THE HOBBIT & 2012′s Comics – An Unexpected Comparison

2012, I hardly knew ye.

So begins the time of year when folks (hopefully) take a break, sit back, and think about the year–what they’ve accomplished, consider their challenges, revisit failures. It’s this odd time of year that we are told is one of the happiest times — Christmas is next week, my inner 6 year old screams — but I always find it kind of sad, somehow, wondering, “Already?”

When it comes to comics, this has been a decidedly rough year for me. I went and saw The Hobbit on Sunday and part of me realizes that that film is almost an analog for my experience of 2012 — there were certain themes and expectations that I had of both, in a strange way.

For those of you refusing to leave the comfy rock you’ve been living beneath, there is a big to-do about The Hobbit‘s use of HFR — High Frame Rate. The ability to play movies back at 48 frames per second is an expression of director Peter Jackson’s belief that modern movies can be improved by pushing technologies to exhibit films in ways that were previously impossible. The higher frame rate was supposed to bring us closer to the movie, the smoother images providing our brain with deeper experiences, add clarity and depth to the images and bringing us into the story.

In the comic book world, we saw digital comics really take hold. With DC and other publishers having already taken the plunge, we saw Marvel embrace digital comics more aggressively. We’ve seen companies like Madefire go further, moving away from the page construct and adding sound and animation. Marvel upped the ante by offering an application that users, er, readers could use while reading the printed comic to animate panels, with the hopes of providing deeper experiences, adding clarity and depth to the images, bringing us into the story.

In 2012, attempts were made to go beyond the hitherto unrealized limitations of media, using technology to add different layers — and more complexity — to our content, which allowed the creators of said media to take charge more for their presentation, citing words like “experience” and “portability” and “availability”.

Now, for my part, I found the HFR-ness in The Hobbit to be akin to my experiences with digital comics in some regards. There were some parts of the movie, admittedly when I forgot about the HFR itself, that I found incredibly effective. Some scenes were just magical. In other scenes the technology fell short (lateral movements of the camera, for example), and I will admit that more than once I found myself looking at the film rather than enjoying it — memories of my interactions with Marvel’s AR technology come to mind here.

We have talked before about the concept that each time we make a piece of art or content or experience more technology-based, we lose a bit of its soul. I am not sure that this is a fair statement to say about HFR in movies. If anything, it’s making the movie-going experience more faithful to real life experience — which makes me wonder, is that really what people want? Interestingly, I saw The Hobbit with Dolby Atmos — 64 speakers, each with its own channel, including 20 or so on the ceiling of the theater, which is only available in about 25 screens nationwide — and the sound designers actually seemed to use a fair amount of restraint with the new format. I was surprised but found it kind of cool that they resisted going overboard with the effects, though, quite honestly, I wouldn’t have minded them using a bit more — it sounded freaking amazing. And I quite like digital comics and have been an advocate for this more modern format for awhile, explaining to skeptical friends that the experience is more honest, in a way, given that most modern comics are drawn, colored and inked on a screen, so why not view it on a screen.

So, technology was, at least for me, a theme this year. And while HFR and Marvel’s AR may never take off, I am pleased to have been given the chance to see these attempts at making movies and comics more compelling for newer audiences who may not see the inherent value in going to the movies or checking out a comic book.

 

I first read The Hobbit when I was quite young — I want to say 8 or 9 — and I think I’ve read it at least a few times since my first outing with Bilbo Baggins.  I was quite surprised (and, I admit it, dismayed) to read that that little book was going to be expanded into three movies, because I assumed there would be a lot of superfluous scenes and extended sequences that would make the movies rather cumbersome. My suspicions were correct; there are lots and lots of scenes that really didn’t need to be in the movie. The Tolkien super fans I have talked to and read have been pretty happy with the additional content (and, to be honest, I did not really mind but neither would I have minded that they were cut, so what good am I?), but the critics have really eviscerated the movie for its length.

I was overwhelmed by comic book stories this year. Usually…usually, I can deal with it. I can joke about towering stacks and plow through the books, pleased with my dedication to the art form.

