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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Stir Fry Comparison

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Scott Roberts
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Stir Fry Comparison
on Dec 17, 2012 at 4:16:06 pm

Leading up to The Hobbit, I sort of got lost in talk of high frame rates, overlong storytelling, and unfavorable comparisons to the other three movies. Then I actually went into the film and was quickly reminded that I was back in the Lord of the Rings universe, and it’s a place that I love visiting.

The Hobbit as a whole, is a bit of a mixed bag. But not a half and half mix. It’s more like an Asian stir fry. With mostly delicious ingredients that I love, but I have to pick off a few water chestnuts to get only what I want. I hate water chestnuts. They have no flavor! They are just there for a crunchy texture change. I always throw them away. Sorry to turn this into an anti water chestnut agenda so early in the review, but I’m hungry and want some stir fry right now. And it seemed like an appropriate metaphor. So, The Hobbit is awesome, except for a few water chestnuts.

To keep this reaching stir fry theme going, for whatever reason, this movie has a lot of delicious ingredients. Starting with the rice, the bottom layer of the stir fry, the stuff you get in every bite. That would be the exceptional as usual adventure that comes with any Lord of the Rings film from Peter Jackson. This was one of the more entertaining action films of the year. Peter Jackson has always done a good job paying close attention to detail, and… wait… if detail is layered into every shot of the movie, then the rice would be detail, not the adventure. The adventure is more like the Thai ginger sauce that covers the whole thing. I never said this stir fry thing was a good idea.

The meat, I prefer chicken and steak so I’m going to give two examples, would be the incredible action set pieces and the Gollum scene. I particularly liked all the action that involved the lair of the Goblin King. That was a very fun elaborate set piece; one of several in the film. That could be the chicken, savory and delicious. The steak, however (the better of the two meats), was the Gollum scene. Which in my opinion, was the best scene in the entire movie. A great exchange between two actors doing their best work possible; with great suspense and good pacing. And it once again made me feel terrible for the tragic figure that is Gollum.

The roasted peppers would be the visual effects. Delicious morsels that I’d like to have in every bite, but there aren’t quite enough of them on the plate so I have to pick and choose when I can. I loved most of the effects. There was one however that I would point out as a big meeehhh: the Orc leader Azog. I felt that in a movie of great visuals, he just felt a little unpolished. A smooth white mass of grunting whatever. He looked like he was one level of polishing below the rest of the CGI characters. Put him next to the Goblin King for a good example of that. I also thought some of the backgrounds didn’t match the beauty of the foreground elements. But the Azog’s white warg was pretty cool and scary, though. And as short as the scene was, the rock giants were really, really cool.

The high frame rate 3D was the baby corn. I like the baby corn, but at the same time, I always find a few baby corns on the bottom of the plate when I’m done. The high frame rate was actually a little jarring at first, with the characters moving seemingly way faster than they should have been. It looked… crappy. But then my eyes adjusted and I stopped thinking about it, and it looked normal. Then in the less action packed scenes I would think about the HFR again, and the movements would look weird. I also didn’t see how it made the 3D look any better, as it still looked like every other 3D movie I’ve ever seen. Sure, it may have been in the better part of the 3D spectrum, but it was still less than impressive as a form of filmmaking. Much like baby corn, I liked it a little bit but could have done without it. But I wouldn’t mind more baby corn in the future. OK, now I feel like I’m losing people.

The water chestnuts to me, were the scenes that felt like they were thrown in for the sake of being thrown in. The brown wizard scene was the only legitimately terrible scene in the entire movie, but I suppose it’s there just to set up the Necromancer as a major villain in the next two movies. Other water chestnuts were the scene involving the wizards and high elves having an expository discussion, and the opening scene with old Bilbo and Frodo. Let me try to put it this way… the LOTR trilogy was made with burning passion and unparalleled dedication. It was a constant uphill battle because everyone involved wanted the Lord of the Rings movie to be made AND be the greatest thing ever. No film project had ever had the amount of brilliant scale that they did. Sleepless nights were had and brand new innovations were constantly being developed during those films’ productions. The Hobbit, however, was just kind of made in addition to the previous films. As if LOTR was a film trilogy that “really wanted to be made“, and The Hobbit is a film trilogy that is more like “OK, I guess we’ll make it…“. Those scenes, and a couple of others, really punched that sentiment into my head. As if I wasn’t watching a labor of love as much as I was watching a reminder of what was once a labor of love.

In an ideal situation in my mind, this film would have only been two hours long, and been only about the main journey from the book. And then the next film also only be two hours and also be pretty straightforward in plot. A lot of scenes felt like they belonged in the inevitable extended cut for a richer, more hardcore experience; and not so much in the first viewing theatrical cut. So it kind of felt bloated. Like the stir fry was spilling off of my plate and into my lap. Sigh. Sorry.

