Saturday, December 8, 2012

Will "The Hobbit" Continue Jackson's Winning Streak?

Depending on your stance, next week's release of director Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is either nine years of painful waiting, or nine years too late. Very few people will deny that Jackson's work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a cinematic achievement and its bounty of Oscar wins only solidifies that statement. However, between Return of the King and The Hobbit series was nine years, in which time a lot has changed in cinema, including Jackson's style. While many predict that the film will get an easy Best Picture nomination just like the last three, is it possible that the film will actually prove to be a continued hot streak with a possible win?

There is no doubt that The Hobbit series will be wildly successful. People will like it and while it potentially will not be on par with the other trilogy, there will be those that refute its glory. After all, its Peter Jackson, the man who mixed practical effects and CGI into one breathtaking version of J.R.R. Tolkien's  Middle Earth. He is noticeably not changing up his style too much visually. The worst that you could say is that The Hobbit looks, well, like The Fellowship of the Ring. This is neither good nor bad, but is a good reason to be concerned.

The one big complaint coming out of advanced screenings is the new type of filming that Jackson was once praised for. The 48 frames per second (fps) presents a more high definition picture and sees the experience feel more interactive. Many critics like Katey Rich (CinemaBlend) have commented on it with faint praise:
"I saw An Unexpected Journey in the much-touted 48 frames per second and in 3D, an experience I recommend, but maybe only on second viewing. I never adjusted to the look, which makes everything feel more real and closer to you, an effect that's utterly bizarre when seeing giant trolls or goblins or even a band of tiny dwarves. The technological experimentation may have helped Peter Jackson get excited about a smaller-scale return to Middle Earth, but its effect on the movie is harder to gauge; it's fascinating seeing familiar characters like Gollum move with an unbelievable realness, but also nearly impossible to feel as swept away by this journey to an imaginary world."
This is one of the kinder comments in regards to an issue that has since turned into controversy. Many would call the 48 fps a disaster, and while unseen to the public besides scant screenings, is troublesome. While the film may appear to be critic-proof, there is little doubt that if bad press gets around, this will be the novelty 48 fps that you get. Just how director James Cameron's Avatar launched the modern 3D trend, The Hobbit will make or break the 48 fps measure based on feedback. So far, this is also troublesome because it stands a chance to overshadow any legacy that the film has, provided this technique turns into a failed gimmick.

Ian McKellen
But can Peter Jackson get some love for returning to Tolkien? He famously signed on after original director Guillermo del Toro backed out. It is possible that this all comes across as more contractual than passion. But in regards to Oscars, Jackson probably won't have too much of a trouble. He's got quite a record of prestige to back him up:

Heavenly Creatures

Best Original Screenplay Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson

The Fellowship of the Ring

*Best Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie
*Best Visual Effects: Jim Rygiel, Randall William Cook, Richard Taylor, Mark Stetson
*Best Makeup: Peter Owen, Richard Taylor
*Best Original Score: Howard Shore
Best Supporting Actor: Ian McKellen
Best Art Direction: Grand Major (art director), Dan Hennah (set decorator)
Best Costume Design: Ngilia Dickson, Richard Taylor
Best Film Editing: John Gilbert
Best Original Song: Enya, Nicky Ryan, Roma Ryan - "May It Be"
Best Sound: Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Gethin Creagh, Hammond Peek
Best Adapted Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Best Director: Peter Jackson
Best Picture

The Two Towers

*Best Sound Editing: Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins
*Best Visual Effects: Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook, Alex Funke
Best Art Direction: Grant Major (art director), Dan Hennah (set decorator), Alan Lee (set decorator)
Best Film Editing: Michael Horton
Best Sound: Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, Hammond Peek
Best Picture

The Return of the King

*Best Art Direction: Grant Major (art director), Dan Hennah (set decorator), Alan Lee (set decorator)
*Best Costume Design: Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor
*Best Film Editing: Jamie Selkirk
*Best Makeup: Richard Taylor, Peter King
*Best Original Score: Howard Shore
*Best Original Song: Fran Walsh, Howard Shore, Annie Lennox - "Into the West
*Best Sound Mixing: Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, Hammong Peek
*Best Visual Effects: Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook, Alex Funke
*Best Adapted Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
*Best Director: Peter Jackson
*Best Picture

