My Review of The Hobbit at 48 FPS

I finally got a chance to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey yesterday, and I saw it in 3D IMAX at the High Frame Rate (HFR) of 48 Frames per Second (FPS). I’ll cover the story first, then I’ll get to the tech side of it.

I liked The Hobbit. It’s not as great as The Lord of the Rings movies, but I don’t know if it’s supposed to be. It’s not quite as epic in scope, and I think this story is more about fun than good vs. evil. On that count, it succeeds.

I had two big concerns going into this movie. First, I was a little worried that it would be slow or padded ever since I heard Peter Jackson was going to turn the Hobbit into a trilogy. While there are some slower lulls in the movie, I never got bored. It also takes a while to get going, but once the pieces are in place, it’s quite the adventure.

Second, I was also a bit worried that the action sequences would be repetitive ever since I heard Leonard Maltin say The Hobbit basically boiled down to walking, fight some monsters, walking, fight some monsters, walking, and fight some more monsters. I guess you could describe the movie that way, but it seems somewhat cynical. Each of the action sequences had their own interesting details. In particular the fight and flight scene with the goblins is wild and creative–I found myself wondering how Jackson originally described the sequences to his effects crew.

I think the biggest reason my concerns melted away was the charm of this movie. There is lightheartedness, fun, and heart that save the quiet moments from being boring and give some of the action sequences a nice touch of humor. It’s a great fairy tale movie for the holiday season, and perfect for the family.

Martin Freeman is perfectly cast as Bilbo Baggins. His mannerisms, his delivery, and his awkwardness were wonderfully suited for the character. And the dwarves were great as well. I mean, c’mon, who didn’t want more Gimli? These dwarves show the audience a lot more detail of dwarvish life, even if the 12 of them do sometimes blend together a bit. And I’d be lying if I didn’t walk out of the theater humming “Misty Mountain.”

But, frankly, I would have paid my price of admission for the riddle scene alone. I don’t want to spoil anything about that scene, because it really must be seen for yourself, but be sure to compare Gollum in this movie to The Lord of the Rings films. Not only is he more richly detailed, but he’s also a bit younger, saner, and softer. Not quite as broken as he is later. But close. It’s a classic scene, and I think the cast and crew should be very proud of it.

And now for the tech side of it. The 3D was smoother, and I didn’t get a headache In the past I have felt small headaches during the movie, but nothing so debilitating that I considered leaving. I usually avoid 3D because of the increased price, unless it’s a big spectacle. Like this or Avatar or something. To be honest, I don’t always notice it, as I get absorbed into the movie. I guess that’s a sign that they did things right. But, I know. You want to hear about the HRF.

Remember the first time you saw HDTV? How everything looked a little like a soap opera? Well, yeah, it’s a bit like that. This isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion. Just different. You see things more crisply, with more detail. But it might pull you out of the movie at times.

What really bothered me was that because things were so sharply displayed, it made the division between practical effects and rendered effects all the more apparent to me. At times, the action sequences seemed as if they were flipping back and forth between soap opera close ups and cartoons. Don’t get me wrong. The visual effects were exciting and should be seen on a big screen, but a little of the magic was lost. It was almost as if the sharpness of the display had outpaced the effects.

So is it worth searching out a theater that offers The Hobbit at 48FPS? Yeah, probably. If only to see the differences. I do wonder if I saw it at a slower rate if the effects would simply look fuzzy or if they would blend in a bit bitter. Anyway, regardless of which frame rate you see, I’d definitely recommend The Hobbit. It might not earn Jackson an armful of Oscars like The Lord of the Rings movies, but I think it’s big, it’s fun, and it’s 3 hours well spent.

P.S. The nine minutes of Star Trek: Into the Darkness got me really excited about that too. Far more so than the actual previews.