It is difficult to follow a massive success like The Lord of the Rings (not at all speaking from experience). So it’s no wonder that both Hobbit films emerge with cinema-literate audiences cringing slightly.
It could have been worse…remember this version of The Hobbit?
“But it’s not The Lord of the Rings”, comes the constant defense, citing the children’s-book nature of Tolkein’s first tale of Middle Earth. Of course not…but it is, isn’t it? When the music and production design makes us believe we are in the same universe as Aragorn, Frodo, and Galadriel, we get the feeling it’s the same place.
So why have both hyperboles of J.R.R Tolkein’s Hobbit tale felt so out of place in a world that should be their own?
As a wise art professor once said, “art influences technology and technology influences art.” This is perhaps more evident now than ever before.
Anyone acquainted with the independent film industry knows that cheaper digital technology has impacted their line of work, perhaps even created the possibility for it to exist. But these folk will also know that showing up to a set without storyboards is also a common practice, as is rewriting the script on set, or rolling for several minutes on a take, “allowing the scene to breathe” (more like, making up the plan while the record light is on).
I know from first hand experience that these practices aren’t just isolated to low-budget productions. I have experienced work on “higher-end” shoots where the lack of creative discipline was depressing.
Because it’s possible. To hit record on a Canon 5D Mark III* hardly costs a thing. Why does one need a strict plan for a day of shooting when rearranging binary code onto a CF card* is so cheap? And so easy?
Changes in production technology aren’t inherently destructive (remember the ‘technology influencing art’ part?) but often the innovation becomes a crutch that dulls the creative possibilities.
Has this accessibility affected the top echelons of film production in this industry?
Some of us experienced it in theatres starting December 13th. During one of the many video game sequences of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, we found ourselves careening through a river-rapid fight that would make EA Games giggle.
And all of a sudden it happened.
Shock. Immediate recognition.
Was that a…? It was unmistakable.
They used a Go Pro!*
The Rule of Thirds wasn’t created by a human, it was simply an acknowledgement of the connection our minds have to visual content, and thus, framing an image in a certain way causes us to take it in differently. A rule that is equally steadfast (though unnamed as of yet): if the audience has become accustomed to a “look” through which we experience a world, especially a storybook setting like The Hobbit, they are immediately brought out of the moment when a jarringly different “look” is achieved. Basically, when you cut to a cheap Go Pro shot in the midst of a fantasy epic, we suddenly become aware of the crunchy popcorn under our feet and the “EXIT” sign (that may or may not be calling our name).
“But you can’t pick on The Hobbit! It’s a kids movie!”
When that kid’s movie costs $180 million and supposedly represents some of the highest quality of film production, it’s fair game to tear it apart for consistently making choices that simply don’t make us care about the characters or the world they’re in.
Remember the Fellowship of the Ring? A $93 million budget from an unknown filmmaker in a quiet corner of the globe. Breathtaking images, gritty textures, in-camera techniques, the movement and feel of 35mm film?
There is no such thing as cinematic perfection, but have we allowed cheap, accessible technology to cause us to drop the ball when quality is concerned?
There is still hope for the art of cinema, even in the midst of a creative famine where theatres are only comfortable with showing flicks that are based off of bestselling books, video games or other movies.
Much of the power is in your hands. If audiences have an appreciation for well-told stories and quality production, we have the power to shift an industry. The change is happening in food as consumers become more aware of just how much what we eat impacts our health. Have you noticed a rise in things like, “grass-fed beef” or “free range eggs” and “locally grown, organic produce”? That is the power of consumers at work.
Why couldn’t this happen with cinema?
What is your role in impacting how we tell stories, what sorts of stories we tell?
Which movies have you gone to see in theatres lately? How many featured new directors, new production companies, and new talent?
How many Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns for films have you looked at? These are the places where new ideas are sprouting in a very democratic forum.
*Canon 5D Mark III – The latest redesign of the revolutionary Canon 5D cameras. The first widely used DSLRs that made it into the film production world. I recently shot a short film in Melbourne, Australia (called Lost in the Dark https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bg_RmBczMI) that was nominated for several awards at a festival in LA. We shot it on the 5D Mark III. Great camera for a film with a budget of $500.
On the set of Lost in the Dark with Director Chris W Bailey (right) and Producer Dana Marie (middle).
*CF Card – Compact Flash. A small solid-state media card that records images, video, or audio, depending on the device it is inserted into.
The CF card is on the left, SD card in the middle and a Micro SD on the right.
*For the as-of-yet uninformed, the Go Pro is a waterproof, shockproof camera system roughly the size of a chocolate brownie. Often seen on the helmets of sky divers and mountain bikers, it carries a reasonably nice-looking image for such a small camera. There is no comparison, however, to the quality of a digital cinema camera system. Everything from contrast to color rendition to sensor refresh time is noticeably different.
The Go Pro Hero 3. The latest in the Go Pro line up.