The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Peter Jackson is at it again pushing the limits of what the cinematic medium can do.He harnesses the power of 3D and marries it to his innovation of shooting at 48 frames per second.The result is a film which looks almost unreal and beautiful beyond belief. Films are conventionally shot at the rate of 24 frames per second which essentially means that the film camera exposes 24 individual single surface of photographic film in a second and when this is played back it creates the illusion of motion.This convention has served cinema well but shooting at 48 fps gives the film a crispness and brilliance while reducing blur and flicker, the only rival of which is the 70mm format.When the budgets of films have swelled to zillions of dollars spending a few hundred thousand extra on film stock seems logical to achieve a superior look.This film creates a new standard much in the same way that Avatar did when it reinvented 3D technology.While Peter Jackson may not have toiled as hard as James Cameron in the research department his idea of increasing the frame rate manages to achieve a breakthrough.
The genres of fantasy adventure and sci fi need something special to keep us engaged with it.There is no dearth of films out there that gives us flying monsters,dragons,cute adolescent heroes, bearded sorcerers and ethereal witches all played by droll and charming British actors.When the makers of the money spinner Lord Of The Ring trilogy (Ben Bernankie could have funded his quantitative easing with the proceeds) turns his mind to bringing a prequel to the big screen the expectations are more than sky high.Jackson used the other worldly landscapes of New Zealand to great advantage in the LOTR trilogy and singlehandedly revived the tourism industry there.But the man is not all flashy effects, his way of story telling with a maddening attention to detail is something that was quite evident even in King Kong where he had us believe that King Kong was indeed in love with Naomi Watts.The scene with her dancing and jumping to impress upon Mr Kong that he should love her and not dash her against a rock is a piece of great direction.
The LOTR books are voluminous and warranted the three installment treatment.The Hobbit by contrast is a slender volume but Jackson chooses to film it in three parts, milking the box office dry. At one point the wizard Gandalf remarks that a good story can always do with some embellishment and Jackson does the same with the material at his disposal. Here he starts us off with the familiar figure of Gandalf calling on Bilbo and forcing him to host a party of dwarfs who have been thrown out of their kingdom by a gigantic fire spewing dragon, the sight of we do not catch in this film.I trust Mr Jackson’s dragon, when he makes his appearance, will be a sight to behold going by the fleeting glimpse that we catch of him.For memorable baddies he gives us brutish creatures called orcs who ride on giant wolves and provides much of the adventure in this film.The king of orcs to my eye looks like Mike Tyson, down to his crooked teeth! Lord have mercy on his soul.See and decide for yourself.For sore eyes there is Cate Blanchett as Galadriel looking every bit mysterious and ethereal as only she can.
The film follows the bid of the dwarfs to reclaim their kingdom from the dragon and we arrive at the doorstep of their lost kingdom by the end of the 170 minute runtime.Along the way there is a superlatively well shot scene between Gollum and Bilbo where they circle each other in fascination and apprehension playing games involving tantalizing riddles.This scene is the reason why we watch fantasy films.They dip into our appetite for seeing the macabre at a safe distance.Jackson manages to humanize Gollum for us and we see him as a lonely creature whose desire for recognition and friendship gets the better of him.Bilbo recognizes him as being something different and engages him at a human level, tempering his fear with the pity that we feel when see people with severe physical deformities, while trying to connect with their undoubtedly beautiful inner self. All fantasy adventure are ultimately a battle between good and evil including our beloved epics Ramayana and Mahabharata and they satisfy a human craving to see David take down not just one Goliath but an army of them.
The Hobbit was published in 1937 for younger readers unlike the LOTR books which had to contend with the dark shadow of WW2.While the LOTR films deeply divided Tolkien fans about reducing the book to an action adventure instead of the charm of the hobbits who occupied centerstage in the book, The Hobbit starts off on its own terms. In circa 2012 Peter Jackson presents his own version on his own terms for an audience reared on high definition high octane video games.The film displays some of the innocence of Tolkiens book at the beginning with an exuberant impromptu dinner party of dwarfs much to the exasperation of the unwilling host Bilbo Baggins.The middle act, however, treads typical LOTR territory, very competently and full of inventive monsters, ogres, elves and what not.All this of course presented in the 48fps 3D which has none of the dimness of the typical 3D flick.
The Hobbit while unable to bring anything spectacularly new to the table in terms of content or storytelling grammar dazzles all through its nearly three hour length on the strength of its technical excellence and fine performances set to stirring background music.This film was made on a budget on 180 million USD which is roughly 1000 crore India rupees. This “product” can be consumed for about 300 Rupees or 15 USD depending on your location.Its eye popping bang for the buck!!Another way to judge a piece of entertainment is the return on your time.If the Hobbit trilogy runs for 9 hours that will be more than the time taken to read the book. Films deliver us the stories of novels in a fraction of the time taken to read the books and get much vilified in the process.This time the films may need more of our time, cost three times a single copy of the book and come in three installments over 2.5 years.Thats the power of the global blockbuster for you.Oh and I forgot the cost of the popcorn!