To 48 frames per second and back again

A Peter Jackson style review

I start this tale by first going back a little over ten years. In these times a New Zealand film maker dreamed a dream of making a "Lord of the Rings type film". Soon he found the film rights to the Lord of the Rings books were available for a far smaller budget that he ever dared to dream. We Tolkien fans grew nervous about a live action film of our beloved books from a film maker that had never before made a film of aywhere near this scale. I recall people vowing to never see these films before even a single image had surfaced. And then the images started to come. The fans started to divide as these startingly brilliant images began to show us what was in store.

Christmas rolled around and the much anticipated release of Followship of the Ring arrived. Somewhere along the line all of the naysayers had disappeared and, except for a few lone voices, the film was largely received as a staggering success; the Lord of the Rings that previously only existed in our mind had been fully realised on the screen. In fact, the biggest disappointments seemed to be the fact that we had to wait another year for The Two Towers and that Peter Jackson was beat to the Oscar by Ron Howard. Over the next two years the triology would be finished and the academy would award Return of the King a record eleven oscars. We fans then spent several more months collecting up the various editions of the films...and then talk of making The Hobbit started.

It's strange to look at the fan reaction to the development of The Hobbit as it appears to have been almost converse to that of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We were going to get more of these films we had come to love, then we heard that Peter Jackson was not going to be at the helm and concern set in. Then we heard that Guillermo del Toro, he of Pan Labyrinth fame, and we all got excited again. The del Toro was off and Peter Jackson was making noises that the films may never get made. I even heard talk that The Lovely Bones was a sign that things were not going to work out well for The Hobbit. Then Peter Jackson was back on and the fans were tentatively happy again, though there was talk that he was grudgingly making these films after all that bad blood with the studio.

Now it may be that I am not a fan of 3D in any way, I'll say this right now that Avatar is one of the few films I wished for my money back, and it may be this fact that caused my concern to be spiked when the announcement came out that The Hobbit MOVIES were going to be in 3D. It didn't even hit me that there was going to be more than one film at first, it was the 3D that concerned me. Was this once free film maker now slavishly having to film in 3D?

Then we really got talking about how what was a smaller volume than any of the three Lord of the Rings books could be split into two, surely this was milking an already withering cash cow further! And then came the news IT'S GOING TO BE A TRILOGY!! The once excited fanboys started, once again, to vow never to see these films and it appeared that we had been on a journey there and back again with these films.

It would seem the death blow came for many when there were some early screenings of the film in all its high frame rate "glory". People were saying that the film had been murdered or, my favourite, that "it looked like a Spanish soap opera". Unlike the 3D element, I was actually quite excited by the idea of high frame rate. I'm one of those guys who is always an early adopter of new TV technologies and this seemed to play to that same part of my mind but, I have to say, I was more than a little concerned about how this was all going to play out by the time I walked into the 3D high frame rate session in December 2012. So how was it?

I'm not going to run through the plot per se here as, if your still with me now I am assuming you know the plot already. What I will say about the plot is this, it does feel a little butter over too much bread. There's a lot of back story and exposition and it really does take it's time in getting going. That being said, once it gets going it really is a romp. There are number of set peices, particularly the goblin cave sequence, that do make you wonder whether they would have been possible with the technology available when the previous films came out. But the nearly three hour running time for what is one third of an average length book does feel a little longer than needed.

Something else to consider is the tone of the film. The Hobbit, as a book, was very much a childrens book. I first came across it at 10 years of age and was not troubled in the least by it. The Lord of the Rings was a much darker book and that was reflected in the films made. This film follows in much the same tone as the previous ones and is every inch a Peter Jackson film. The are decapitations, people burnt alive, limbs lopped off and giant spiders. It's certainly not hardcore horror and is appropriately rated, but I felt it was worth calling out that it is a darker film than the book it is based on.

What about all that technology that has come to bear since the original Lord of the Rings trology? The film looks beautiful, it takes all of the technology that was developed for the original trilogy and polishes it further. The motion capture employed is first rate and the picure and colour palette is all gourgeous. Which brings me to my first concern regrading the 3D. Have you ever taken your 3D glasses off during a film? You'll notice the picture is much brighter. It's 30% brighter in fact, this is due to the loss of colour saturation that is now generally accepted for 3D. I can't level this critisism at the film itself as it's the 3D technology, but it still creases me. The high frame rate does seem a little alarming at first and I even suspect there were some lip sync issues with it in parts, but once you settle into the film it doesn't distract from it at all. Which does beg the question, if you are fully immersed in the story being played out that you can forget about the 3D and the high frame rate is there really any point to having it in the first place? Are the people coming out of the 2D session feeling as though they have not fully enjoyed the film? Has anyone ever said, "It would have been awesome if only it was in high frame rate 3D"? I doubt it.

When all is said and done I think Peter Jackson has done a great job with this film. If this was the first Tolkien based film he brought out we may have been equally as impressed as when we had seen Fellowship of the Ring over ten years ago. Does the 3D and high frame rate take away from the experience? Apart from the colour saturation loss that is apparent for every 3D film I don't think it does, but equally I'm not convinced it really adds anything to it either. I still remain a little concerned about how the remainder of the book will be spread out over a further two movies that will no doubt have three hour running times, but that is a discussion for another time. To be continued...


The Hobbit Trailer

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Official Movie Guide
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Visual Companion
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(price as of Oct 10, 2016)