Movie of the Day

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I started off 2013 the same way I started off 2012, by watching a movie at Toho Cinemas in Roppongi Hills, one of the few cinemas in Tokyo which is open on New Year’s Day. I wasn’t particularly interested in the new Hobbit film, but there wasn’t a whole lot of choice and after covering a press conference with Peter Jackson and company, I was interested in seeing the high frame rate projection for myself. Reportedly the film is only being played in the high frame rate on 400 screens around the world, and it appears a big chuck of them are in Tokyo, so I thought I would take the opportunity while I could.

I was told that this film wouldnI never got around to seeing Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I was the only member of my group of friends in high school and college who wasn’t into J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels. As such, I don’t know the difference between a hobbit and an dwarf, an elf and a troll, a wizard and a necromancer. The film assumes the audience knows all this, and the story was not intrigue enough to make me want to learn or even care. I found myself trying to recognize actors beneath all of the latex noses and scraggly wigs and waiting for the next sweeping shot of the New Zealand countryside, which were indeed stunning. I am a big admirer of Andy Serkis’ work, both in his traditional roles in Burke and Hare and Brighton Rock and his performance capture role in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But it seemed like I was waiting for three hours for his Gollum to appear. Since Tolkien’s novel is being stretched out over three films, now I feel locked into watching the next two installments just to have a since of closure.

At the press conference in Tokyo, exactly one month ago, Jackson was very happy to talk about the film’s 48-frame-per-second high frame rate, complaining that the 24-frame-per-second standard that was set with the introduction of talkies was only barely good enough at the time, and has been dragged out for over 80 years. His enthusiasm made me interested in the technology and the film. But that was before I tapped into the seemingly endless stream of negative publicity on HFR projection.  New York Magazine’s Vulture site has compiled a categorized list of opinions from film critics. What they are saying is not exactly complimentary, and audiences have been less kind, going online to say the movie caused headaches or nausea. It was enough to make me wonder what I was getting myself into when I slid on my 3D glasses.

Many of the complaints about the high frame rate are valid. It makes the film look like a video game, a soap opera on HDTV, a making of featurette on an actual film, or a nature documentary. It also makes imperfection in the sets and makeup obvious. All of these are true. At its worst, the technology makes scene of Bilbo and company walking through a wood in broad daylight does look very much like a HD nature documentary of modern-day explorers of looking for a cave-dwelling bats. But high frame rate works very well for the epic battle scenes and the CGI shots featuring Gollum. This made me think that the cause of the problematic scenes was a lack of proper color correction which would have lent the entire film more visual unity.





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