MTV's Steven Smith On 'The Hobbit': Insert Bad Tolkien Pun Here

By Steven Smith

First and foremost the scene between Bilbo and Gollum was perfect. PERFECT. And why you may ask? Because it was super true to the book. Boom. Done. Awesome. Andy Serkis has proven time and time again he is the Stanislavski of performance capture and Martin Freeman truly was Bilbo. And the best part was the CGI for Gollum didn’t look like CGI, even in HFR a.k.a. High Frame Rate. I totally dug it.

When I first learned Peter Jackson had filmed "The Hobbit" Trilogy (seriously, trilogy? It’s the shortest book!) at 48 frames per second, well, I reacted as you might have – “Hubba what?” Had no idea what that meant. Sure I knew most film was shot at 24 frames per second, and 60mm film looked awesome and grand --  but that was it for my film knowledge, other than knowing what a Macguffin is (and "The Hobbit’s" was supposed to be the dragon but now it’s all dwarvy.)

I always get confused with film look as opposed to video. Loads of things that look like film are shot in digital video so they aren’t exactly film but LOOK like it. Needless to say when I heard Stephen Colbert say, “It was like looking through a window,” I was more than intrigued and a little scared. One of the reasons I’m not a Doctor Who fan (sharpen your knives elsewhere, I don’t like zombies either) is when I was kid watching it all BBC video on PBS it scared me more than if it was on film. Something about knowing there were people in those costumes truly tripped me out. But seeing Gandalf like that and on a huge screen? That might be awesome. And it was.

Now I saw it 3D HFR IMAX --  huge damn headache so the edges were a might blurry. I loathe the 3D experience, but it was the only version near me that was also the high frame rate. And I have to say I think the 3D aspect blew up in their faces. It actually took away from seeming “out my window”, except in certain cases, like Bilbo running through the Shire underneath the rapidly moving Hobbit cam, but when say, Gandalf smoked, it looked fake in 3D. Now I know it’s fake, it’s a movie – doy, but it seems like somebody forgot to proofread how the high frame rate was supposed to engulf you in the experience but failed to see the typo that 3D took you right the heck out.

Which leads me to all the CGI. When Balin was retelling the story of how Thorin became known as Oakenshield while fighting Azog (WHY?!), Azog looks like Kratos and it completely took me out of the film. The brilliance of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy (it was written as a trilogy, arg, forgot that Tolkien originally didn't want this written as a trilogy, though the movies were still cool!) was how seamless (and true to the books) the computer images were in the movies. I believed that Balrog was there, and though the Warg Riders looked a little sketchy, the masses of Uruk Hai at Helm’s Deep had me shivering.

So, why didn’t "The Hobbit"? Why wasn’t I more scared than I was as a kid watching Ralph Bakshi’s "Lord of the Rings" (the Nazgul, OH the Nazgul, scared the pee out of me and my Dad just sat there. Sidebar: If the Witch King of AngMar is already dead then HOW CAN EOWYN KILL HIM?), was it because it did look like I was watching this happen outside my window? Was my suspension bridge of belief knocked out by the earthquake that is 3D? Maybe. Or maybe it’s that Peter Jackson had surprise on his side the first time around, and the technology grew with each film instead of forced into it. But that’s just me.

Now if he goes back and puts Martin Freeman into "The Fellowship of the Ring", that Kiwi and me are going to have problems.

Steven Smith has read everything by J.R.R. Tolkien except for Lost Tales because his Dad can’t find his copy, his podcast Going Off Track has a new episode every Friday (this week’s guest is Janeane Garofalo – I KNOW, right!), and he tried super hard not to write a review of the Hobbit and really hopes the next one is better, and there’s no third. Just saying.

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