I know some people have been complaining of how it was an incomplete movie experience because it’s just part of a journey. I agree and disagree. Obviously, literally, it is just part of a journey. But at the same time I thought it covered a lot of the backstory and set up some greatness for the future. I thought the final scene with the bird and Smaug was a brilliant set up. As good a cliff hanging scene as you could have in a three hour movie. I’m looking forward to the next two movies for sure. I mean, they are Peter Jackson/LOTR movies.

The Hobbit is a very different story than The Lord of the Rings, both in style and in a simple approach. At times, it seemed like Peter Jackson was trying to turn this simple story with amusing confrontations into huge LOTR-type epicness. I’m not sure that’s entirely necessary to make this a great film series. But regardless of a few less-than-stellar ingredients, this was a very satisfying meal. A stir fry definitely worth eating. And it won’t give you stomach pains afterwards either. Which is a rarity after most trips to Stir Crazy. I don’t like that place much. And so ends the worst metaphor I’ve ever done in a film review.

8.5 out of 10

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Stephen Smith
Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Stir Fry Comparison
on Dec 17, 2012 at 7:29:07 pm

Does Gandalf die in the film? :-)

Stephen Smith
Utah Video Productions

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Jonas Marsh
Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Stir Fry Comparison
on Dec 18, 2012 at 7:54:58 am

I so so agree with you on your analysis of The Hobbit. I've read the book, and its not on the same level as the LOTR really. I do have to give props to Peter Jackson for making it that much appealing for movie goers.

Life as we know it is full of surprises. Better to color your world with art.

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Jeff Breuer
Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Stir Fry Comparison
on Dec 19, 2012 at 7:17:28 pm

[Scott Roberts] "The high frame rate was actually a little jarring at first, with the characters moving seemingly way faster than they should have been. It looked… crappy. But then my eyes adjusted and I stopped thinking about it, and it looked normal."

This is my expectation, hoping to see the HFR soon. Thanks for reviewing the HFR version. If you see the 3D regular frame rate version, let me know if it appears any dimmer to you or if it feels just as bright.

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Jason Jenkins
Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Stir Fry Comparison
on Dec 22, 2012 at 10:56:47 pm

[Jeff Breuer] "If you see the 3D regular frame rate version, let me know if it appears any dimmer to you or if it feels just as bright."

I thought the Gollum cave scene was way too bright. They are in a cave forcryingoutloud! It was almost like full daylight. Did that have anything to do with the HFR version I saw? I want to go see the 2D 24p version just to compare.

Jason Jenkins
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Mike Cohen
Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Stir Fry Comparison
on Dec 28, 2012 at 10:44:12 pm

I just returned home from the 3D HFR version. Everything from this point forward assumes that either you have seen the film or have no intention of seeing the film, or perhaps you just don't care.

I care.

Ready? Let's begin...

First let's get the technical jargon out of the way. All the hype about 48fps is a load of bollocks. I thought the picture looked super sharp and realistic. Not 24fps cinematic, but I quickly came to the conclusion that both 3D and 48fps, separately or combined, are in fact new methods of filmmaking, not to be compared with existing methods.

Whether shot on film, RED or cornflower blue, 3D is its own medium. Some directors use it well, others do it poorly.

In the case of the Hobbit Part 1 - I think we need to stop calling it 3D. 3D is what you get when stuff pops out of the screen like at EPCOT. Jackson, Cameron and a few other masters of their craft are creating Stereoscopic Cinema. The closest thing I can come up with is the old Viewmaster stereoscopic viewer. As a young lad I enjoyed looking at those 12 frame stories in stunning stereo. In fact the unit we used belonged to my dad back in the 1950's, and most of the discs were from that era too, with the exception of a few we bought at the Magic Kingdom in 1977.

Yes, the Hobbit is a Stereoscopic Cinematic work of art. Not every scene needed to be in stereo, but it worked for me. After about 10 minutes I got accustomed to the new style of images and my brain adjusted. Once we left Bag End I stopped thinking about whether or not 48fps made a difference - it was then that I realized this is not traditional film so stop trying to draw a comparison. It is something new.

We have talked about Showscan and other World's Fair / Disney oriented filmmaking techniques over the decades. Aside from IMAX, this is really the first time that a filmmaker has implemented entertainment-oriented techniques in a work of popular entertainment.

Ok that didn't make sense.

Venue entertainment vs movie theater entertainment. That better? Thought so.

Therefore, assuming that the viewer and the reader of a review knows that the Hobbit takes place inside a stereoscopic hyper-world, we can get over the technological hurdle and talk about the story. After all this is NOT a motion simulator ride at Universal Studios - it is a movie that just happens to be projected in a new format.

To draw a comparison - when you have read a book on a Kindle, you don't spend more than perhaps 2 seconds if any time at all describing the reading technology - you talk about the story and the characters.


I just returned from seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

As if Peter Jackson knew he might eventually make this film series, he teased our inner Tolkein with the opening scenes of both Fellowship of the Ring as well as Return of the King with the Smeagol flashback.

