Forty-eight frames per second: a term that has the potential to live in infamy. Whether it actually does or not, depends on who is watching Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
If you’re a Tolkien fanatic, you may consider this visual treachery a minor offense. Or you might look past it entirely, because you’re thrilled to see a beloved novel come to life. If you’re like me however, and you have just a casual interest in the fantasy genre, there’s a much greater chance that you’ll be aggravated by the film’s higher frame rate.
It’s hard to blame Jackson for attempting something different. The man spent years dutifully turning J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series into successful movies. And, to his credit, he tried stepping aside to give another filmmaker a shot at adapting Tolkien’s earlier work. But after several false starts, Jackson reasoned that the only way to do “The Hobbit” right would be to do it himself. So he decided to shake things up by shooting the picture in 48 frames per second, twice the frame rate used in normal films.
His decision is a brave one, although it’s one that meets with mixed results. In the movie’s prologue, the visual style works because of its storybook qualities and the tale’s lighter appeal to a younger audience. You can easily embrace the trick, when you’re first transported into Tolkien’s magical realm, but after the opening section, the film starts to appear tacky, like you’re watching cut-scenes from an old video game. Instead of giving the movie a hyper- realistic aesthetic like it’s supposed to, the accelerated frame rate makes “The Hobbit” look surreal.
Frame rate gimmick aside, “The Hobbit” should entertain you whether you’re a Tolkien fan or an average viewer, since you’ll be consistently on the edge of your seat. As someone who was annoyed by the excessive walking in Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings,” films, I found this flick to be an unexpectedly action-packed journey. The expression "Out of the frying pan...and into the fire…" comes to mind, because it’s uttered rather appropriately in the film. Young Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf, and their dwarf companions constantly go from one perilous situation to another during their quest to reclaim a lost treasure.
Jackson’s tight camera adds extra excitement during these fight scenes by putting you in the thick of battle. The perspective is especially effective if you see the film in 3D, where enemies and their weapons feel like they could hit you in the face at any time. Jackson also does an excellent job with balancing the adult action in the film with a lighthearted tone which feels appropriate for younger audiences. The two songs (Yes, there’s music!) that the characters sing in the movie are not only enjoyable, but they match the tone of the scenes they’re in.
“The Hobbit” is thrilling enough to hold your attention and surprisingly fast-paced for a film that’s two hours and forty-five minutes. It’s heavy-handed about setting itself up as a direct prequel to “Fellowship of the Ring,” yet it ends at an effective spot and leaves you wanting to watch the remaining hours of the story. What’s worrisome though, is how Jackson and his team will manage to stretch this one book into two more films without sacrificing the quality of storytelling. If they add items that weren’t in the novel, like they did with this entry, they might be okay. There’s always the possibility that they’ll alienate fans by doing that, however we’ll just have to take the next film as it comes.
My Grade: B+