Is The Hobbit trilogy’s colour palette akin to The Lord of the Rings?
Perhaps one of the most striking “differences” people noticed when seeing An Unexpected Journey for the first time, was the overall “brightness” and “colour” compared to that of The Lord of the Rings.
By colour palette I mean the overall scheme of colours in the film – the dominating tones in every scene.
There are two things I see behind such a stark contrast:
1) This is a younger, less evil Middle-earth.
2) The story of The Hobbit is not the same as The Lord of the Rings.
On the contrary …
I think that they are simply stunning and gorgeous to look at. Every shot is lit up in a very particular way which makes this Trilogy feel like a “fable” – a little tale which soon dips into the darkness and seriousness that enshrouds the events of The Lord of the Rings.
I merely would like to point out some differences found in the shots from An Unexpected Journey – between the first teaser trailer (December 2011) and the actual finished film.
As I’ve just said, I love the colours from both the two Hobbit films so far, but I’ve realized that by comparing screencaps from both trailer and DVD, one could easily understand why so many people couldn’t pin-point exactly why the visuals felt so different and inconsistent to The Lord of the Rings.
Let’s start with a few examples …
(Ignore the strong contrast differences, as one has to take into account the different dvd/computer players and sources the two sets of screencaps were taken from.)
Immediately noticeable are the glossy and “shiny” effects from the DVD – giving the overall shot a slightly surreal feel. The shot with Bilbo has even had the sky altered (a technique known as digital sky replacement), to avoid the overcast effect from the trailer. And yet, what we have in the teaser trailer presents a more “realistic” picture and the believability that nothing is as perfect as it should be.
However, the most significant difference is this shot of Gandalf looking at Bilbo. Yet again, we have that bright fuzzy tone to the DVD shot, as well as altered sky in the background.
And whilst the shot from the trailer looks more natural in terms of colours, the final result on screen seems to reflect a more greenish hue.
The same tones appear over and over again throughout most of the film – providing a consistency to the picture. And as I said, it is something which definitely doesn’t bother me and I’ve loved it the instant I saw it on screen.
But if you had to compare this shot of Gandalf with a similar one from The Fellowship of the Ring, one could easily agree that the shot from the teaser trailer appears to resemble it closer than the other.
Ignoring the similarity of the sky in the background, that “harshness” (not in a negative way) of the Rings shot, and lack of glossiness to it, is certainly present in The Hobbit trailer.
And to further demonstrate these differences, here are a couple of other shots to compare and contrast …
Again, ignore the contrasts, but did you notice the shining effect in the DVD version? Look at the space between Bilbo’s face and Sting, or at the candle in Bilbo’s study … Isn’t there an enhanced glow in there?
They are totally absent from the teaser trailer and make it look much more raw than what we saw in the finished product.
It is this very rawness that makes them more believable and in-tune with the “harsh” (that word again) colours from The Lord of the Rings.
There are certainly many shots throughout the Rings Trilogy that contain a similar glowing/shiny effect, but they are nonetheless quite distinct from those of The Hobbit.
It would be a very interesting experiment if someone had to apply some desaturation to The Hobbit, reducing some of the stronger colour tones, and see how they compare with the original trilogy.
I’ve set out to demonstrate this example below…
Here I’ve taken a screencap from the DVD (top image), applying some desaturation settings and fiddling a bit with the contrast and brightness – to make it look more alike to the shot from The Fellowship of the Ring.
Personally, I think the effect is quite fascinating.
Now imagine if we had to see this as an entire scene – played out before us … do you think it would be more like the Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings?
I stress again, this does not mean that I detest in some way the colours in The Hobbit. I’m actually in love with them! I just find it a bit sad that we could have had three films with a colour scheme so alike to the Rings trilogy, that all six films would have run seamlessly one after the other and continue to strengthen the already interesting continuity between the two Trilogies.
But it seems this is already taking place.
Have you noticed how The Desolation of Smaug was less vibrant? Sure, the strong colour style from An Unexpected Journey was still present – along with that glossy/glowing effect.
But I’ve also noticed a slight desaturation to the overall palette.
Here’s a selection from the official trailer …
And it’s not about the scenes being dark themselves, as you can easily spot the difference between these and the much brighter, glossier shots from An Unexpected Journey.
And I’m pretty sure that There and Back Again will be even more “harsh” or contrasting, leading us straight into the colour schemes of The Fellowship of the Ring.