The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 6/10 (Minor spoilers!)
Yeah--it's exactly as I feared. Jackson needs a sterner editor. There is very likely an excellent movie here, but it's buried under some serious bloat, and is almost crippled by very uneven pacing. It's still an alright movie--the second-half of the film is noticeably stronger than the first, and builds to a pretty satisfying climax. The first half though---man, where do I start? It's really quite a mess.
Perhaps the biggest problem is one of tone: Jackson has elected to incorporate quite a bit of the heaviness from The Lord of the Rings into this film, while trying to retain the source material's lighter and wittier spirit. His solution to this problem is inelegant--in that he really doesn't have a solution. He just sort of crams what he can into where it can reasonably fit, which results in numerous jarring sequences that would feel out of place even if they were brief scenes. Jackson being Jackson, however, there are no brief scenes, and nearly everything is stretched on for longer than it reasonably needs to be. This problem is compounded by the fact that The Hobbit is a very episodic story, and while Jackson and his team do introduce a significant subplot concerning an orc who is hunting Thorin's party in order to give the movie a more driving force (essentially taking the place of the Black Riders in LotR), Jackson's inability to 'settle down' render this addition mostly worthless, though it does admittedly result in a fairly good climax, which the film might otherwise lack. It wouldn't be too much off-base to say that I actively hated this movie for at least the first hour--it all felt like the sort of stuff that you'd expect to see in deleted scenes, or perhaps in an extended edition for the hardcore fans. (I have learned with much dismay that more footage is being prepared for this movie for an extended cut. I was hoping that any sort of director's cut would have actually lost about an hour or so of the movie.)
Things do pick up quite a bit as the film moves into its second-half: the first-half may feel like three hours in and of itself, but the second-half of the film breezes by incredibly quickly--it's a lot of fun. Of particular note is the 'Riddles in the Dark' scene--arguably the most famous scene in all of fantasy literature comes to life brilliantly here, and Gollum has never looked better . It's truly the high point of the film, and I actually wish that it could have gone on a bit longer. The climax and the fast-paced (if over-the-top) adventures in Goblin Town are also really a pleasure to see, and the occasional echoes of scenes from LotR are more welcome than you might expect.
On to the technology: the 3D is fine--it does not detract from the film, though it does not really add anything to it either. The film does not suffer from being too dark, a common problem with 3D. Indeed, a good chunk of this movie takes place in dark caves or after nightfall, and it never once looked murky or dim. As is usually the case with 3D, objects in the extreme foreground occasionally look removed from the remainder of the action and are prone to looking like paper cutouts--like they are perhaps a bit incorporeal. Still, I was never distracted by the 3D--though ultimately I would say it's not worth the surcharge.
As for the 48 FPS.... this I have problems with. Some people will write these problems off as me just not being used to the technology, and they may have a point. I will say that it did help the 3D out tremendously--I've never seen 3D look this crisp before. That aside, for me it ultimately did more harm than it did good. All of the makeup looks like makeup, the sets look like sets, and the CGI looks like CGI. I know that the higher frame rate is supposed to look more realistic, and it does--but in a film where so much is not real, it hurts more than it helps. It strips the romanticism away from the film--and while you may scoff at such a statement, let's not forget that this is fantasy. It's supposed to look romantic. Unfortunately, it mostly just makes the film look like actors trudging around on sets in thickly-applied makeup--the only sequences that benefit directly from the higher FPS are the sweeping landscape shots and the quickly-paced battle sequences. (So quickly paced, in fact, that I suspect that they may look quite bad in 24 fps). You'd think it'd do the CGI favors, at least, but it doesn't really--it makes the special effects-heavy sequences look like something from straight out of a triple-A video game title, instead. In some places, the cartoony floatiness that the 48 FPS imparts on the CGI is downright terrible looking--every scene that Radagast's rabbit-powered sleigh is involved looks laughably bad, for instance. (It doesn't help matters that Radagast may be the worst character I've seen in a movie since Jar Jar...)
In sum: I suppose it's fair to say that The Hobbit is a let-down. It ends strongly at least, and does genuinely give me hope that with this establishing chapter out of the way, things will move more smoothly going forward. Still, I'm sort of cynical about the whole thing: this tale does not need three, three-hour long movies to do it justice. Not if the first of those three hours is anything to go by. As of right now, I'd say it's more of a blatant attempt at a money grab, or just a huge vanity project for Jackson (something I honestly hoped he'd gotten out of his system with King Kong). It's got enough going for it to please fans, and it did ultimately leave me wanting more, but this still feels like a misstep. I only hope that the next film fares better.
Really nice, in-depth review metalsonata. For a minute there I completely forgot I was on Head-Fi and thought I was on one of my movie websites!
Many places I've read have echoed the same thing, that this movie suffers greatly from poor editing, and Jackson is stretching the material here almost to death. Since I wont see it in 3D/48fps anyway, I'm probably just going to wait for this one on blu-ray.