Review – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, in Eleventy Vision

As a massive film and fantasy geek, I was incredibly excited about The Hobbit, and about it being in Eleventy Vision* (aka Higher Frame Rate, or 48 Frames Per Second). I was going to see it, and I was going to see it in Eleventy Vision no matter what, although the reviews had prepared me for disappointment, or at least mixed results. Armed with these thoughts, I entered the cinema. I feel my reactions are best summed up by visual re-enactments of my expressions as the movie progressed.

Initial response to the impressive 3D, seamless CGI, and awe-inspiring Eleventy Vision**:

Me, gaping in wonder, in my 3D glasses

Which, segued naturally into grinning like the happiest child to ever hap:

Me, grinning like a foolish child, in my 3D glasses

Which gradually relaxed into:

Me, smiling dreamily at the beauty of it all in my 3D glasses

interrupted with violent flaily for the 2.5 seconds Lee Pace was on screen:

A blurred photo of me flailing in my 3D glasses

And frantically clutching at myself in the scary bits:

Me, frantically clutching at myself in my 3D glasses

All of which is to say that this was an exceedingly pretty and very well-executed movie. I’m also very, very glad I saw it in Eleventy Vision, which was stunning beyond anything I’ve ever seen in the cinema.

On Eleventy Vision

I’d read that it could make the film look sped up, and that this sensation could last for anything from ten minutes to an hour. I did experience this… for all of about five minutes. In all honesty, I adjusted to it very quickly and only had a few minor moments every now and then when an odd camera angle would make things look sped up again.

I had also read that the level of detail was actually a detriment, making the expensive fantasy sets and make-up look cheap. Nothing could be further from the truth. I should say that my Geek Film Buddy, Lee Harris, completely disagrees. He thought Eleventy Vision looked stunning in the panoramas of the landscape, but cheap whenever characters were in view. I don’t know what to say except that I just didn’t find that. And I was actively looking for it, as it was a thing a number of reviews had mentioned, and I wanted to try to be balanced, but it just wasn’t there. For me, at least, CGI and make-up and fantasy set-dressings have rarely, if ever, looked so real. I found myself wishing the Lord of the Rings films could be reshot in this way, although they had been very impressive at the time. True, I could see the pores and flaws in the actors’ faces, but I actually found that a good thing – they looked like real people, rather than ultra-smooth unreal beings.

I had also read that people who were impressed by Eleventy Vision still found it distracting – that the level of detail constantly tugged at one’s attention, drawing one out of the action to marvel at the pretty. Again: not for me. It was only an enhancement and added absorption. Where elsewhere CGI-smoothness can make fantasy films look cartoony, I felt submerged in the other world, the details merely making it more convincing and beautiful.

The 3D was also pretty good. At one point it really did feel like there was a flaming pine cone flying out of the screen at me, which is something few modern 3D films have actually achieved.

I will say that I did find Eleventy Vision tough on the eyes. My eyes still feel achy a couple of hours later, and I did have to remove my glasses several times to rest my eyes. I wonder if this is a symptom of my getting used to the new format so quickly? Like, maybe my eyes were working overtime to compensate? Who knows. All I can say is that the eyestrain was worth it.

If normal 3D particularly upsets your constitution, Eleventy Vision probably isn’t for you. If, like me, good quality 3D doesn’t really bother you (Dredd and The Amazing Spider-Man were both notably easier on the eyes for me, for example) I’d really make the time to give Eleventy Vision a go.

The Plot

I’ll keep this as brief as possible: Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), uncle to Frodo (Our Hero from The Lord of the Rings), receives a visit from an old friend of the family, Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen). Gandalf is one of five highly skilled wizards who protect Middle-Earth with their magic, but in Hobbiton, where Bilbo lives, he is mostly known for his fireworks. Gandalf invites Bilbo on an adventure, which Bilbo is none too interested in. Bilbo is a hobbit, and hobbits like the quiet life, in their idyllic Shire.

But Gandalf sees something in Bilbo that the hobbit doesn’t see in himself. He suspects Bilbo might like adventure if he had a taste of it, and he believes there to be a quiet strength of character in hobbits that may be of need on this mission. That, and their stealthy way of moving about unheard. So Gandalf invites his 13 dwarven friends to ambush Bilbo at his home, and he is ultimately persuaded to come along on a quest to take back the dwarves’ city, mines, and gold, from the fearsome dragon, Smaug.

