The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – HFR Version

Ok, so why am I reviewing The Hobbit again you ask? Well, I’ve been following the production of this film for quite some time and there’s some new technology involved that’s causing a bit of a stink so I wanted to address it.

I won’t be reviewing acting or writing on this one as I’ve already covered that. This review will be about aesthetics only…

So I went to see The Hobbit for the second time (yes, there will be more, I’m probably going again this weekend), only this time I went to see the IMAX / 3D / HFR version. The HFR stands for high-frame-rate, this is what’s causing the controversy. Movies are typically shot at a frame rate of 24 frames-per-second. This is the standard frame rate used for film also in terms of how the film is displayed in the theater. The way it works is like this – the higher the frame rate, the higher the image quality. The 24fps (frames-per-second) frame rate is what gives film a slightly soft quality to it which tends to blur out some detail creating what’s called “the film look”.

Peter Jackson decided to shoot at a frame rate of 48fps. Normally, when films are shot at a higher frame rate, they’re still displayed in the theater at 24. However, there are some theaters that are equipped to display films at 48. I was fortunate enough to find one that screened at that frame rate, here’s the list of theaters to check out showing The Hobbit at 48:

The complaint with HFR is that it looks too clear. Some have said that it looks just like video with people even comparing to the appearance of a Mexican soap opera. I have to say I disagree, I think this is both inaccurate and an exaggeration. My opinion is that it has qualities of both. There are times that the 48fps image has a video quality to it because of the clarity of the image, but it has the depth, depth of field, and richness of color that film has. To me, the clarity of the image brings out amazing detail and provides a more life-like feel to it. The feeling I got was more like actually being there in the movie; instead of feeling like I was watching a film on the screen, it felt more like looking through a window and watching something real. I ducked a number of times purely out of involuntary reflex. 3D doesn’t normally get me like that, this time it did.

I was prepared for the image difference from being familiar with the technology and being a filmmaker myself. Some say it takes the audience awhile to get used to the difference in the image before they can enjoy the film. I say, go in with an open mind and realize you’re going to see something different, something beyond what movies typically look like and immerse yourself into it. What we’re seeing is where film is going, this level of clarity and image quality is the future of filmmaking. Personally, I think the images I saw were breathtaking and startlingly real. The higher quality image provides a whole new level of what we’re capable of as filmmakers as well as a whole new experience for the audience. The problem is that it’s new and people don’t often embrace change right away until they get used to it. I would suggest checking it out for yourself and seeing where things are going and forming your own opinion.

My hat goes off to Peter Jackson for raising the bar and pushing the technology with The Hobbit. He took a risk and ended up with a film that provides clarity and detail that we’ve never seen in a theater before. Check out the theater list above and check it out if you can!

reviewed by Sean McKnight