The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – 48 fps HFR 3D IMAX – Review

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opened on December 14, 2013 — and some theaters, like the one I watched in AMC 34th St. — had it in 48 fps HFR (high frame rate) IMAX 3D.

I came away with mixed feelings, but in general, I was happy that I watched the HFR for the simple reason that I arrived late and the only seat available was three rows from the screen. Why was I happy? Well, one of the main reasons Peter Jackson chose to film in the high resolution 48 fps is because it is easier on the human eye when it comes to 3D. And yes — this was true. I didn’t get nauseated even up close to the screen where I was. In contrast, the 3D trailers that were aired before the film were very jarring. So in this regard, I was very appreciative that Jackson was thinking of my eye health when filming The Hobbit.

I also wanted to know what the fuss was about with 48 fps, so now I know and quite pleased with that.

The elephant in the room of course was that the film didn’t “look like” a film at all in 48 fps. It looked like I was watching something on a gigantic TV screen where you can see all the fine details. A lot of the cinematic drama is lost when it looks like I’m watching a video instead of a film. The lighting just seemed a bit off a lot of the times, specially in the beginning interior scenes. It felt a little “too close” to the action.

This kinda opened up a lot of questions for me while I was watching: what makes a film a film anyway? Is it merely just the “film look” or are there other elements involved? There’s acting, story, directing, music, etc. All of which were quite passable in The Hobbit. In fact, I found myself moved by the simple story of the dwarves’ quest to reclaim their “home” and the hobbit helping them. (Thorin Oakenshield, played by Richard Armitage, is a badass.) And yes, there were moments where I forgot about the whole high frame rate thing.

I think Jackson presenting The Hobbit in 48 fps is a good test of the technology. But for filmmakers using this in the future, they will have to find a way to overcome the “video look” if they want this standard to be more acceptable to an audience used to 24 fps. I have some optimism that this will happen. The more people use it, the more they can tweak what works and what doesn’t.

I think that everyone should watch The Hobbit in 48 fps 3D simply because this was the final intent of the director on what his film should look like. For this version, I would rate it a 3/5. Jackson still has not mastered this new resolution yet.

I will watch the 24 fps version soon and see if it works better (or worse).

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