I finally caved in and took my eldest children to see the Hobbit yesterday. We decided to go the whole hog and went to a 4K cinema and saw it in glorious 3D and High Frame Rate. ( I am not sure if it is possible to see it in non-HFR but our cinema offered three ways to see the film: 3D HFR, 3D and 2D). We loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy – and we are about to embark on (another) viewing epic of watching the extended versions of the films back to back. So it was with some trepidation we went to see this “Prequel.” We all know what a bad thing a prequel series can be… remember Jar Jar Binks?
The first thing that hits you when you watch The Hobbit is the High Frame Rate (HFR). Because films are normally shot in 24 frames per second when Peter Jackson decided to shoot in 48 fps it was a controversial move. I am very keen on technology – and love the fact that blu ray gives you a superb amount of detail, I also quite like 3D when it’s done well rather than when people decide to explode a few pains of glass or bounce a ball on a string at you. So I was hoping for the best with HFR. Because your camcorder and also cheap television dramas shoot in HFR when you watch the Hobbits many and long scenes of people in enclosed spaces – it somehow makes it look cheap and televisual rather than cinematic. But when you are in Bagg End looking at the Dwarves take over Bilbo’s house it just looked like a cheap ITV production. This is a shame because the triumph of the Lord of the Rings was the scale of the production. HFR seems to come into its own when the CGI kicks in. Watching the sequence in the Orcs cave was amazing – the greater clarity and somehow definition was incredible – it felt like you had a window into Middle Earth and the amazing fly through sequences were the best action and CGI I have ever seen. So I am torn because it looks like we haven’t got the technology or the skill to know how to handle HFR uniformly well, yet.
The Hobbit is a short children’s book which as a result doesn’t have the same depth of characterisation or subtly of plot as the Lord of the Rings. So the question mark was always going to be if there was enough to make two films let alone three films out of such a short book. I think the answer is No. Someone told me recently that they thought it would take less time to read out the Hobbit in its entirety than to go to see this film Trilogy. They definitely take their time in the movie – giving lots of time to dialogue and scene setting. It feels like he has been indulgent rather than artistic.
5 Things to enjoy about the Hobbit
The Hobbit is still a brilliant film, the only reason I have these criticisms is that they are not up to the standard Jackson set in Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s genius still rings through. So here are five things you might enjoy
1. The Songs
I wasn’t sure I was going to like these – but Richard Armitage (AKA Guy of Gisbourne) did a great job of singing a mournful lament about the quest they are on.
2. The centrality of humility
By choosing to make hobbits the centre of the action in all four parts of the Middle Earth series. Tolkien underlines the power of the humble and weak, confounding the power of sorcerer and warrior. The majestic Galladriel asks Gandalf directly:
Galadriel: Why the halfling?
Gandalf: Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.
Character shines through the weakness and inexperience of Bilbo here’s a very moving line given to Bilbo Baggins:
I know you doubt me. I know you always have. I often think of Bag End. That’s where I belong. That’s home. You don’t have one. It was taken from you, but I will help you get it back if I can.
For Tolkien the great power of evil is overcome by the simple courage of the humble. This is a value central to Tolkien’s Christian faith and is modelled most perfectly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
3. The Moral framework
I love the way that Tolkien has built not just a fantasy universe but a moral universe in which to play out his drama. Its a great place in which to explore big questions of life. You might enjoy Colin Duriez’s book which explores some of the implications of this.
4. The importance of language
Tolkien was a master linguist and so neither his names nor the dialects that he created are neither arbitrary nor random. This comes out in The Hobbit when Elves and Dwarves speak their native tongues. Its a very rich world Tolkien has created and his attention to language creates this. (Wittgenstien might have enjoyed this part of Middle Earth).
5. The warrior sage
I am watching these films as 40 year old now, and love the fact that the ranger of characters have place for young and old working together on a quest. There is a clear emphasis given to the wisdom of the elders. Gandalf is steals the show as usual. I like the fact that in Middle Earth we don’t farm out our old people to fester away in old people’s homes – they live amongst us, fight alongside us and offer wisdom in how to live well. What a great picture of multigenerational society and it is my prayer that the church would follow this biblical model more closely.