The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at 48fps

Before I write anything about the topic, you should read Vincent Laforet's in-depth post about The Hobbit. It's a long post. I'll wait. The man watched it in 3D HFR (high frame rate), 3D, and 2D all in the same day!

To quickly catch anyone up to speed who hasn't followed The Hobbit or isn't sure what 48fps is: Director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings, King Kong) set out to make The Hobbit, the prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. At some point in the process, they decided to film the entire thing at 48 frames per second. Movies have always been filmed at 24 frames per second, so this is completely new territory. The goal Jackson hoped to achieve was for the film to be a more immersive, realistic performance. A big task, considering the main characters are hobbits, dwarves, orcs, and goblins.

I just have a few quick thoughts.

Someone referred to this as "The Hobbit situation."

Seriously. It's not a "situation." It was a choice by a filmmaker to try something new. That's what creativity has been about since the beginning of time: having an idea and trying it. Some are successful, some are downright failures, and others take time and iteration to make an impact.

As Vincent puts it:

I recommend any filmmaker out there try doing this – as it will reaffirm so many of the things that make film "magical" and ultimately what differentiates the medium from all other forms of entertainment and visual media.  For some, HFR will be a potential a new tool in their arsenal for telling certain types of stories in a new and exciting way, while others will be reminded of why the 2D format at 24 fps has stood the test of time for so long.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Peter Jackson's choice to film The Hobbit at 48fps, other than the fact that it's different than the norm. In a lot of cases it doesn't work. If I had to put a number on it, I'd say 15-20% of the movie just looks really awful at 48 frames per second. Other times, it's beautiful. Sounds a lot like 3D in general.

I have a difficult time trying to justify why Jackson would put out something that looks bad, and at times, The Hobbit just doesn't look right. But it's not a complete failure. It was trying something new, and will most definitely be improved in the future. Maybe it's going to take different camera, lighting, and set design techniques to make the extra frames blend into the picture.

When a change can affect the film in such a negative way, I understand the outcry against it. For me, the final nail in the 3D coffin was when I saw Captain America. It added nothing to the experience, and in many cases detracted from the film. To date, the only 3D experience I've ever truly enjoyed was watching Avatar. It felt like the best kind of theme park ride into a completely new world. Other than that one experience, it's distracting, unnecessary, and often times just plain bad.

I wouldn't recommend seeing The Hobbit HFR if you aren't curious about the look and the technology of the process. It will be distracting at many points in the film. If you are a filmmaker or film enthusiast, absolutely see it. This is the first time someone has tried something radically different in a major film since when? 3D has been around for 100 years. There's a lot to study in The Hobbit and figuring out what works and what doesn't and why with your own eyes is interesting, to say the least.

The great thing is, it's still being released in the standard 24 fps, so it is entirely possible to see the movie without even considering this attempt at advancing the technology of film. I'm discouraged reading so many reviews that only focus on the high frame rate, when many people won't even have that option at their theaters. The Hobbit was released on about 450 screens at 3D HFR. It's being released on over 4000 screens in total.

But, I guess it's something to talk about, which is why I'm compelled to write about it now.

And to me, that's the greatness of film. Films encourage debate, challenge ideas, thrill you, make you laugh, and bring you to tears. Whether with the storytelling, technology, or subject matter, each film is its own experience.

Look, 48 fps just didn't work as well as Peter Jackson had hoped (at least in audiences eyes), but that doesn't make it a bad thing. It's something different. Just like many say they hate films shot digitally rather than shot on film, it all comes down to personal opinion.

As for the movie itself? I liked it. It wasn't Lord of the Rings, but it didn't need to be. It definitely felt a little long, but I liked the characters and the story they set up, and I'm anxiously awaiting part two.

Andy Newman