Friday, December 14, 2012

THE HOBBIT: AN UNACCEPTED FORMAT


Today, December 14th, we saw the release of an enormously anticipated film, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." It was my most anticipated film of the year. In fact, some of us have been waiting nearly a decade for this film: since Peter Jackson and the army of cast and crew under his direction delivered "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" back in 2003. Most who saw the film today, especially those at midnight screenings, likely purchased their tickets in advanced. But did general audiences have any idea that this time around you would not just be selecting a time for when to see the movie, you could also be choosing between one of four formats. Before "The Hobbit" the most you would typically ever see was three: 2D, 3D or an occasional 3D IMAX. With "The Hobbit" you have those three options and then HFR (high frame rate) 3D, specifically running at 48 fps (frames per second) instead of the standard 24. (If you count the variety of IMAX wannabes there's technically even more formats to choose from.)

So what's the big deal with the HFR anyway? Well, the movie is both shot and then projected projected at twice the speed it normally is. The effect is much more fluid, lifelike even. We've been seeing films in theaters at 24fps our entire lives and so the change can be jarring. For those with a high-definition television in their home, or rich friends with one, you may have noticed the "soap opera effect" while watching TV and movies. I've actually been in a living room watching something in HFR with people who cannot even tell the difference. Or, if they can, think it looks "fine" or even "great." It's worth noting that they were "digital immigrants."



Peter Jackson (like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron) is really at the forefront of pushing cinema to its future. 3D has come and has not gone. It may be here to stay, that's still hard to say, but another topic for another day. Three-time rhyme, hey, hey, hey! The biggest change since that added dimension to the industry is what Jackson is now attempting with this theatrical release of "The Hobbit," a higher frame-rate.



In these weeks leading up to the film's release I have been keeping close tabs on the critical reactions to the film. Besides these butt-sores complaining that the film was "too long," far and wide the loudest complaints were in regards to the HFR. Even this was not a shock. Earlier this year they screened some 10 minutes of 48 fps footage for theater owners at an annual CinemaCon in Las Vegas. Those in attendance were quick to point out how different it looked. /Film's own Peter Sciretta prophesied, “Saw ten minutes of Hobbit in 48fps 3D. Very exciting, but I’m now very unsure about higher frame rates. 48 fps feature films will likely divide moviegoers — I expect to see stronger hate, more so than 3D.” That prediction was proven all too true this month:

"With the exception of a handful of scenes, mostly enhanced by CG vs. shot on interior sets, the 48fps had me imagining how gorgeous everything might look in 24fps."
- Jen Yamato, Movieline

"Is 48 fps good? It isn’t a case of good or bad. It’s an aesthetic choice, like Michael Mann’s use of video in ‘Public Enemies.’ I never 'got used to it.'"
- Jordan Hoffman, Screencrush

"'An Unexpected Journey' in high-frame-rate 3D is a deep, vicious pendulum swing between transporting and flat-out unwatchable -- and it's impossible to fully adjust to the format because you never know when it's suddenly going to look like a demo reel."
- Jeremy Smith, Ain't It Cool News

"After seeing 'The Hobbit' I couldn’t wait to see it again - projected at 24 frames per second and without 3D."
- Josh Larsen, Filmspotting



This is only a fraction of the critical reaction. The film has a surprisingly low 66% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (this is surprisingly low when you compare it to "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, each of which surpassed 90%) with nearly 200 critics throwing in their two cents. It's impossible to tell how much the HFR had an affect on this. The first person I noticed to say something positive about the HFR (and it was a rave bit of praise at that) stuck out like a sore thumb.

Owen Glieberman posted an informative article about HFR and "The Hobbit" specifically earlier today, "To put it simplistically: Film looks like the past caught on a lavish projector; video looks like the present captured with home-movie immediacy. And that’s what’s a little disconcerting about the 48-frames-per-second images in "The Hobbit." They look so sharp and bright and clear and vivid that you feel, at moments, like you’re seeing images of, say, Ian McKellan as Gandalf shot for an on-the-set infotainment-show feature about the making of "The Hobbit." If anything, I wanted to add a filter of fantasy haze."

You might also check out this review from TheOneRing.net, a mega fan site for the IP, by user Calisuri. He concludes with, "To summarize, rush out and see "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" and enjoy the ride! As long as you bring along your inner child you’ll have a wonderful time. If you have a choice, DO NOT see it in 48fps for your first viewing."




Personally, I saw the 2D version this morning. This was the format in which I saw and loved the original trilogy and so it was perfect for me, but I do have plans to get out to a HFR 3D screening soon just so I can see/judge for myself. You can plan on a follow-up post to this one in which I will report my own findings. Anyone who is seriously interested in the technical aspects of film-watching or the future of cinema/filmmaking itself really should experience what all the fuss about.

What about you? Chances are you have already seen "The Hobbit." If so, which format did you behold? Head over to The Film Tome Facebook page and take part in the format poll! Those are my thoughts for now. Look for my review of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" on the morrow!

1 comment:

Tara said...

I love that sign : Just say no to HFR! Sounds like it's a drug.

I'm glad I saw it in regular, old-fashioned 2D.