Early reviews of Peter Jackson's first Hobbit movie are generally positive, but dubious about the film's length, the stretching of the story over three movies, and the 48-frames-per-second cinematography that a minority of viewers will see.
Variety said the movie delivered more of what made the Lord of the Rings so compelling, including colourful characters on an epic quest amid stunning New Zealand scenery. But it failed to offer nearly enough novelty to justify the three-film, nine-hour treatment, at least on the basis of the over-long first instalment - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
The story recounts the journey of hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who is coerced by the wizard Gandalf into joining 13 dwarfs on a quest to steal a great treasure trove from the dragon Smaug.
Variety said that splitting JRR Tolkien's story of The Hobbit into multiple movies copied a frustrating trend among lucrative fantasy adaptations, from the two final Harry Potter films to the bifurcated Twilight Saga finale, stringing fans along with incomplete narratives.
Whereas the book of The Lord of the Rings - Tolkien's much darker sequel to the more child-friendly Hobbit - naturally divided into the three books, The Hobbit had scarcely enough story to support a single feature.
The first Hobbit movie was awfully slow to start, Variety said.
The introduction of the film's 48fps digital cinematography was disconcerting. It solved the inherent stuttering effect of celluloid that happened whenever a camera panned or horizontal movement crossed the frame -- but at too great a cost.
Everything took on an overblown, artificial quality in which the phoniness of the sets and costumes became obvious, while well-lit areas bled into their surroundings, like watching a high-end home movie.
But one Bilbo finally accepted his calling 40 minutes into the picture, such technical distractions virtually disappeared as Jackson drew the audience into his familiar world.
Variety noted that New Zealand actor Dean O'Gorman, who plays the dwarf Fili, was "a Kiwi heartthrob in the offing".
The Sydney Morning Herald was generally effusive, but it too was unimpressed with the time the film takes to warm up.
Apart from that quibble, it considered that while some fans may resent the liberties taken with the novel, the film had so many pay-offs that most were likely to re-engage with the saga.
Jackson brought the darker vision of LOTR into Bilbo's world, with brutal battles, top-class creatures and spectacular landscapes over a packed 160-plus minutes, SMH said.
The battles were ferocious and a rousing finale set up the second instalment in a year's time.
The jury was out on Jackson's innovation in shooting the movie at 48fps - rather than the traditional 24 frames - in 3D. While the high-definition image was sharp, almost startlingly so initially, the format seemed to distance the characters from the landscape.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the movie spends "nearly three hours of screen time to visually represent every comma, period and semicolon in the first six chapters" of the 19-chapter book of The Hobbit.
Jackson and his colleagues had created a purist's delight, something the millions of die-hard fans of LOTR would gorge upon.
"In pure movie terms, however, it's also a bit of a slog, with an inordinate amount of exposition and lack of strong forward movement," the Hollywood Reporter said.
It was as if The Wizard of Oz had taken nearly an hour just to get out of Kansas.
Filming in 3D at 48fps was interesting and would be much-debated, but an initial comparison with the usual 24fps weighed. The high frame rate was striking in some of the big spectacle scenes, but predominantly looked like ultra-vivid television video, paradoxically lending the film a oddly theatrical look, especially in the cramped interior scenes in Bilbo Baggins' home.
While it took Jackson a long time to build up a head of steam, he delivered the goods in the final stretch, paralleled by the hitherto ineffectual Bilbo, played by Martin Freeman, beginning to come into his own as a character.
IGN said there was much to enjoy about the movie, although it could not quite recapture the greatness, emotional impact or charm of LOTR.
It took a full hour for anything to really happen, and, with the movie's computer generated imagery, at a certain point during battle scenes it became evident the main actors were swinging at nothing.
"You never get the sense anything's actually connecting and thus you're never fully invested in these battles or what happens to anyone in them," IGN said.
The 48fps robbed a fantasy movie of its escapism by making it feel too "real", and looking like the greatest BBC or PBS production ever.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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