This year was very different. This year, there were stories that I just found myself getting irritated with. Stories that seemed, well, bloated and overblown, with superfluous scenes and content designed only with the destruction of my bank account in mind. Mega-events that annoyed rather than thrilled. Panel after panel of fighting with no real stakes. Characterizations that were so off that one just had to put the book (iPad) down and wonder, what the hell is going with _____?

In previous years, I often found myself defending movies, even movies that I didn’t really love, when everyone else was ragging on them. For whatever reason, I was always defending the underdog, even when the underdog kind of pissed me off. I have been doing this a bit with The Hobbit, but not too strenuously. Same with comics. I just don’t care as much, to be honest. People like what they like, fine — I want people to like stuff, but I don’t need them to anymore, you know?

Ever since I have gotten my comics digitally, my life has gotten easier, but I have missed out on the vital debates about comics at my comic book shop. (I think I even wrote about that awhile ago.) I have also been really bad about reading my comics “on time” — it’s like watching TV now. Other than one or two shows (Homeland and The Walking Dead), I really don’t know when anything on TV actually airs, the episodes just go into the DVR folder and I watch them when I get to them. The same thing has been happening with comics — even with having my collections on my iPad, I have no idea what’s “now” in comics. And now sadly, the same thing has been happening with movies — I just find myself not going more than going and I am missing out on the fun conversations and debates. Even with The Hobbit, I was going for the technology as much as I was for the story, which seems kind of sad and ridiculous as I write this. (Once a nerd…) But that’s kind of how I am used to getting my stories these days — it’s very much a solitary kind of thing. I hope that changes.

 

Finally, I had to fight the feeling of “been there, done that” a lot this year with comics, which is the same feeling I had while watching The Hobbit. Now, to be clear, it was great to return to the Shire — still quite comfortable and cute — and it was fun to see so many characters I had not seen since 2003 (yes, 2003). At the same time, I found myself thinking, “wow, ___ looks kind of old” and “oh, here’s that place again.” This feeling, this theme…this the one that scares me the most, dear reader.  While there have been some changes in mainstream comics, especially with marquee characters, I would argue that many of these changes have felt forced, or just…not right. And some of the characters who haven’t changed, like Batman, a character I love, I read some of the stories and as good as they are, I find myself thinking just…it’s like, I’ve been there…I get it.

Now, to be clear, there have been some truly amazing books that have come out this year and in the weeks to come the iFanboy staff will be discussing them, highlighting issues, covers, writers and artists that have made a mark in 2012.

Sadly, I will not be one of them. I took a deep breath and thought about it and realized that I really had no right to do so. I was not a reliable comic book fan this year and you have no idea how much it pains me to admit that to you.

And while I am sad, I am taking it as an opportunity to pour over all of the stellar articles that are coming your way, to find out what I missed so I can go back over the year and re-engage. It’s kind of a cool opportunity and I am excited about it. It will also help give me the inspiration to plow into 2013, bracing myself for the good and the bad in comics — which I bet the next installment of The Hobbit will have as well.

So, it’s that time of year, this week before Christmas, giving us the time to take a break and relax. You won’t hear from me for a little bit, so I want to wish you and yours a happy holiday and a fantastic New Year!

See ya on the flip-side!

 


Mike Romo is an actor in Los Angeles. You can reach him through email, visit his Facebook page, and collect his tweets on Twitter

Comments

  1. IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

    Personally I loved the Hobbit, and I found it more entertaining than the LOTR trilogy (not sure why). Then again I didn’t see it in the 48 FPS. As for comics, I think for me it’s been a good year. I can’t rightly recall when or if I read anything that I felt was pointless or a waste of money. I can’t the same for movies (ASM), but as far as the new year goes for comics and movies Im trying to be optimistic (Man of Steel, Snyder on Superman & Batman, Jeff Lemire on Green Arrow!). If I could just find a way to get more money for comics, I feel that would make next year even better than this one. All the best to everyone else.

    • Grandturk says:

      Should I see the Hobbit in regular or 3D?

      I don’t like 3D in general – the only movie I’ve seen in 3D in the theater was Green Hornet and that sucked.

      Techie stuff like Hi Def, surround sound and FPS don’t hold any interest for me. I find IMAX annoying.

      What say you?

