The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Ordinary man changes the world. DO NOT see this in 48 fps, and DO NOT see it in 3D. The first made it look like a bad British Television Soap Opera and the 3d was completely ad hoc worthless. But other than that, it was a great movie! It took half the movie for me to stop noticing how bad the image looked with it’s video like edges. It was so interruptive in a bad sense that it spoiled that first half for me. I was thinking about how “realism” as a dominating genre or worldview can have some deleterious effects, especially when applied to fantasy.

Now, the goal of storytelling is verisimilitude. That is, the author wants the audience to feel that regardless of the fact that the story may be fictional, or fantastic, or poetic, or their opposites, it still “rings true” with human nature or the way things really are or should be. It “seems real.” Now, this not only goes for the human drama or characterization or emotions, but for the look and feel of the movie. We all know how bad makeup or monster suits can “take us out of” our suspension of disbelief and we then feel cheated. Good 3D (Like in Avatar) will make us feel like “we are really there.” HD or 4K can bring a sharpness of image that give us “more to see” and therefore more to ingest of the imaginary world. I would not deny that 24 frames per second (fps) creates an initial distortion of the looking glass to which we have become accustomed, and that all such customs are often challenged and often overturned as cultural bias. Look at the film versus digital debate. I too prefer grain, and have embraced digital only insofar as it can replicate the moods and images of film, which is often achieved through lighting and cinematography. I even prefer the video look for certain genres that require it to give the feel of “reality” such as found footage horror films. So there is a time and place for all kinds of techniques to produce effects in the audience.

But this 48 fps thing stinks.

It creates a “staged look” of a television play that intends to be more “realistic” but in fact is less so. What I mean is that when we speak of “realistic” let’s not fool ourselves into thinking “realism” is a superior genre or any less of a biased genre or prejudicial worldview than any other. The very notion of “reality” begs the question, “whose version of reality?” What often masquerades as realism is in fact a nihilistic worldview or at least a blind humanistic elevation of empirical observation. Who says that being able to see the pores in an actor’s skin is more “realistic”? Only the person who believes that scientifically observed details are more important than the spiritual journey of the character, or that ignores the fact that our eyes actually operate to obscure some details in order to see the bigger patterns of “reality.” Or consider the more “realistic” movies that don’t portray angels or demons. Why is this more realistic? Because “we all know that such things don’t exist” says the ignorant humanistic physicalist. Do you see how “realism” is just a bucket to pour one’s own prejudices into about his version of reality? I think Orcs and wizards are more “real” than most news reporting from the mainstream media since they are so manipulative and selective of facts, they almost never tell the truth. If you doubt me, just be the subject of any news report and you’ll see what I mean. I’ve had people “report” on my blog about the Noah movie as being that I “don’t like the fantasy” of it or that I had no problem with the environmentalism of it. Both of which are completely the OPPOSITE of what I wrote. But the depiction of the Trolls in the Hobbit are definitely like people I’ve known.

So don’t try to tell me that 48 fps is more “realistic” cause it’s not. It’s more Soap Operaish and ugly and that is not a good thing for a fantasy epic. Rather than watching a fantasy story, you feel like you are on the set watching the actors act.

Back to the story…

One big thematic thing stuck out to me, and that was the line that Gandalf said that embodied the entire epic, about how it’s not really extraordinary people who change the world, but the ordinary who do normal acts of goodness. That really hit home with hope because it seems that in today’s world of increasing government and societal oppression over all areas of life, us normal people, us little guys, can feel an awful lot ineffective. We’re just a bunch of hobbits who want to be left alone to enjoy our lives in our own communities. Like Bilbo, we’re not heros. We want to leave others alone to live their lives. But evil does not sleep, and evil will not stop trying to control until it rules over everyone. So by trying to “live and let live” we are actually empowering evil and its net of fear to destroy innocence and spread. We must stand up and do something to help others. This is what Bilbo learns in his relationship with Thorin Oakenshield. If he does nothing and hides his head in the ground, Great men of goodness like Thorin will die. So when Bilbo finally becomes the rallying man to save Thorin from the Wargs and the Pale Orc, we see a man who has grabbed a hold of his responsibility to fight evil in this world, even if he is small and ordinary and has no chance. And it is of particular importance that he does not use the Ring when he does try to save Thorin. If he used the Ring, it would have protected him in such a way as to preclude sacrifice. It would have been easy. But instead, he fights the enemy with full danger of losing his life in order to save the fallen Dwarf king. That single act of courage is the high point of the entire story and pinpoints Bilbo’s transformation into a hobbit of honor and courage.

When Thorin repents for considering Bilbo a worthless chap that they should have left in Hobbiton, they cement a connection that shows everyone has something to give to help in the fight against evil. It is the small things, the little things, the ordinary things of life that can change the world. When the fellowship of dwarves is caught by the Goblins, Bilbo is completely overlooked because he is so small and unassuming. The tiny Ring of course carries the destiny of Middle Earth and its held by the sniveling Gollum and then the small humble hobbit Bilbo.

Being small and ordinary is not so bad or meaningless a life. And that’s why this story is so grand and universal, because it shows that in a world of fighting titans, both good and evil, it’s the little guys doing the right things that add up to changing the world as much as any king or wizard.

It’s kind of a pity that by adding in all the back story battles, Jackson has turned The Hobbit from a lighter fairy tale type story into a darker story more like Lord of the Rings. But I reckon those who worship the mythology of Middle Earth may be pleased to have the extra material in there.

Best Scene: When Bilbo meets Gollum and they have the riddle game sequence. Gollum’s penchant for melodrama and juvenile narcissism makes him the single most endearing nemesis in all of movie storydom for me because we both hate him and have pity for him – because he is US.