Between here and there, Bilbo encounters many adventures, including an interlude with the curious creature, Gollum, from whom Bilbo steals a rather significant ring, which grants invisibility.

This is the first part of three films and takes us through Bilbo’s adventures tricking three trolls out of eating him and his companions, bumping into Radagast the Brown (Sylvestor McCoy) escaping from orcs, visiting with the elves at Rivendell, riddling with Gollum, and at last catching a glimpse of the Lonely Mountain, where Smaug squats on his hoard of dwarven gold.

Additions to the Film

Many fans have been shocked that The Hobbit, a fraction of the size of The Lord of the Rings, has been given the Peter Jackson treatment and spread over three films. However, I had heard that Jackson had not so much invented plot as augmented the story with context drawn from The Silmarillion – a collection of works from Tolkien’s notes, collected by his son, that fills out the world of LotR and The Hobbit. I wanted to reserve judgement until I saw exactly what he had done with the film.

In all honesty, I’m positive about the move. As a fan, I would love to see a lovingly made production of The Hobbit that was simply the tale as originally told, but I think there is always time for that. Jackson has a unique opportunity to fill out Tolkien’s world for people like me who really couldn’t make it through the dense drudgery of The Silmarillion. Tolkien invented a rich, beautiful, haunting world that has become indelibly embedded in our culture. It had a powerful impact in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, but had slipped out of the mainstream (although still generally regarded as a classic, even outside of genre circles). To have the money, the production freedom, the cast – the power – to bring so much of that world to the popular consciousness is a rare opportunity that is unlikely to arise again, and I, personally, admire Jackson for taking this bold move. As I am also grateful to him, for enriching my understanding of Tolkien’s world. The Hobbit will be remade. You can depend on this story being retold and drawing audiences to the big screen again in the future, but a moment like this? I don’t think it will come again.


In addition to being stunningly beautiful, this was very well-acted and very well-cast. I wasn’t sure about Martin Freeman when I heard he’d been selected, but he more than rose to the challenge. Ian McKellen has always seemed natural in his role as Gandalf, and he only gets better with time. He seems to have relaxed into the role and delivers it effortlessly and spotlessly.

The dwarves are generally good. I’ve heard a lot about the ‘hot’ dwarves, but I didn’t feel particularly distracted by them. A few of the ‘background’ dwarves sort of blurred into one, and I’m not entirely comfortable with Bombur’s character essentially being ‘funny-because-fat’, but overall they felt true to the original spirit of the book. The Hobbit is in many ways a more joyous and light-hearted book than Lord of the Rings, and the more comedic aspects of the dwarves felt far more in keeping than Gimli’s ‘comedy dwarf’ persona in Jackson’s previous films. Moreover, as I watched, I realised that, seen as a complete work, we might even take Jackson as doing something rather clever. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are notably different in tone, and that makes for a challenge in presenting a cohesive world on screen whilst remaining true to the material. Seeing the dwarves together as sociable characters that like to mock each other and take everything in good humour, whilst also being capable of formidable warfare, Gimli’s character suddenly fell into place. He seems odd in Lord of the Rings because he is isolated from his culture and other people who are like him. I’m not saying that this completely overturns the flaws in Gimli’s presentation in Jackson’s previous films, but it does make for an interesting way to stitch the two tales back together and see a continuity of in-world culture that one becomes isolated from if one focuses on one specific story.

My only negative note on character presentation comes, surprisingly, for Galadriel. It will not surprise you to know that I am not against Jackson’s changes to squeeze female characters into the story by hook or by crook, and Galadriel was at least always a powerful figure in the original works. My problem is not with her inclusion so much as how she is treated on screen. Poor Cate Blanchett is subject to some very unfortunate and stilted blocking, and to a dress that, whilst stunning, is clearly almost impossible to move in without tripping up. She therefore alternates between standing unnaturally still and walking gracefully, but pointlessly, in slow steps designed to display the gown without tripping her up, and which bear little relation to probable moves the character would make in relation to her dialogue. I guess her strange movements and stillness are supposed to have an otherworldly impression, but I’ve never felt that an other-worldly air was a struggle for Cate Blanchett, and mostly came away thinking that the director and costume designer needed to step back and let her work, as opposed to treating her like a pretty pawn to move about the stage.

That said, Jackson did succeed in creating an impression of Galadriel’s power. In the magical actions she takes, and the understated ease with which she takes them, it is clear that she is a force above and beyond that of anyone else in the room: a knowledgeable weilder of a ring of power, in command of its abilities and capable of using it in more than the ‘accidental invisibility’ sense that we mostly see when the One Ring is used.

