Nearly a decade out from the release of Return of the King, it's finally safe to call Peter Jackson's three Lord of the Rings films "modern classics." From the epic presentation, to the archetype-defining performances, to the detailed world of Middle Earth, Jackson's vision for J.R.R. Tolkein's magnum opus is masterwork in itself.
Can The Hobbit rekindle that same magic?
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first installment of Jackson's new trilogy (previously conceived as a two-film endeavor), looks like The Lord of the Rings. Scenic shots of Hobbiton Hill, dwarves and wizards facing off against otherworldly creatures in fantastical action scenes, the wide-eyed Gollum up to no good — it's all there. But the evolution of film technology has made The Hobbit a uniquely 21st century moviegoing experience. Unlike LOTR, it was shot digitally, will be released in 3D, and for some lucky audiences, will be projected in a higher frame rate. You can see the differences in the new trailer; Lord of the Rings has a grit that only film can deliver, with special effects to match that imperfect quality. The Hobbit is impressively glossy, the high resolution digital photography helping to make its spectrum of colors pop like LOTR never did.
Sticking closely to the aesthetic of Lord of the Rings but departing drastically in the technology used to capture the action is reminiscent of George Lucas' modern Star Wars sequels and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The legacies of those blockbusters are ingrained with a particular look and tone — when it shifted, the quality dipped and fans were up in arms. Even if The Hobbit's amped up humor and stunning visual effects work in their own right, can it escape the shadow of the original trilogy?
Jackson is an innovative filmmaker who, judging from his upbeat attitude at the San Diego Comic-Con panel, is driven to capture lightning in a bottle a second time. The biggest hurdle for The Hobbit is the collective memory of LOTR fans. Freshness is key to a sequel/prequel, but in the end, "more of the same" is just as key. The Hobbit could go either way.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hits theaters December 14, 2012.
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[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]