High-Def Experiment Frames 'Hobbit' Reviews

Brace yourself for another overdose of the little people. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the first of three prequels to director Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” filmic trilogy of JRR Tolkien’s classic books, has opened in other climes to great fanfare -- if tepid reviews –- with part of the negativity due to the movie perhaps offering too much of a good thing.

There was a star-filled and seemingly festive debut in London last evening, for one. The Duke of Cambridge was there (sans Kate), as captured in a BBC slideshow depicting fans if not exactly rubbing elbows with cinematic royalty then at least thrusting autograph books at them. 

The opening broke records in New Zealand, Jackson’s homeland and the location for the series’ magical vistas. The flick opens a minute after midnight in 3,100 theaters in North America tomorrow morning, which is a record number of screens for December, Pamela McClintock reports in the Hollywood Reporter.

But “while reviewers have focused their complaints … on its epic treatment of relatively thin material, almost as many critical swipes have been aimed at Jackson for his decision to film the story at 48 frames per second,” observes The Telegraph’s technology correspondent, Christopher Williams. That’s twice the 80-year industry standard of 24 frames per second, and it apparently is all too vivid for many tastes.

“Those who have seen ‘The Hobbit’ particularly complain that while spectacular landscapes look great, the fiberglass sets, rubber noses and even Gandalf’s contact lenses are embarrassingly obvious. Worse, the effect can stop cinema-goers from being immersed in Middle Earth, it’s widely claimed,” Williams elaborates.

“Whatever its virtues may be from a technical point of view,” writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, “audiences looking for a rich, textured, cinematic experience will be put off and disconcerted by an image that looks more like an advanced version of high-definition television than a traditional movie.

“If this is, as partisans insist, the future of theatrical projection, one can only think of Marlene Dietrich's timeless response when Orson Welles asked her to predict his future in ‘Touch of Evil.’

“‘Your future,’ she said, ‘is all used up.’”

But pointing to a rave Wired review in particular, as well as some of Jackson’s responses, Williams suggests that the carping may be coming from a bunch of old fogies who don’t know the future when they see it (you know the type –- the ones who insist on typing on full-sized keyboards and use phones to make “phone calls”).

“I, for one, don’t think that the technology that we created for theatrical presentation in 1927 should still be what we are using in 2012” Jackson says. “We must make the experience more immersive, more magical, more spectacular.” 

In any event, according to David Murphy on PCmag.com, fans can “pick and choose from a number of different versions of the film to enjoy: 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D, each running at a standard 24 frames per second or the new 48 frames per second display.”

The 48 fps rate begs some questions for those filming commercials, one imagines. Is the allure of a perfume ad as sweet when every pock on a model’s face is rendered in high def? Perhaps, perhaps not. But it’s likely here to stay. Engadget’s Steve Dent posted an editorial in May with the hed: “Despite Shaky 48 fps Hobbit Preview, High Frame Rates Will Take Off.”

“The human eye and brain can easily process 48 fps -- or even the 60 fps James Cameron will use in future Avatar sequels,” he wrote. “In fact, there's no known upper limit since the human eye sees a continuous stream of movement, not individual frames.”

As for the lukewarm reviews you’ll no doubt be reading, Forbes contributor Mark Hughes writes: “I have no idea what film the ‘meh’ crowd of critics saw, but it must not have been ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,’ because their complaints have no relation to the masterful filmmaking ….” 

CNN’s Henry Hanks, meanwhile, tells us about a gathering of fans that meets every few years at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg, Ky., and will be convening this weekend for a communal viewing of the new release. The simplicity of the setting is a draw to Tolkien die-hards such as Jo Sharpton, who has been a Tolkien fan since she was 7.

“We had over a hundred attendees, for three days of music, laughter, love and ‘Fellowship,’” she says about the first gathering in 2008. “We thought of ourselves as the anti-(fan) convention -- no hurried crowds, no standing in lines for hours, no cold, lonely hotel rooms.”

Now where’s the fansanity in that?

Recommend (2) Print RSS