    • zakcaldwell zakcaldwell says:

      Don’t worry about 3D. Not worth the extra cash if you don’t care. I personally don’t like 3D either. I saw the Avengers, Thor, and Captain America all in 3D and felt that the experience distracted from the movie. I watched the hobbit in standard and enjoyed the experience much more. just my personal opinion.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      In almost every case, I would say skip the 3D and save money for snacks. Although I liked “Green Hornet”, I wouldn’t say 3D would’ve made it any better. I don’t go for IMAX or anything else that supposedly increases the movie experience. I do recommend “The Hobbit” though, to me it was one of the top 5 movies I’ve seen this year. I HAVE SPOKEN !! (jk).

    • WheelHands WheelHands says:

      For what it’s worth, Hobbit was the first 3D film I’ve seen where I felt that it truly did enhance the experience. I’ve been a vocal hater of 3D since Avatar, but this time it really sucked me in. Now, that probably has a lot to do with Peter Jackson apparently being the only filmaker that knows exactly how much to rely on special effects and (more importantly) when not to. It also probably has something to do with the fact that the story of The Hobbit didn’t grab me nearly as tight as LOTR did, and the visual (and auditory, as Mike mentioned) experiences are what I’ll most likely remember the most about it. I just thought I’d chime in (much to my surprise) in favor of 3D this time around.

    • icn1983 icn1983 says:

      I saw “The Hobbit” in 48 FPS. I thought it looked awful, it looked like a PS3 game, and about twenty minutes into it I got a headache that never quite went away. The movie itself was kind of more of the same and less so. I was surprised how little they fleshed out the characters given it was over three hours long. A lot of that time went into action sequences that all pretty much played out the same way.

      If a film actually has sequences SHOT in IMAX then I think IMAX is usually worth it. Especially if there’s a scene with a high-rise (“Skyfall” and “Ghost Protocol” come to mind) since vertical compositions and action benefit from the aspect ratio of IMAX and the scale increases the sense of vertigo.

    • I am among those of you who don’t like 3-D. I always go for the 2-D if there is an option.

      There’s a great article from the Chicago Sun-Times (Ebert) about how our brains and eyes were not made to see in 3-D (in the movie sense), and why so many people have trouble with 3-D films. It specifically mentions Green Hornet as an example.

      http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/01/post_4.html

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      If that’s true, that would explain things. I say if because I know people that still give up the extra bucks to see a movie in 3-D. Not that I doubt the validity of your claims, I’m just making an observation. Is there any article that explains why people keep paying in 3-D despite it’s fallbacks? In any case, I think either our eyes and minds will adapt to it, or the technology will advance so that it becomes worth the extra money (Kinda doubt that 2nd one, but you never know).

    • Grandturk says:

      Well… I caved and saw The Hobbit in IMAX 3D because it was the most convenient time last night. I have this to say – I will never see another movie in 3D. As before, my experience was that the screen is relatively out of focus except the focal point – i.e. one character. What the hell good is a butterfly flying at you if its all blurry and you can’t tell what it is? Ridiculous. We hates it! We hates it forever.

      That said – loved the movie. Absolutely fantastic.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      Exxxcceellant. Has anyone else noticed we’ve mostly been discussing the pros and cons of 3-D instead of our excitement/let down over the past year? I feel like I single handedly derailed the topic of this article. Glad you enjoyed the movie though.

    • Grandturk says:

      Well… it could be worse… we could have derailed this into a Cosplay discussion.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      OOOOOOOHHHHHHH!! Somewhere I think an angry cosplayer’s head exploded.

  2. BanjoDuck BanjoDuck says:

    Mike, I had many of the same feelings about The Hobbit. I saw it in the normal frame rate, but seeing these familiar, but very welcome settings and figures it was like “oh, theres____” or “it’s Weathertop. Neat.” I enjoyed the movie, but it felt like something was missing, and I’m wondering if it is this: with so many things now, especially genre movies and comics, almost EVERYTHING is “This matters MOST! This is the most important thing that will ever happen in your life!” Six months, later, it’s repeated. I wonder if our sense of wonder, of excitement, is dulled by constantly overly expecting to be bowled over by the next new thing.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      Maybe it’s about tempering our expectations and not blindly falling for the hype? I still enjoy a number of movies and events, then again I don’t get excited for most of the same stuff others do (AvX, Avatar, Marvel NOW!). I won’t bother listing the stuff I am excited for; but there are alot of things I am excited for (particularly next summer). This just occurred to me, maybe it’s desperation on the part of the directors and writers and higher-ups to do stuff just to make money and now we’re catching on to it? Hope that helps.

