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Examining criticisms of The Hobbit

Wednesday 5 Dec 2012 12:41 a.m.

Richard Armitage in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Richard Armitage in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Next week cinema doors across New Zealand and the world open to allow the public in to see Sir Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

The film's journey to our screens has been beset by an almost comical number of problems, some of which - coupled with an enormous amount of media coverage - have left a bad taste in people's mouths.

I was fortunate enough to see the film in Wellington last week and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It could be improved upon, for sure, but it's a visually astounding, epic adventure film I can't wait to see again.

The last hour or so in particular is a real thrill-ride, with stunning sequences that raise the bar for visual effects.

Now that the embargo has lifted and the first reviews on the film are out, it seemed like the right time to address five of the most common concerns and complaints I've heard levelled at the film thus far.

“It’s too bloody long!”

Many people have expressed distaste at the fact that An Unexpected Journey is 166 minutes long, despite having not seen the film themselves.

Firstly, I don't remember many people complaining about the length of Fellowship of the Ring, which is a longer film. If you sat through the first Lord of the Rings movie with a screwed up face thinking it was too long, chances are you'll do the same in An Unexpected Journey.

"The Hobbit is only 320 pages long though!" people may exclaim, quite understandably wondering how such a short book can be adapted into nine or so hours of cinema across three films. There are some very valid reasons.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as a children's book, not a film, and one of the results is that there is a large set of main characters. The filmmakers could've either removed some of the characters for the film - a mortal sin to Tolkien purists - or fleshed them out.

They went with the latter option, and fleshing out thirteen Dwarves, a few wizards, a Hobbit and so on takes time.

In The Hobbit book, various events happen like Gandalf popping off and doing stuff for a while that Tolkien didn't actually explain until later, in Lord of the Rings appendices and other later writings. The filmmakers were able to include as much of that material as they needed to provide a fuller story.

They also had to take a lot of stuff out of Lord of the Rings to fit it into three movies, whereas with The Hobbit they have the luxury to take their time. They also need to work The Hobbit into Lord of the Rings and make them work together as a six film series, which means even further fleshing out in the films.

The first hour or so of An Unexpected Journey will frustrate some viewers as it takes quite some time for the titular journey to actually begin. This time is largely spent introducing the enormous cast, something the filmmakers do at the expense of pacing.

Yes, it could be trimmed, as could a few of the other sections of the film, but it never felt like a drag.

I enjoyed spending two and three quarter hours in Middle-earth and think that people should see it themselves before whinging about the running time.

“It looks too bloody real!”

The film was shot in 48 frames per second rather than the usual 24 and is being presented in selected cinemas with the higher frame rate.

This caused some controversy after 48fps Hobbit footage was first shown off at CinemaCon back in April and some people who saw it didn't like it.

I think it looks great.

It takes a little getting used to as the look is so fluid, but the overall effect is brilliant. There was one particular scene I didn't like the look of and I think the 48fps had a lot to do with why. It did look 'too real' to me - bogus as that may sound, it distractingly looked as though I were watching actors on a set rather than a scene in a movie.

But for the bulk of the running time, especially the helicopter shots showcasing New Zealand landscapes and tighter shots of CG characters interacting with human ones, the higher frame rate helped increase my level of immersion, which is awesome.

Although I love cinema, I'm not fanatical about formats as some of my peers are. Digital can look just as amazing as 35mm, Blu-rays look better than DVDs and DVDs look better than VHS.

Ultimately, yes, 48fps does appear different and some people might not like the technological advancement. If you think you won't like double the frames in each second of film than you're used to, there are plenty of cinemas playing it in 24fps, so just go to one of them.

“It approaches bloody Jar Jar Binks territory!”

Although everyone signed an embargo at the Wellington screenings, a couple of publications decided to break it.

One of them was the New York Daily News, which was largely positive, calling Peter Jackson a 'wizard'. The review also said Sylvester McCoy's character of Radagast the Brown "at times descends into Jar Jar Binks territory", which subsequently made headlines in New Zealand.

In the world of movie fandom, few characters raise ire quite as much as Jar Jar Binks. The mere mention of his name causes certain Star Wars fans to either weep uncontrollably or fly into a fit of rage, he's that terrible.

Radagast the Brown is absolutely nowhere near 'Jar Jar Binks territory'. Radagast is a comical character, but at no point does he inspire anything close to the fury or bewilderment that Jar Jar did.

I don't mean any disrespect to the reviewer's opinion, but that particular comment is rubbish.

“They bloody murdered animals to make it!”

The PETA allegations of animal negligence and abuse levelled at the production of The Hobbit did one thing well - strip away some of the credibility of PETA. I hadn't realised prior to this controversy the sort of organisation it is.

The 'whistle-blowers' that the claims originated from appear to be disgruntled ex-employees of the production who were fired for unsavoury reasons. PETA sat on the accusations for over a year until a few weeks before the film's release to maximise publicity, which worked a treat.

The owner of Shanghai, one of the horses claimed to have been abused, shot the claims down and stated: "I would not hesitate in leasing him to the movie again."

The American Humane Association confirmed no animals were harmed on the set of The Hobbit, but called for higher standards to be implemented in the farms where they are housed off-set.

This sounds reasonable, but it's highly unreasonable to expect Peter Jackson to personally travel around New Zealand checking out every home for every animal used in his films.

Twisting the claims of animal deaths into something like "Peter Jackson sacrificed horses for The Hobbit" as PETA did is wildly inaccurate.

“It’s got too many bloody Dwarves in it!”

Of all the criticisms examined in this article, this is the most valid.

Despite spending a lot of time on establishing the thirteen Dwarves and probably peeving off part of the audience in the process, by the end of the film I still couldn't tell some of them apart.

The same complaint is levelled by some readers at Tolkien's book.

Should they have cut a few Dwarves out? Would that have made a better film? We'll never know.

Does this issue ruin the film? Absolutely not. The Dwarf character of Thorin is very memorable and his relationship with Bilbo is excellently realised, which is crucial.

Not knowing your Bofur from your Bombur or your Nori from your Dori shouldn't impact too negatively on the overall experience.

...

All frame rates and running times and controversies aside, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is just a regular movie that should be judged like any other movie.

With the amount of coverage the film has received already, along with expectations set by the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it may be hard to approach it without biased preconceptions. People who go along wanting to hate it will no doubt find many reasons to.

But there is a lot to love about the film and I sincerely hope people give it a chance.

Audiences get to make their own minds up when it opens in cinemas next Thursday.

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