Ian Holm and Elijah Wood appear in the Hobbit to tie everything together nicely. If you always wanted to see the rest of Bilbo's home, this is your chance. They re-built the set and seemingly have built every room. And a technical note, they build two versions of many sets to accomplish the illusion of different sized characters.

Like Fellowship, the film starts with several minutes of flashback exposition to orient the viewer to who these odd looking little men are and what they are after.

The arrival of Thorin's company was very true to the book, and they even included some singing. I will say I hope there is more singing in Parts 2 and 3 because the Hobbit the book is chock full of Dwarfsong.

What a treat to see Ian McKellan reprise his great role of Gandalf and this is no cameo - he is at his wizarding best. If anything, in Fellowship he is past his prime (until of course he is reborn as Gandalf the White).

I think Martin Freeman did a great job playing the younger Bilbo and there is actually a resemblance to Frodo. Overall the Dwarves are well performed, and certain characters grow on you especially Balin and Bofur. Thorin seems a cold bastard for much of the film, reminiscent of Aragorn, until as expected a certain hobbit warms his heart. Much like in Fellowship, by the end the group has become a family - Thorin and Bilbo are like brothers.

The sets are of course fantastic, and seeing the entrance to and reveal of Rivendell was spectacular. All of the Rivendell scenes were magical, and as in Fellowship, it is the Elves who send our company on the correct path. (did anyone wonder if Gandalf and Galadriel may have had something going on in the past? They are both quite old after all). Seeing Saurumon pre-Sauron was cool and anytime Christopher Lee can do some acting is good for all of us. They filmed his scenes in London because at 90 years old Lee probably did not want to spend 2 months in New Zealand.

The action was entertaining and relevant with bits of physical comedy from the dwarves give some levity to the dark undertones that are brewing. We only hear about the Necromancer and see bits of the dragon - Part 2 should be filled with more terror, though it remains to be seen how gruesome the violence will become. We did have beheadings and killing of all sorts of creatures.

The scene with the trolls was fun and establishes Bilbo as resourceful and was the first time in his life he had to worry about anything beyond his next meal. It also establishes that the company work together and they do in fact care about their newest companion.

The music cues, most of them from the LOTR trilogy come in at the appropriate moments and come back during action and dialogue scenes again to tie things together for those us of who have seen the previous films, and for those who are just beginning their Middle Earth experience now.

I won't hit every plot point or set piece.

The scene with Gollum was well acted and very reminiscent of the book. They did not make Gollum look too much more lifelike than in the previous films. It was probably tempting to do so given advances in animation, but they could have wound up with digital Yoda (looked great but looked so much different than the puppet that all you could think about was how different he looked than the puppet).

The climax of the film was appropriate, although it seemed to have a few possible points where it could have ended.

As others have said, it could have been, perhaps, 20 minutes shorter - certainly not a movie for young kids if only due to the duration, despite toys, lunchboxes and collector glassware targeted at kids (or their parents who were perhaps 15 in 2000).

Was this movie awesome, incredible, life altering, industry changing, the next Avatar? Nope.

Enjoyable film, classic story, endearing characters, well acted and well written with appropriate use of technology - these qualities are so lacking from many 100 million dollar plus films.

Any complaints?

The usual complaints about noisy popcorn munching and crinkly plastic candy wrappers distracting me from the movie.

Before the movie a slide came on the screen saying "If you see any suspicious characters please alert the theater staff." How sad that we live in a world where we need these messages.

Too many previews.
3D commercials mostly not in 3D despite telling us to put on our 3D glasses.
Superman trailer looks promising.
Epic looks like Ferngully meets Honey I Shrunk the Kids - looks like great animation.
After Earth - yawn.
Tom Cruise movie Oblivion might be good - has a Phillip K Dick feel to it if not overloaded with needless effects - but I'm a fan of this type of movie. Not sure how his character reminisces about baseball games 60 years ago unless there is some cryosleep plot point we don't know about yet.

Overall a great experience. I could see Star Wars Episode 7 being shot in 48fps Stereo and it being quite enjoyable. Rumor has it Matthew Vaughn is directing - he did a fine job with X-Men First Class I thought - right mix of character development and action.

Talk amongst yourselves.

Mike Cohen

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Stephen Smith
Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Stir Fry Comparison
on Jan 2, 2013 at 7:42:52 pm

I enjoyed the Hobbit. I watched it in the HFR on the iMax. I never got used to the HFR. You could only see it when there was fast movement, which there was a lot of at the end. I liked how it eliminated the flicker but I'm not a HFR fan. To me the 3D added a cool layer to the film. Shots like the one when they where meeting with Elrond in the gazebo type structure was awesome. I was fascinated with the many layers of interesting things to look at. Well worth seeing it in 3D.

Stephen Smith
Utah Video Productions

Check out my Motion Training DVD

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