Being a lifelong fan of the books and Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, I went ahead and saw the opening midnight showing of The Hobbit last night. I saw it in Jackson's much-touted High Frame Rate 3D version on an RPX screen here in NYC.
I hated it.
With HFR, Peter Jackson has managed the stunning achievement of recreating the glorious cinematography of a day-time soap opera. I hope HFR begins and ends with this trilogy. It felt as though I was watching historical biblical re-enactments on the History Channel, or old episodes of Doctor Who from the 80's. The increased detail of the images is TOO detailed; the costumes look like, well, costumes, the sets look like sets and the wigs and fake beards look like a window display in a Halloween shop. Much in the same way as, when you look too closely at paintings by Monet or Seurat, they turn into a sea of colored dots, so here, too, the illusion is ruined.
The effect was not as jarring in darker scenes, but when the scenes are well lit, it's almost unbearable. It also has the odd appearance of being in fast forward. The first five minutes of the film looked as though the speed of the film was off - the additional frames make transitional movement jerky and strangely unnatural.
But even worse than that, the additional story material culled from the Lord of The Rings appendices, notes and Jackson/Walsh/Boyans/Del Toro's collective imagination is AWFUL and drags down the pace of story in a manner beyond the pale. At times I was forced to take off my 3D glasses and just take a break, not due to visual issues, but just to reminisce about the Rankin/Bass version, and wonder why a 35-year old cartoon had managed a better screenplay adaptation of Tolkein's book than the people who created the masterpiece that was The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The new scenes interrupt the charm and flow of the story of The Hobbit, which is an incredibly tightly crafted work of literature and naturally suited towards adaptation for the moving image. So rather than following the adventures and growth of our protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, we are instead subjected to interludes and asides, and discussions of things completely unrelated to the story, mainly as a means of (unnecessarily) tying The Hobbit into the world of Jackson's Lord of the Rings franchise.
The main issue lies squarely in their stretching the book out to three movies. Where even the LOTR extended versions work because of an overabundance of source material, this "extended" edition of The Hobbit simply does NOT. One feels as though one is watching a series of DVD extras and deleted scenes, interspersed between the scenes that actually move the story forward and develop the characters.
The addition of an antagonist to this first section is cartoonish (and not in a good way) and almost unbearable.
The only redeeming aspect of this film, other than individual actors' performances (McKellan, as always, is great, and Freeman is fun to watch), is that the film is shot, almost purposefully, in a way that would let you edit out pretty much ALL the added material. I had to wonder if this was completely deliberate on the part of Jackson, if somewhere deep inside him he realized that everything he was adding was crap, and that there needed to be some recourse to edit this down to one, single, concise Hobbit movie that was based solely (kinda) on the source material.
So, basically, I'm just waiting three years so I can re-edit this mess into something watchable. In the meantime, I'll just re-watch the Rankin/Bass version. (It has better songs too.)