Above and beyond all these other performances, however, I have to take note of Andy Serkis as Gollum. He is, if anything, even better than his performance in The Lord of the Rings films. He strikes just the right balance of hauntingly pitiable and frighteningly repulsive. Truly, both Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman are to be commended for a flawless presentation of the riddling scene. And it really did have to be flawless. The keystone of the story, this scene is itself the most memorable – for me, and I’m sure for others. Much more so even those involving Smaug. The mix of humour and fear is carefully balanced, and all the iconic lines are delivered to perfection: what has it got in its pocketses


The added content makes the pacing a little uneven, but much less so than I expected. It’s a long film, and I would have appreciated an interval to go pee in (I had to skip out on the last bit of Sylvestor’s performance, in the end, which was a shame) but it actually does a pretty god job of maintaining interest and tension.

The big moments are handled well: the arrival of the dwarves in Hobbiton, the encounter with the Trolls, Bilbo’s finding of the ring and riddling for his life with Gollum.

The additional material fills in the world and makes a more solid connection with the other films. As well as the cultural connection mentioned above, there’s a lot of foreshadowing, and the connection of the One Ring with the events that follow in LotR is less a curio and more of a cohesive part of the sense of something dark building in the South.

We saw glimpses of the spiders in Mirkwood – I hope that’s not all we’ll see. The most terrifying part of The Hobbit, for me, was the capture of our heroes by the spiders, and I would feel let down if it were missed out, but we do still have three films left.

Similarly, I would have liked to have seen more of Thranduil, but that’s mostly because I have the hots for Lee Pace. And because if ever a man was born to play an elf, it is the 6’4″, svelt and graceful Mr Pace.

And in contrast to the grumblings I saw in other reviews, I was completely bowled over by the beauty of the 3D and Eleventy Vision.

Honestly, this is a moment of cultural significance: go see this in all its glory. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

*Eleventy because eleventy.

**I apologise for the excessively dark and yellow tint – not an ideal time of night for snapping pics on the laptop-cam, and it’s far too late at night for faffing around with Photoshop.

Review: Dredd 3D

Title: Dredd 3D
UK Cinematic Release: 7st September 2012
Worldwide Cinematic Release: 21st September 2012
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, and Wood Harris
Written by: Alex Garland
Directed by: Pete Travis
Cinematography by: Anthony Dod Mantle
Audio Description: Available in at least some cinemas

My initial response, hot off the press when I got in last night: I haven’t seen a film like that this side of the millenium. For clarity: I’m not saying it’s the very best film this side of the millennium. I’m not saying it’s the most original. I’m not even saying it’s the best or most original science fiction film this side of the millenium (Moon and Serenity, at the very least, are clear contenders). But a film like this? A smart, visually stunning, action packed and graphically violent movie with varied and powerful female characters that presents a vision of the future that is new and architecturally experimental – a real film of dystopic vision, like this? No, I haven’t seen its like.

I talked in my review of Moon about how modern science fiction has stagnated somewhat and is failing to present us with new and interesting visions of the future in the way it did in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. In my review of Prometheus I noted that one of its saving graces was that it was at least trying to break out of the familiar mould that has developed over the last 10-15 years of entertaining, but not ground-breaking (except effects-wise) movies. Moon was excellent, but a very different type of movie to Dredd 3D. Same goes for Serenity, and whilst Serenity can lay a claim to violence, originality, and dystopic vision to an extent, it’s not operating on the same scale as Dredd 3D, and it must be conceded that its original setting was developed more fully before the movie in the television series, Firefly. Dredd is doing something different again.

Minimally Spoiltastic Plot Summary

In a dystopic future where crime is almost entirely out of control, the only force that stands between what remains of the law-abiding citizenry and violent anarchy are an elite group of Judges. Judges bear little similarity to anything we would recognise by that term today. They judge, sentence, and execute the law in person, and their justice is swift and harsh.

Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is the most impressive and feared of the judges. He is assigned by the Chief Judge (Rakie Ayola) to assess a new recruit, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). Anderson failed the physical requirements to be a judge by three points, but the Chief is intrigued by the value of her unusual psychic abilities. As a mutant, she should have been executed herself, but her powers have such potential that the Chief wants to give her a chance.

