Bilbo: "You can promise that I will come back?"
Gandalf: "...No. And if you do, you will not be the same."
I've tried to read the books, but I was always so bored by them that I couldn't get through more than a couple hundred pages. So when the first Lord of the Rings movie came out a decade ago, I was sure I was going to be underwhelmed. I was wrong. I loved the first trilogy, even going so far as to buy both versions of the films on DVD. I've followed the development of this adaptation since it was first announced, and I managed to keep my excitement in check with the fact that this is basically a prequel. The track record for prequels haven't been exactly great, and the early buzz for this movie wasn't that good either. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved this movie, even if it might be a bit of an embarrassment of riches.
Visually, this movie is without a doubt a part of the same world created by the first trilogy. This is due to the extreme level of care and attention paid to the details. In a way, it feels a bit like returning home. The shire is just as brilliantly green, Rivendell is just as surreal and majestic, and the vistas are still absolutely beautiful. The monster makeup is excellent, the visual effects were stunning, and the score was as moving as ever. I loved the humor, and the simple loving care placed in every little crevice of the elaborate sets. I got chills when certain musical cues reminded me of moments from the first trilogy. The acting was all great, the story was decently paced for such a long movie, and the characters were all unexpectedly fun. There were also some absolutely magical moments in this film, especially the riddle game with Gollum.
So why wasn't I completely blown away by it all? It had all the pieces of a masterpiece, much like the first three movies. I guess it comes down to the fact that there seemed to be a bit too much going on, for what is essentially a simple adventure tale of a king trying to reclaim his lost kingdom. Don't get me wrong, it is an exciting story, and is most definitely worthy of being told in such a grand fashion. I'm just wondering if maybe in the attempt to capitalize on the success of the first trilogy, they might have shoved a bit too much detail into something that should've been relatively simple. Still, I can't be too upset at having too much of a good thing, and I'm not, really. Maybe there isn't anything wrong with this movie, and it'll improve on repeated viewings. I do know that it didn't fail my expectations at all. Perhaps it may have exceeded what I was envisioning by too much, and that is hardly a condemnation.
As for the controversy surrounding the technical aspects of this film, I saw it in the standard format of 24 frames per second, without 3D, and it looked exactly like the first trilogy. There was a richness of texture in the backgrounds that didn't look any more fake than really good CGI. There were some sweeping shots that had some noticeable choppiness, specifically in the opening battle sequences. I blame that on Peter Jackson because he was obsessed with filming this movie in 48 frames per second, and I don't think he thought much about how certain shots would look in the lower frame rate. However, I cannot comment on the differences between the two formats until I see it in the new high frame rate.
Overall, the film might have benefited from a shorter run time, but it wasn't a travesty of idiocy like the first Star Wars prequel. It was a beautifully shot, well executed movie with a few too many extraneous scenes. Still, it didn't fall apart under the weight of that complexity, and managed to pull off some truly epic and magical moments. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to the next year already.
3 1/2 out of 4 Dwarves throwing dishes around with a gleeful disregard of their hobbit host's protests.