After much debating (in my head) on what format I wanted to see Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit in, I decided to see it for the first time in HFR 3D. I was worried the aesthetic of 48 frames-per-second might dampen my enjoyment of the film if I didn’t like the new format and that it might ruin my experience. On the other hand, I couldn’t knock HFR until I tried it so I approached it with an open mind and hoped that Peter Jackson could whisk me away to Middle Earth regardless of the format I was seeing it in. Walking out of the movie, I couldn’t tell you exactly where I fall on 48 fps just yet but I will say that I really enjoyed the hell out of The Hobbit.
I feel I must disclose that I’ve never read any of Tolkein’s work. The Hobbit never really entered my periphery as a kid and I probably didn’t know all that much about The Lord of the Rings until, well, the films came out. It’s a big part of geekdom that had somehow escaped me and I just haven’t gotten around to reading the material, even though I really do love Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. From what I had heard and read, Tolkien’s The Hobbit was a little different in tone since it was more of a children’s book and I kept seeing people describe the story as “whimsical.” The movie adaptation definitely captures some of that whimsy and also interjects a lot more humor into the story than you would find in the Lord of the Rings films. I’ve seen some people’s complaints in regards to the (slight) tonal shift but I never really thought the film was overtly different in tone, though perhaps a bit more innocent. There are still dark undertones and plenty of violence that plays into the story and it still feels very connected to the previous films aesthetically.
Despite a two hour and forty-five minute run time, The Hobbit flew by in no time. I never really thought that the film was too thin or felt disjointed, perhaps that may have been due to the fact that I was still adjusting to the 48 fps for most of the movie. There was just so much to love about The Hobbit, especially in my favorite sequence of the film involving the Goblin King. The dwarves’ fight and escape from the Goblin King’s realm was really energetic and visually a treat to watch. On top of that, it was intercut with a scene between Bilbo and Gollum playing a game of riddles with potentially grave consequences. I really enjoyed watching Andy Serkis’ performance as Gollum once again and seeing how “the one ring to rule them all” got into the hands of Bilbo. There was also one element of the movie that stood out in the best possible way, Howard Shore’s score. The music of The Hobbit is big and beautiful and goes a long way in creating the connective tissue between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I found myself walking out of the theater with the music playing in my head and thinking that it might just be my favorite score of the year.
As far as the HFR 3D, I feel like the format is a bit of a mixed bag. I found it to be pretty jarring at first. All the actors look like they are sped up and the production value of the movie looks reminiscent of a British soap opera. In fact, some of the beginning looked so incredibly cheap I almost wanted to abandon the screening I was at and just go see it in the normal 24 fps. Another thing that 48 fps is supposed to do is to lessen eye strain, which wasn’t the case in my experience. In fact, I noticed more eye strain in HFR 3D than I ever have in normal 3D, which lasted for a majority of the movie before going away. On the positive side, HFR is AMAZINGLY detailed. I was kind of floored in regards to how much detail I could see on screen. There wasn’t any motion blur and everything remained constantly clear through all the movement which definitely helped add to the 3D effect for me. HFR simultaneously manages to make The Hobbit look fake and incredibly real all at the same time. I’m not sure that I would want to see the remaining two Hobbit films in HFR 3D as I don’t want to be reminded of the movies’ artificiality while watching them and just want to be totally immersed in my visits to Middle Earth. I think I’d probably be against further use of HFR 3D entirely if it weren’t for the wow factor of the visual details it can reveal. Despite loving that aspect of the new format, and even if future movies alter their productions to make the sets seem more real at 48 fps, I don’t think I could ever get passed the sped up look of the actors’ movement. It does nothing but make me think about how unnatural it looks and feels, effectively removing a layer of believability/immersion of the film.
So even though the presentation of the film was brought into question with HFR, I still managed to have a really great time watching The Hobbit. Peter Jackson has provided a really satisfying movie experience and I’m so happy that he’s the guiding hand behind this new trilogy. I walked in cautiously optimistic and walked out completely excited and wanting to watch the Lord of the Rings movies again. Even with the flaws of The Hobbit, it sits pretty high up in the rankings for my favorite experience at the theater.
by Ben McBride