Dredd allows Anderson to choose her own assignment for her assessment. She decides to respond to a report of a homicide in Peach Trees – a tower block so notorious that even Judges rarely venture in. Peach Trees is effectively under the total power of the Ma-Ma clan. Ma-Ma is the leader of the gang, Madelaine Madrigal (Lena Headey), and her brutal rule is enforced by her horrific punishment for any who cross her – she skins them alive, shoots them high with the drug ‘Slo-Mo’ (which extends perceived time and heightens sensation), and throws them off the top floor of the tower complex to splatter in the central courtyard as a message to others.

The judges enter, and using Anderson’s ability they locate the man who skinned the three victims, Kay (Wood Harris). Ma-Ma knows Kay can identify and implicate her if interrogated – she cannot let the judges leave with Kay alive. Shutting the blast doors on the tower, Ma-Ma orders the inhabitants of Peach Trees to hunt and kill the judges – the doors will not be reopened until she knows they are dead. Dredd and Anderson must fight their way to the top, against a tower full of people who want them dead, or are too afraid of Ma-Ma to help them, in order to carry out Ma-Ma’s sentence (death) and escape.

Why did it rock my world?

Lena Headey as Ma-Ma in Dredd 3DFirst off, let’s talk about Ma-Ma. Yes, the name ‘Ma-Ma’ is annoying because it once again suggests that a woman’s power is rooted in her reproductive capacity, but the name is as deep as that goes, and it is at least in-world based on the character’s full name, Madelaine Madrigal. You can see why it was chosen. Ma-Ma is indisputably Lena Headey’s best role. Headey first came to my attention playing Sarah Connor in The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I was pleasantly surprised by the show, which was much truer to the original concept than any of the films after T2. Headey was a relatively weak link, though, achieving a passable impression of Linda Hamilton, the original Sarah Connor, but never really making the role her own. More recently, she has risen to fame as Cersei in HBO’s award winning TV production of George R R Martin‘s Game of Thrones. I thought this was a better role for her, and she has improved notably in the second season. But he role as Ma-Ma has taken her to a new level. This is the tough she never quite achieved as Sarah Connor. It’s beyond tough. Ma-Ma is a terrifying vision of a woman who really could sieze control and hold a 200 storey tower block in fear.

This may be the best role for a woman we have seen in a very, very long time; and even though Ma-Ma’s origin story is rooted in having been a prostitute, there is no question that her current power has anything to do with sex. Lena Headey is still a beautiful woman, even with that scar, but Ma-Ma couldn’t be further from Cersei on the philosophy of female power. When a man sexually abused Ma-Ma, she bit off his dick and seized his empire.

I mention that detail specifically because it underscores a theme of sexuality and power that is explored with nuance. Anderson also experiences a moment of sexual threat, and uses this vision of a woman violently taking her power back as a way of underlining that women can be physically threatening, even in the sexual context, too. It draws attention to the question of women and power and sex, and it offers a novel response in rejecting the accepted order that women should fear men in the sexual arena because of their physical superiority. We are reminded that in the sexual context men are uniquely vulnearble to women, also, and not in the usual way in which women are forced to manipulate men by subjugating themselves to male sexual desire. No, this is a physical and violent way in which women can seize power. It surprised and challenged me, which so few films succeed in doing on this topic.

Judge Anderson's perfectly coifed hairIn contrast to Ma-Ma, Anderson is much more feminine than I had expected from the trailers. It’s also disappointing to have yet another woman’s super-power lie in being able to sense the thoughts and emotions of others. It’s a power that can barely be called metaphorical for the old idea of ‘feminine intuition’ – the concept used to condescendingly attribute to women a sixth sense that supposedly makes up for their inability to cope with masculine concepts like logic and rational thought. She is also annoyingly blessed with an artificially curled and implausible hairstyle that manages to stay undisturbed almost until the last frame. Nevertheless, it is clear that this film is not so much a film about how awesome Judge Dredd is (although he is that) as an origin story for Anderson. She’s the rookie in this picture, and we’re viewing her fairly impressive baptism of fire. One is not left at the end of the movie with any impression that she is lacking in mental or physical toughness.

