up rest. May wait for DVD for last installment.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — January 12, 2014 @ 4:05 pm

  19. Gravity was worth watching in 3d.

    Comment by xy — January 12, 2014 @ 5:44 pm

  20. Frankenweenie was good in 3D 🙂

    Comment by MeToo — January 12, 2014 @ 8:41 pm

  21. My wife accidentally took my kids and two nieces to “Frozen” in 3D. It was the first time she’d ever seen a 3D movie. Not sure it improved the experience for her, but it freaked my 2-year-old son right out.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — January 12, 2014 @ 8:48 pm

  22. “What exactly was Gandalf’s plan there?”

    Since you ask and many people seem puzzled by the whole internal logic thing, I thought this link to a flow chart might help sort things out a bit for those who haven’t already had the pleasure.

    Comment by granted — January 13, 2014 @ 12:47 am

  23. Colour adds very little to most movies

    You have made the digital colour-grading technicians cry.

    Comment by herr doktor bimler — January 13, 2014 @ 2:47 pm

  24. About Dol Guldur: Just because it’s a trap doesn’t mean you will get caught, especially if you’re on the alert when you go in. Gandalf strongly suspects that Sauron or the Witch-king is active again and it’s more important for him to try to find out the truth and risk being caught than to avoid Dol Guldur and let whoever is moving behind the scenes continue undiscovered.

    Why did Thorin turn down the Wood-Elf king’s deal?

    This scene showed the hubris of Thorin (which Balin already knows about, as he showed no surprise when Thorin told him what he said to Thranduil); and also a hint of the gold-sickness in the line of Durin. Thranduil wanted the white gems that he believes are his (and which are shown in the Unexpected Journey extended edition) and Thorin, already carrying a burning grievance against Thranduil for the Elf not helping when Smaug attacked Erebor, saw red.

    Comment by Ataahua — January 16, 2014 @ 9:40 am

  25. @ Ataahua (no.24): you tell us these things as if you think we care. We don’t. Well, to be precise, I don’t.

    Comment by D'Esterre — January 16, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

  26. D’Esterre, I doubt Danyl would have posted those questions if he didn’t want some feedback on them. If The Hobbit movies don’t spin your wheels then there are other discussions you can take part in.

    Comment by Ataahua — January 17, 2014 @ 9:35 am

  27. @ Ataahua: reading Danyl’s post, my impression was of someone mostly poking the borax at the movie. Which seems to be well-deserved. Don’t take it too seriously…. my comments included.

    Comment by D'Esterre — January 18, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

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