48 FPS Or No 48 FPS – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

hobbit482The Hobbit is going to be the first major release to ever be filmed and distributed in 48 FPS 3D this weekend, and we wanted to let you know if the format is worth your ticket (if that option is available to you).

Zac: I am a big fan of 3D in film, and this year has delivered some really great entries into the 3D library. Life of Pi, Madagascar 3, Pirates: A Band of Misfits, Frankenweenie (post-converted!), ParaNorman, Prometheus, Finding Nemo, Wreck-It Ralph and most of all, Dredd, have all looked spectacular in 3D and validated the format in this viewer’s eyes.  Even other post-conversions like Avengers, Titanic, Men in Black III and John Carter looked good, but all eyes have been on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit and his use of the faster frame rate to increase clarity and really create an illusion of looking through a window.  So it’s finally here, how does it look?

The results are…interesting.

The added clarity can be remarkable at times, and while the initial overflow of visual information will no doubt be jarring, by the time the Dwarves are singing in Bag End I was adjusted to the new look.  That isn’t to say that everything looked spectacular, far from it, but the amped-up frame rate really made things clearer and achieved that looking through a window appearance Jackson was going for.

Lauren:  Unlike Zac, 3D had to go through a lot before I finally came to terms with it.  And that’s not even saying I liked it, just that I was capable of sitting through it without it ruining the movie for me.  Maybe it was just my poor excuse for vision that needed some time to adjust, or maybe the quality of the theaters needed to catch up in my area, but it always just looked off, blurred more often than not.  Animated film were where I started to accept this type of presentation because it always looked beautiful in 3D when all else didn’t (if you notice, the majority of Zac’s great looking films listed above are just that), but now I can see live action films and be awed by how far the technology has come in my eyes.

The high frame rate goes the opposite route of the blurred 3D I once fell victim to, somehow managing to be extremely off-putting and almost impossible for this viewer to get used to because it is too clear.  Zac claims it only took him about 10 minutes to settle into, but I was never not noticing the difference.

The problem for me was that it is almost as if the image it too crisp, too clean, removing all aspects of the visual that reminds the viewer that they are watching a movie.  This may sound like a good thing to you, but for me it went too far into reality that it somehow managed to look even more fake than what we are used to, ruining the first portion of the movie to such an extent that I am not even sure if my opinion of the movie is honest, or if it was pushed into the negative realm simply because of how it looked.  So for this viewer (as I heard from many others), it might be a requirement to go see The Hobbit a second time in the normal frame rate to be able to sit back and enjoy the movie.

Zac: I was aware of the difference almost at all times, I was just able to accept it.  The format is not without some sore spots, though, as it looks horrible at times, the the worst of which almost always being anytime something with the Pale Orc is on screen.  That said, his flashback intro worked pretty well for the most part, but anytime they threw him on a warg and he started moving it never quite looked right.  In fact, a certain chase scene between the orcs and Radagast the Brown looks downright atrocious.  The CG characters are gliding over the natural landscape and all sense of illusion are lost.  The CG chase through the goblin city also was quite spotty, but I think by that point I had just expected these scenes to look a little off anyways, and was able to roll with the punches.

But when the film looks great, it is often spectacular. Any of the talking scenes look pretty spectacular, and a couple of them even included some CG elements.  Gollum in particular looks amazing, like he is a living, breathing figure, and I think the fact that they had the most time with those elements (the scene was the first thing shot) and this important scene of the film pushed them towards making it appear top notch.  I am not saying they half-assed the other scenes, but on a movie of this size I can’t imagine every effects shot is able to be given the A+ work that is required for 48 FPS.

I imagine lessons were learned here and over the next year Jackson and his team will have realized that they have to dump even more time and resources into the big effects shots if they want them to look great.  I think the film shows the potential of the format for sure, but it still has some growing up to do as well.

Lauren:  You sure they can’t just chalk this up to a failed experiment and move on to different things?  I’d rather have smell-o-vision with those orcs than have to watch them at 48FPS again…  It’s awkward, it’s glaringly obvious at all times, and it ruined my experience of a three hour movie to the point of exhaustion as the movie went on.  I just wanted it to end.

Maybe it will improve as 3D did for me, but don’t expect to see me waiting in line for any more movies that choose to implement this step “forward” in technology anytime soon.

Zac: If you are a fan of 3D and are interested in the format I think you should certainly see The Hobbit at 48 FPS, but I wouldn’t see the film that way the first time out.  I think it was a bit distracting, for better or worse, and the film deserves your attention first and foremost.  I still think there’s a lot of potential in this format though, especially with full CG environment movies like Tin Tin, Avatar, and animated films, but as it stands now it is an interesting experiment that is worth checking out for sure if interested.

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