Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Habit: A Much Expected Returning

     Yeah, everybody loved director Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It elevated the fantasy genre to new heights and raised the bar on special effects forever.  I can't imagine that anyone was all that surprised when it was announced that he was going to follow the series up with another Middle Earth adaptation, this time of The Hobbit.  Part One (An Unexpected Journey) was pretty much exactly what I was expecting.  Your expectations should be roundly met as well, unless you were expecting The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
     Many have criticized this film for being less "adult" than its predecessors, and it is.  In its defense, however, the source novel was aimed at a much younger audience.  Jackson and crew could not have been true to the material without incorporating such a tonal shift.  There was some groan worthy, juvenile humor (dwarves falling in doorway, a goblin king falling from the sky right on cue), and some of the sing song scenes made me squirm in my seat in anticipation for their conclusions.  The dishwashing sequence is particularly tiresome.  The very survival of the entire band of dwarfs stretched believability in a couple of scenes that would have involved a death in a less family friendly story.  None of these "precious" touches kept me from enjoying the film for what it was, and they may well have increased the enjoyment of many younger viewers.
     The other, possibly more valid complaint is that The Hobbit was expanded from a two part adaptation to a trilogy more for financial considerations than artistic ones.  I'm sure there is at least a grain of truth to this, and much of the first half of An Unexpected Journey felt a little padded.  However, the film does end in sort of a perfect point in the story, one that creates a fully developed and completed narrative arc within the greater framework.  There was no need for this film to be quite as long as it was, however.  Some fat could easily have been trimmed from the first hour (or at least held in reserve for the Blu-ray Bonus Edition, when viewers can impose an intermission).
     Now that we have addressed the movie's alleged shortcomings, we can talk about some of the undeniably excellent elements.  We all know that Captain Jackson runs a tight ship, and technically the film is virtually flawless.  The visual effects may be a little less innovative than the first time around but are no less impressive.  I actually think that the team has improved upon its previous techniques for creating the illusion of height differential among Middle Earth's myriad humanoid species.  Gandalf looks like a virtual giant near the hobbits and dwarfs, who walk under archways with ease that he must duck in order to pass. Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton & R. Christopher White are to be congratulated on their well deserved Oscar nomination.
     Likewise, Production Designer Dan Hennah and Set Decorator Simon Bright should sleep well at night, secure in the knowledge that their nomination was well deserved.  The sets were absolutely stunning and made me really want to visit New Zealand.  While I might question the entire Make-Up and Hairstyling nomination list this year, the work done here is certainly more deserving than at least one of its current competitors (I haven't seen Les Miserables yet).  Andrew Lesnie's cinematography, Howard Shore's musical composition, and the work done by the sound team are all also highly worthy of praise.
     The acting in this film is uniformly strong.  In the early scenes of the film, I had my doubts about Martin Freeman's ability to make Bilbo as engaging a protagonist as Frodo was, but he grew on me considerably as the story unfolded.  The actors who play the dwarfs function well as an ensemble (Peter Hambleton being a bit of a stand out).  The greatest treat, however, was the return of old friends like Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, and especially Ian McKellen in the roles they have now been associated with for years.  Even Elijah Wood makes a brief cameo in the prologue.
     If the film drags just a bit at the beginning, the last hour more than makes up for it.  The riddling contest is worth the price of admission, with Andy Serkis's Gollum continuing to prove that motion capture work can have a soul.  The chase through the Goblin Kingdom is equally fantastic and proved incredibly entertaining.  The film ends in a perfect mini-resolution of sorts, and (thanks to smart directorial choices like reserving the image of Smaug in his full glory for later installments) leaves the viewer hungry for more.  Family friendly fare?  Certainly.  Some of the smartest, most well made family fare you are likely to find at the theater this year.  4 of 5 stars.

Related Articles: Oscar Winners Predictions & Buzz:  Pretty People Techs (Costume Design & Make-Up and Hairstyling), Pretty Picture Techs (Cinematography & Production Design), Finishing Touch Techs (Editing & Visual Effects)

No comments:

Post a Comment