Like most of the rest of the world I have seen “The Hobbit.” Like a good portion of them I made the call to see it in 3D with the High Frame Rate (HFR). Unlike a portion of the world I decided to use the restroom before the movie started and to not indulge in the 55 gallon drum of soda thus allowing me to sit through the entire movie.
In retrospect I may have wanted that bathroom break just get away from the visual bludgeoning I received.
I’m not going to get into a review of the movie itself. This has been done to death everywhere else and I don’t know that I could really add anything to it. I will say this much; I literally grew up with this story from kindergarten on. Story time in school was this book and as a class we made a huge wall sized panorama of the whole book where I made The Arkenstone. So I have a connection. The movie is not the book. I may not decide how I feel about that until all three movies(!) have been released.
In any case it’s not the plot I wish to talk about but the technology of 3D and HFR.
First, 3D technology. We’ve been dealing with a variety of movie attempts at 3D for a lot longer than people might think. The earliest attempts at 3D cinema were done in the 1890’s. The first film viewed by a paying audience was “The Power of Love” released in 1922 and it used the basic “Red/Green” viewing technology most of us are familiar with.
From there the leaps in technology have been pretty minor in the grand scheme of the audience viewing experience. The technology behind the scenes was mostly on process and creating projection systems that could handle the changes in process. The main problems that had to be dealt with were largely caused by the need for dual projectors, dual projectionists and the complications of keeping the two films running in sync with one another.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s that someone figured out a variety of ways to put the images on to a single film strip alternating frames and the use of special projectors and lenses to allow them to be seen. Still, these came with their own problems mainly in how bright the images were or the sightlines in the theater being to narrow to get any proper 3D effect.
In 1970 we got Stereovision and thanks to the Porn industry a 3D flick called “The Stewardesses” where the frames were on a single strip but squeezed in side by side. Soft and Hard core porn led the way for 3D for several years.
In the early 80’s we got more attempts at 3D with the sci-fi films such as “Spacehunter: Adventures in The Forbidden Zone”, “Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn” and “Treasure of the Four Crowns.” None of which could compete with the traditional 2D format of our beloved “Star Wars” and so 3D fell to the wayside again.
But IMAX came along in the mid-80’s and IMAX 3D started giving us a lot of documentary films at first followed by a whole slew of entertainment releases.
And now we find ourselves here in an age where 3D films seem to be making a real go of it with vastly superior technology.
And now we’re talking about High Frame Rate. There is not nearly as much information on this technology because other than using HFR cameras to get super slow motion images the tech doesn’t seem to have been used for very much as far as entertainment is concerned.
Going back to those really old cameras and projectors there was no particular standard for film frame rates due to the simple fact that those items were hand cranked. The frame rates didn’t standardize until the invention of Sound Sync technology and the creation of the first “talkies”. In 1927 the first feature length “talkie” was the film “The Jazz Singer.”
So it was sound that drove the visual frame rate standard which became 24 frames per second. That means when you look at that strip of film each and every one of those little pictures is racing by and you see 24 of them in one second to create the illusion of movement.
Which brings me to “The Hobbit.”
Peter Jackson decided that he wanted to do this movie at 48 frames per second, the first feature film to do so. I’m sure you understand fully what that means now.
The first thing that I have to say is that in talking with various people who have seen the movie they have all come down hard on opposite ends of the spectrum with very little in the way of middle ground. They either really love the 3D HFR or they really don’t.
The positives are the sense of realism and the very deep rich colors. The experience is very immersive.
The negatives are the overwhelming nature of some shots as they go by so fast that the vividness of the images become too intense or even painful. Certainly my wife and my apprentice both complained of being overwhelmed at times even to the point of headaches and a bit of dizziness.
If I am to be honest I’d have to say that there were a couple of times, especially during battle scenes, where the action became so overwhelming that I couldn’t follow what was going on or keep up with it.
But that got me to thinking; is it the technology or the direction itself? Certainly there have been other films in standard 2D formats where things became so crowded and “action packed” on the screen that it became difficult if not impossible to follow everything taking place. Can I really lay blame for that on 3D HFR?
The intent of Peter Jackson and the other directors that will follow him (James Cameron plans to use 3D HFR technology for his “Avatar” sequels) is to create a rich world that invites you in and gives you a powerful experience. They wish to “push the envelope” with “new and exciting” technology to make your movie experience “one of a kind.”
Suddenly it was those buzz words and phrases that pushed my buttons and got me to thinking. Isn’t that what story tellers do? Isn’t that what our imagination is for?
Really, as fantastically exciting and even beautiful these worlds are, do they compare to what was in your imagination when you were a kid? I grew up with “The Hobbit.” After it was read to me as a tiny kid I read it again and again for myself over the years. Eventually I saw the animated Rankin and Bass production. I even played the children’s album story of “The Hobbit” over and over again wearing out groves in it.
But it was the book, and my imagination that filled me with what hobbits and elves and dwarves and dragons looked like. It was my imagination that took me thru the horrors of Murkwood Forrest and to look upon the face of Gollum.
It was good solid storytelling. J.R.R. Tolkien told a magnificent story. Certainly I know there are those who don’t like his writing style, but that isn’t the point so much as it’s about story telling. Pick your own favorite author whose work has been made into a movie. Is the movie ever as grand as what your imagination created from the story that took you too far away places?
I would argue not.
So is 3D HFR just a waste of time? No, I don’t think so.
But neither do I think it is the answer. Right now Peter Jackson and his ilk are playing with it. They are seeing what they can do with it. And as visually spectacular as “The Hobbit” is ultimately going to be, I will be willing to bet that it’s going to be the original story teller, the director who uses the technology with restraint and artfulness who will ultimately produce the greater product. If the visual bludgeoning I received watching “The Hobbit” is any indication at all Peter Jackson isn’t the artful director I am looking for with regards to this new technology.
Yes, I completely enjoyed the first installment of “The Hobbit” and if truth be told I fully expect that I will see the remaining two installments in 3D HFR as well. I’m a complete-ist like that. That’s how I started my “unexpected journey”, that is how I will finish it. Peter Jackson is to be commended for the job done thus far.
In my perfect world someone is going to come along and they are going to give me a 3D HFR movie with an original story, talented actors and an artful use of the beauty that can be created by drawing me in to a space that seems to surround me. I look forward to that cinema experience.