Dredd himself is excellent. I have an affection for the 1995 film, Judge Dredd, that I know few fans of the comics share, but I’m here to reassure you that Urban’s Dredd is a million miles from Stallone’s. Urban was a surprise choice for the ultimate-square-jaw-grim-face, Dredd. Hard to see the elven Éomer or the enthusiastically good humoured Bones as a potential Judge Dredd, but I’ve come to realise that Urban is something of a chameleon. He plays this role to perfection, complete with the extreme down-turned mouth for which Judge Dredd is known, yet somehow avoiding caricature. He brings the requisite gravitas to the picture whilst never stooping to the implausible growl of Christian Bale‘s Batman. Moreover, he comfortably shares the screen with Ma-Ma and Anderson, balancing the task of marking the iconic figure he is playing whilst never over-powering his scenes.

In addition to good central casting, Dredd also stands out for its supporting cast. I’d like to see Wood Harris play something other than a drug dealer and thug, but he and Rakie Ayola are both good, and it’s nice to see more people of colour on our screens. The main characters are all white, alas, but they are the exception. Perhaps due to being largely filmed in South Africa, beyond the central three characters, virtually everyone else in this film is a person of colour. It’s such a relief to see a film where the crowds aren’t as white-washed as the leads. Moreover, I particularly enjoyed Rakie Ayola’s role as Chief Judge. We have seen increasing numbers of women in senior positions in film and television, but rarely women of colour, and as I have commented elsewhere, this is not the progressive statement it appears to be. These women are almost universally set up to be undermined by their more intelligent, more charismatic, excentric and rebellious male subordinates. This is not the case with the Chief. She clearly knows exactly what she is doing and exactly how to handle both Dredd and Anderson to make them get the best out of each other.

As I commented to my geek-film-buddy, Lee Harris, in our post-film animated discussion, we’re finally getting to see characters like Leia again. What’s that, you say, Princess Leia? The one who falls in love with Han Solo and needs rescuing from Darth Vader and from being Jabba’s improbable sex slave? If that’s how you read her character, we see things differently. Leia is the most consistently capable character in the Star Wars movies. Her only flaw as a female character is that by starting at a level of competence so far above the other main characters she doesn’t progress in terms of capability over the course of the three movies. This makes her more of a feature for the male characters to bounce off in their progression, and means that any character development she undergoes must be emotional. Nevertheless, after Han and Luke have thoroughly bungled their attempt to rescue her, Leia rescues herself – as she does also once she has been captured by Jabba the Hutt. Or did you forget who it was who strangled that fearsome mobster to death with the chains of her own slavery?

Like Leia, both the Chief Judge and Ma-Ma start the film as generals, and they remain impressively competent throughout. Dredd does not need to undermine them by showing them up as silly women that he can run rings around – rather, he is more impressive because he is valued by so impressive a woman as the Chief Judge, and because he is pitted against so impressive an adversary as Ma-Ma. Other writers take note: you don’t have to make women look silly in order to make men look good. In fact, if your men only look good against silly and improbably powerful women, you’re undermining yourself.

However, the fourth main character, after Dredd, Anderson, and Ma-Ma, is not the Chief Judge or Kay, it is the setting. It’s frustrating, but I can’t find any images of the interior of Peach Trees that would really show you what I’m talking about. You catch glimpses of it in the trailer above, but it doesn’t really give you a clear idea. The vistas of the mega-city are only a part of it. The interiors are like a run-down, dirty inversion of a Logan’s Run style future. You can see the artistry and beauty in the design of the Peach Trees central courtyard, but whatever the architect intended, Peach Trees has become a slum. This is what I’m talking about when I say that Dredd embodies the sort of dystopic vision we haven’t seen in a long time. This is art. And the art direction of this film is stunning – beyond compare in recent history.

Concept, technology, and technique have come together in this movie to create not only a vision of Dredd’s future, but a vision of the future of film – the vision that was still-birthed in Prometheus and conceived in Avatar. This is 3D beautiful and unintrusive as it was in The Amazing Spider-man, but moving beyond creating something beautiful and dynamic in a well-made-but-not-conceptually-original superhero movie. This is the construction of a fully-realised world, visually beautiful, but also ugly and dirty and dynamic and violent and fully integrated with the plot and its themes. Pete Travis and Anthony Dod Mantle deserve oscars for this. There has not been a film that used light and camera angles and editing and CGI and the 3D technology like this ever.

But I doubt they will get the awards they deserve. This is Dredd’s opening week in the UK, and it wasn’t showing in our city’s most central cinema. The screening Lee and I went to was virtually empty. We’ve got to fill up the cinemas for this, guys. We have to make this film known and recognised for its achievement. Get out there. See it. Love it. Talk about it.