  3. tripleneck tripleneck (@tripleneck) says:

    I saw the Hobbit in an Imax theater in 2D. It’s not shot in Imax so the only advantage was that it was really big which was great. I went over to the 48 fps screen afterwards and re-watched the last half in 3D 48 fps. Here’s what I noticed:

    There really is a huge upgrade in image quality with the 48 fps so it’s not just hype. When the camera pans or something moves across the screen, the motion is noticeably smoother than and not as jagged as a normal 24 fps digital projection. However, the smooth motion doesn’t look any better than regular analog celluloid projection does if you ask me. But celluloid is rapidly being phased out now. Static images are hyper-realistic and crisp in 48 fps, too.

    The 3D looked very well done in 48 fps and I think I would’ve been happy seeing it in 3D the first time around if not for the fact that it gives me a headache. A lot of the scenes and action have obviously been created with maximum 3D perspective in mind and I’ll probably go back a 2nd time specifically to see it in 3D for that reason. The 3D is darker and the color palate looked different than the 2D version and not necessarily just darker. It actually looked brighter in some spots and differently colored. I’m guessing lots of man hours went into maximizing each different version and so they do actually seem to have their own color “personalities.”

    So I would say if you’re curious about the 48 fps go see it, it’s enough of an upgrade to justify the few extra bucks. If you like 3D, this movie does 3D as well as any other that I’ve seen.

  4. RoiVampire RoiVampire says:

    I saw it and liked it, but i should have loved it. I read the book every summer and some of it was out of place. The pale orc with one hand isn’t even in the book and every time he showed up i was just taken out of the story. i don’t know wjhy he was there, the goblins are villains enough for the first film.

    • kzap kzap says:

      I disagree I think Azog (the pale orc) was one of the few good additions. He actually had an important narrative purpose.
      Like Lurtz in The Fellowship of the Ring they need a big villain who could be confronted at the end of the film to bring some closure (whether they’re defeated or not).
      Otherwise ending it where the climactic battle would be less thrilling, you may think he brought you out of the film but I can guarantee if he WASN’T there the ending would seem more anti-climatix.
      Also they didn’t “make him up” they took him from one of Tolkien’s unfinished tales, he was always a big part of Thorin’s backstory they just brought him into the main story as well.
      The film certainly has problems but (like Prometheus, Dark Knight Rises, Brave and many other films this year) it’s not worth the beating some people are giving it.
      All of the scenes individually were great but all together they just killed the pacing and narrative flow of the film and that is a problem.
      I just wish Jackson had a more ruthless editor and allowed this series to be two films, that would have solved so many of my problems.
      It’s definitely in my top 10 films of the year, not my top 5 though.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      I have to agree that the film needed a villian to make the climax more exciting, particularly to make Thorin some more heroic. However both my friend and I that saw the Hobbit thought it was unnecessary to make Azog entirely CGI. And I have to disagree about the pacing for the Hobbit and TDKR, in the Hobbit I was entertained from the very start and only got bored briefly in the middle somewhere. TDKR was excellent and I wouldn’t have minded if was an extra hour in run time ( I also never felt bored anytime in my 3 viewings of it). I don’t know why I didn’t struggle with the pacing like others, but in the case of both films I thought it was fine. Prometheus I thought had problems with story and logic ( Weird snake thing comes up out of ooze, hisses, scientist tries to poke it). One other thing I can agree on is I have doubts about making the Hobbit book into 3 films, it’s been a while since I read it but the reason I like it better than the LOTR (at least in terms of the movies) is how linear it is to follow. We’ll just have to see the 2nd to see if Peter Jackson made a mistake or not.