King Kong

*Best Sound Editing: Mike Hopkins, Ethan Van der Ryn
*Best Sound Mixing: Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, Hammond Peek
*Best Visual Effects: Joe Letteri, Brian Van't Hul, Christian Rivers, Richard Taylor
Best Art Direction: Grant Major (art director), Dan Hennah (set decorator), Simon Bright (set decorator)

The Lovely Bones

Best Supporting Actor: Stanley Tucci

"*" indicates wins
Nominations: 36
Wins: 20

Pretty impressive body of work over the span of the past decade. It seems like at very least we can expect him to get a Best Visual Effects nomination, speaking that he has won it in four out of the last five movies that he has made. Based on the trailers, it is also to see the possibility of him getting a lot of the technical fields, if just because the 48 fps turns out to be really successful, he will be considered an innovator and that will lead to a lot of technical awards.

My only other complaint is if you look at most of his work post-Return of the King, it hasn't been that impressive. Sure, King Kong had a great deal of technical achievements, but the narrative wasn't that great and at over three hours, it took a classic story and made it into a bloated film. Even more-so, The Lovely Bones saw him return to the emotional Heavenly Creatures era with very little emotional effect. Jackson is definitely capable of visuals, but his chance to make The Hobbit great has turned into skepticism because of the films released in the past nine years. They look good, but the story is not quite there.

The only problem with the Best Visual Effects category is that it is really strong this year. According to statistics website Gold Derby, The Hobbit places third with odds of 11:2. This is still very high and with the continually shifting statistics, it can take the lead by the time it is released. However, the two that are ahead of it, I am adamant fan of them winning. Leading the pack is director Ang Lee's visual masterpiece Life of Pi with odds of 9:5 and trailing is directors Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer's Cloud Atlas with odds of 5:1. The Hobbit is not totally shut out, but as readers will be aware, I think that Cloud Atlas should take all the technical categories, though maybe save a few for Life of Pi (review coming soon).

Martin Freeman
Of course, there is obvious speculation that this may be a case of saving the best for last. Jackson has proposed that The Hobbit become a trilogy, which as proven with The Lord of the Rings, may be saving any good intentions for the final film. If you remain optimistic that the films are as good as they could be, what is keeping the people voting for the film's visual effects from being like "been there, done that"? True, there looks to be effort put into the film, but all of these techniques were breathtaking a decade ago. Also, Cloud Atlas is far more revolutionary in its visual effects.

What about the bigger categories? Can it land an acting nomination, or even a Best Adapted Screenplay? While it has hovered outside Gold Derby's Top 10 choices for months, it has recently fallen behind even titles like The Dark Knight Rises. The 48 fps criticism may be hurting its chances after all. Of course, maybe this is just another case of deja vu for the voters. It doesn't stand a chance in Best Adapted Screenplay, falling in at #12 with odds of 100:1. As for director? The race is already heating up with Ben Affleck (Argo), Tom Hooper (Les Miserables), or Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) poised for the top position. The filler positions don't seem to be doing Jackson any favors.

This film needs to have a lot of positive feedback in order to land in the big categories. However, maybe speculation is as bad as they claim. Maybe the film suffers from "been there, done that" way too much. Also, it somehow is quickly becoming one of the lesser appealing movies of the December line-up, especially with the sprawling western epic (it has been announced to be two hours and 45 minutes), director Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty winning almost every press award, and Les Miserables looking like the best musical ever. This is an exciting year for film, and The Hobbit already feels like a nostalgic throwback, despite a predominant cast of new characters. 

The best chances that The Hobbit has is in the technical fields. However, even that seems unlikely when it is up against the more ambitious Life of Pi and Cloud Atlas. The fact that it has fallen behind one of the least likely contenders: The Dark Knight Rises, is a sign of trouble. It may be a hit (nay, it WILL), but critically, I think that Jackson will not get the credit unless his 48 fps technique catches on. Also, it just doesn't seem as interesting as The Lord of the Rings did upon its release. Maybe it is because it appears more slapstick, but it just doesn't have the same appeal outside of "Tolkien fans will like it." In an odd way, The Hobbit stands less of a chance of getting nominated than the racy, violent Django Unchained, which I think will be too bizarre to gain top prize traction, but may place.

Is The Hobbit going to be a hit at the Oscars? Will it win Best Visual Effects over far superior choices? Is Peter Jackson's reign over? Can Martin Freeman sneak in a Best Actor nomination in a very difficult year?

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