Films are released, they are discussed, they are judged and they are revered or forgotten. Occasionally after several years or even decades they are reassessed by fans and critics and their historical placing my rise or fall. I’ve decided to reassess a film myself but it isn’t a film I saw decades or even years ago, it’s a film I saw just four months and nineteen days ago. Like a lot of people who grew up watching Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy I couldn’t wait for the release of the first instalment of his second Middle Earth trilogy, The Hobbit and Unexpected Journey. I saw it just before Christmas last year and was hugely disappointed, so much so that I gave the film just 4/10 when I reviewed it. To put that into context, that’s the same rating I gave to Rock of Ages and We Bought a Zoo, two films I never want to see again.
For me the main problem with the movie was that it was ruined by one thing; 3D. I thought the 3D in The Hobbit was pointless (if you’ll excuse the pun). It darkened the screen, hiding the beautiful landscapes and made the scenes set underground as easy to see as a particularly difficult to see thing, being viewed by a blind man, facing the other way. The images were also fuzzy and the motion blur I got from the action scenes meant that I often just gave up and closed my eyes. All in all it was a disaster. So having reviewed the film and received exasperated looks from friends who read it, I vowed to re-view it when it came out on Blu-Ray. So was I right?
Although An Unexpected Journey is very long and by most people’s estimations, too long, I had no problem with the length on either viewing. Jackson creates such a beautiful and well realised version of Middle Earth that I’m happy to spend hours on end just watching its landscapes roll by. I don’t think that the vistas are quite as draw droppingly stunning as those found in the Lord of the Rings films but this might just be because we have become accustomed to seeing New Zealand’s vastly differing and equally beautiful countryside that it doesn’t have the same impact on us as it did a decade ago. On my initial viewing I was one of the few who felt that the tea party scenes early on were the right length although now I agree that the sequence does drag on a bit.
One of the positives I took from a second viewing was that the dwarf’s personalities seemed to jump off the screen a little more. Because there are so many of them, for large parts of the film they are just one lump of dwarf shaped noise but I got a sense of who they were on a second viewing. Another positive from a second, 2D viewing, was that I could actually see Middle Earth this time. The visuals are vastly improved and the effects look a lot better than they did in 3D. I have to admit though that there were times when the CGI didn’t impress me. Sometimes the effects seemed to have no weight to them and weren’t as flawless as you’d expect from WETA. That being said, many of the effects were fantastic to look at with Golum being perhaps the best designed thing on screen. His riddles scene also stands out as the best in the movie, as it did on my first viewing. The makeup also looks very good. I still think that the scenes set in the goblin kingdom look like a video game and thought they were messy both in terms of plotting and effects but I was at least able to focus on the screen this time around.
As for the story, well it still has the same flaws as it did on my first viewing. The giant Eagles remain the biggest plot hole in the film (WHY DIDN’T THEY JUST DROP THEM OFF A BIT CLOSER TO THE LONELY MOUNTAIN?!!) The plot lacks the epic feeling of The Lordof the Rings but I was rarely bored. I felt invested in the characters but still think the series would have suited one or two films instead of three. The White Orc stuff feels like needless filler and just a way of adding to the action. I could have done without his character.
So overall was I wrong to award The Hobbit an Unexpected Journey 4/10? No. That was how I felt at the time and I stick by the fact that the 3D ruined the experience of seeing the film for the first time. Not only did a second viewing help to make the visuals pop but it also allowed me to get to know the characters better. I’m still a little disappointed with the film as a package but I’m glad I went back to see it again and I’m looking forward to the next instalment at the end of the year.
You can read my original review of An Unexpected Journey here.