    • kzap kzap says:

      Just to be clear I don’t think those other films this year had pacing issue just that (like The Hobbit) they were all really good films that seem to be getting bashed online because of unrealistic expectations from ‘fans’.
      There definitely is a problem with the pacing of The Hobbit, whether that bothers you or not is personal preference but for me the constant flashbacks and cutting away hurt my enjoyment of the film overall and stopped it being truly great in my eyes.
      I think overall I had a very similar reaction to you.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      Was that a dig? Moving on. I agree TDKR got bashed due to overly high expectations, i haven’t seen Brave so I have no idea what flaws it might have. I recently watched the LOTR trilogy extended edition in one day, and I have to say that the flashbacks and cutting away(even more so) seem to be par for the course in how Peter jackson chooses to adapt the material. I think the Hobbit does those alot less, possibly more than needed but it is what is. There is alot of material to cover in both film series, so I guess the flashbacks are needed to fill in the average movie goer on details and background info on middle earth, otherwise the risk is run of repeating “Green Lantern”‘s mistake of too much exposition in the beginning of the film. I still think that the pacing for the Hobbit is improved to the LOTR somehow, which is why I enjoyed it more.

    • kzap kzap says:

      I guess we just disagree there, there are plenty of ways to deliver exposition without long flashbacks (and they are long) in fact you could just leave it up to the audience to figure out. If you pander to the idiots in the theater you often get a dumb movie.
      Nolan deliberately cut some of Bane’s origin scenes from DKR because he thought they hurt the pacing and the villain was scarier the less we knew about him, the same could easier have worked for Azog. The original cut of Fellowship had Galadriel’s Gifts cut and that could easily have worked for the Erebor stuff at the start.
      For me personally all the tension is sucked out when the character stop and we’re shown something that has already happened, it also kills the pacing because all the leads aren’t doing anything. At least in LOTR something was happening to at least one of the characters in the present all the time.
      Anyway Brave is great but Pixar have created so many genuine masterpieces that people were just waiting for something to not live up and after ‘Cars’ and ‘Cars 2′ people are claiming “the golden age of Pixar is over” which is just rubbish.
      Prometheus was problematic but wouldn’t have received so much hate if it wasn’t a prequel to one of the best films of all time. I still don’t understand all the searing hatred though, especially after TWO Alien Vs Predator films, you’d think anything would be a breath of fresh air.
      But I’ve seen far more hate for Prometheus online than those two films.
      Even Amazing Spider-Man got bashed because Marc Webb choose to go for a different tone to Sam Raimi’s films, although you can bet the same people would be complaining if he “ripped them off”.

  5. IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

    What about the flashback for the battle between the Dwarves and Orcs that showed what happened to Thorin’s father? My friend and I both agreed that particular flashback helped inject a nice bit of action into the film. A good example of the type of storytelling you’re describing is done in “Skyfall”, which had no flashbacks and just showed everything as it happened in the present with some exposition later on to explain villain motivation etc. I had heard about Nolan cutting Bane’s origin, but I was given to understand it was only 5-10 minutes, ironic since the movie was so close to 4 hours long anyway. I’m skeptical that you could compare Azog to Bane, especially since Bane’s origin was trimmed down and not entirely cut. Also you could pretty easily get his handle on his character (brutal strongman/strategist who is posing as a liberator to destroy Gotham), Azog is an Orc in a fantasy world (unless you wanted to just portray him as “evil and out to kill Thorin because he also killed his father”).For all my complaints about LOTR, I do agree that there was always something happening. You make a good point about how terrible AvP 1 & 2 are , Prometheus is brilliant by comparison. However for me the faults lie in it’s story and logic, not the fact that its a prequel to “Alien”. I’ve never heard “Alien” described by anyone as one of the greatist films as all time but ok. For me, I just ASM was boring and flawed. The first part of the film I enjoyed because it was good as a drama, but after that I had problems (Twlight-esqe romance, Lizard’s portrayal as villain, web fluid being bought from Oscorp, Spider-man using the same tactics again and again when they’ve already proven ineffective). Many people compared it tonally to TDK and I agree that’s an apt comparison (but not a perfect one). I tried to look at it as taking inspiration from “Ultimate Spider-Man” but even then there wasn’t enough to show it. There’s nothing really wrong with it as a movie, if it was the first spider-man movie it would probably be more well-liked, but it’s a reboot of a franchise that isn’t that old and goes through most of the plotpoints of the the first film (with minor tweaks).