Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Hobbit - too much of a good thing?

Not long ago I went and saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with my husband. I'm a big fan of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and a big fan in general of the work that comes out of Weta Digital. But I have to say that I wasn't as impressed by the effects in The Hobbit as I have been by other work by them, I'm sorry to say. I feel a bit uncharitable, because visual effects have come so far in the past decade that many of us have become rather picky. But vague feeling of guilt aside, the truth is early into the film one of the first effects was a matte painting which I noticed sliding because the perspective shift was a little bit off. A beautiful matte painting to be sure though. I'm not an animator, but I noticed that the flesh wasn't jiggly enough on many of the creatures - the Goblin King's chin a big exception of course.
But my biggest objection at times was to the lighting. We just saw too damn much. It was as as if every nook and cranny had to be lit - as if someone couldn't resist showing off all of that hard work, even when the story didn't call for it. I like a little mystery myself, even if the subject is beautiful. Leave a little something for the imagination. I don't have to, or even want to, see every lavish detail so much of the time. It's distracting.

A gorgeous image but personally details, details everywhere mean that my eye keeps getting pulled away to look at the environment rather than the characters.

Two scenes in particular come to mind, in which I truly feel that too much light impinged upon and lessened the story, and they are two story points when Bilbo should have been hidden much more than he was. ** SPOILER ALERT** The first one was where he was attempting to steal from the three ogres. Because he was fully lit at almost every moment, the impression is that he was crawling around in plain view, and of course the ogres would see him. All that light from just a fire, too - it didn't make sense and it didn't seem to fit with the story. Putting him in shadows and making him harder for the audience to see would have done wonders for this story point.
The other instance was similar, which was in the goblin caves. Bilbo was to have been dropped by accident and in the mad stampede been overlooked by the goblin horde, and thus escape. However, the cinematography killed this sequence for me. He was under full lighting at every moment, and the camera even kept him well framed front and center most of the time - not falling off to the side, not behind items, not in any sort of shadow. Probably because lighting is my "thing" I thought - please, hide that poor hobbit so we, as the audience, can feel that he could be lost and overlooked. I felt a wee bit as if the cinematographer didn't trust I'd spot him unless he kept him under my nose all of the time, even when the story didn't call for it.
In general the goblin caves were over-lit for my taste. They are caverns. With goblins. Yet few areas were allowed to really fall into complete shadow very often. The environment was wonderfully crafted - and yet I wanted to see less of it. A bit like the monster movies where we see the monster too often, rather than the suggestion of the monster.
This goblin cavern was very well lit - we generally saw all of it.

Yes, this image and environment is interesting and magnificently crafted. But is it really necessary to see every stick?  I was looking at the environment first and noticed our band of travelers second... yet I cannot help but feel it would be better the other way around.

Maybe I'm just more of a minimalist. This past week I screened the documentary on cinematography Visions of Light. And really, screening the documentary prompted me to go ahead and write my thoughts on the blog. In so many ways traditional cinematography is ahead of the work we do as digital artists, even in visual effects films. Not all the work, to be fair, but as a whole I think creating the 3D world has so many other concerns it is also dealing with that keeping it all in perspective can be harder. Sometimes we just want to "show off our stuff" or perhaps other times we are so focused on technique that we lose sight of the story being told. A bit like the CG camera that can zoom around everywhere. Just because it can, doesn't mean it should. And of course, I've always been a fan of what film noir taught us - that what you do not see is as important as what you do see.

Less is more in this scene from Blade Runner (1982)

Citizen Kane (1941)

Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Hitchock was the master of suspense and mystery.