Tuesday, December 18, 2012

An Unexpected Journey - At 48 Frames Per Second

I generally don’t do movie reviews. I don’t think I do reviews very well at all, if I’m being totally honest. Especially for movies. I think part of it is that I get hyper focused on the movie on screen and I either ‘buy in’ and think it’s the greatest thing ever done, or I’m sucked out of the story for some reason and I hate it.

That’s generally how I am with books too, but I’m at least nominally capable of deconstructing a book to find out what I enjoyed and what I didn’t.

Anyway, I took the kids and a nephew and went out to see The Hobbit over the weekend. I shelled out the $100 and made sure we got to see the 3D IMAX HFR edition.

This is me attempting a movie review – I shudder for you all – I’m going to split this into two: The Presentation first, then the actual movie.

Wait, maybe I should make this into three parts. No, that would be too much.

Presentation: The HFR (High Frame Rate) is a reference to the way that this movie was shot. As far as I know, it the first feature film to be shot in 48 fps (frames per second) ever. The promise is that it offers a smoother look, and in 3D – since polarized glasses tend to cut the number of frames each eye sees in half – along with the brightness – it means that the movie experience is much more enjoyable. That’s the intent, at least.

This is supposed to make the movie more engrossing, visually. If you’ve been anywhere on the internet and looked into what other think you’ll have seen that there a lot of people complaining about the experience.

I, for one, certainly found it distracting. But in the end decided I liked it. First, if you’ve ever seen many daytime soap operas, or some of those British shows that pop up on PBS on occasion then you might see some similarities. It’s a bit like watching a movie in fast forward – except that nothing is going fast. It’s a strange thing, and I found myself, especially early in the movie, staring at the screen and watching carefully how things looked. I mean, how can something appear to be moving too quickly, but not be? It’s a mystery.

I think all films shot in the standard film format (24 fps) have kind of tricked us into thinking that is the way things on a giant screen are supposed to look. And the hyper-real 48 fps reminds us of the cheap video productions we’ve all seen on poorly produced shows. It is disconcerting.

It’s funny, as my wife and I have shopped for a television that could also serve as a monitor for my job when I work from home, we’ve ended up having these long, detailed conversations about frame rates on televisions and the typical 24fps standard for movies and how problematic it can be when watching something – like a blu ray disk of a movie. It can cause movements to look unnatural. On a technical level, the sorts of problems that arise can be really difficult for engineers to solve.

Sorry, I digress.

By the time the movie was finished however, I was pretty thrilled with the format. I intend on sneaking out one night this week with the missus and watching it again. This time to see if I can watch the movie without the staring at the screen.

The Movie: For what it’s worth. I thought the movie was fantastic. I feel like it suffers just a bit from ‘Jackson-Bloat’ – a term I made up just now to describe his tendency of stretching a film out longer than its natural length. Some of the early portions of the movie seemed excessively long - but it was charming. I didn't really mind the excessive length. 

I’m reminded a bit of Tolkien who said something like,”…if there is something I regret – it’s that I didn’t make it (LOTR) longer….” I believe Peter Jackson feels the same way about his movies. As this might be an all-time great film if it were just 45 minutes shorter. As it stands, more isn’t better, but it’s still pretty awesome.

If I had a frustration it was that so much of the effort put into foreshadowing al the LOTR stuff makes no sense. I mean, we've all seen LOTR so it's not like we need all that. If some future movie goer watches The Hobbit movies first, then they might get all excited about the LOTR movies, but then get confused because they reintroduce characters that we've already seen. 

For me though, small complaints. I loved the movie. 


Tonja said...

I haven't seen it yet. Will be back later to read your review.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Excessively long but charming - I think you nailed it. I was just enjoying watching it so much the length didn't bother me, and at the end I wanted more.
Our 3D TV offers a picture similar to the 48fps experience. It does take some getting used to. We didn't see that version but I'll enjoy it when the movie comes out on 3D BluRay.
And I think you review movies well!

Melissa Bradley said...

I loved the movie so much I didn't even notice the length. And I was proud to have made it through with no bathroom breaks. ;)

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

So now are they going to add a high frame rate surcharge? Going to the movies is like going to the airport anymore with all these fees and whatnot.

Andrew Leon said...

Man, it seems like I'm the only that came away from it wit a sour taste in my mouth.
I only saw it in 2D, but the movie looked amazing. I never had an issue with the fps.

Rusty Webb said...

@ Tonya - Not sure it matters, but that was a pretty spoiler free review.

@ Alex - I don't really mind the length either, but I could see how it would bother folks. And that thing with your tv is pretty common. Unless you have an unbelievably high refresh rate - like in a plasma television, you're going to see that effect on most blu ray disks.

Melissa - I didn't have to take a break either. I was quite proud of myself.

@PT - there was a surcharge. So yes, it is a money grab

@Andrew - I'm sorry you were disappointed, but you love the source material, it seems like the more beloved people are over the original material the harder it is for them to enjoy an adaptation. Unless of course you think it fails in it's own right, regardless of the source material.

And you saw the difference and didn't think it was a big deal, or you didn't notice. I ask because the 48fps is only in some theaters and if you may not have seen it in the new display. The screening would have said HFR somewhere when you watched.

Andrew Leon said...

I'll have to check on the HFR then. I just assumed it was only being shown that way because they made such a big deal about it.

I think it's fine as a movie and that I probably would have enjoyed it just fine if I'd never read the book, which I say in my review (today's post). Except for the bit with the domino trees. That was just dumb no matter how you cut it.

However, I think it was a poor adaptation. I think Jackson was more interested in fitting Hobbit into -his- Middle Earth rather than making a film adaptation of the actual book.

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

I rather enjoyed myself, Jackson bloat and all. I thought it was visually stunning and that it never lacked for there was always something going on.

Tony Laplume said...

King Kong was Jackson bloat, especially the Skull Island sequence with all the monsters that really had nothing to do with the rest of the movie. That's how I determine whether or not there's bloat. You may change your idea of Jackson bloat in this film once you see where the Necromancer subplot goes in subsequent installments. Me, I maintain this director has his biggest problem in restricting needless battle scenes. Clearly audiences love their mindless violence, but when you're juggling so many different things in a movie like this, very easily at least one battle sequence could have been eliminated and no one would have missed it.

Andrew Leon said...

@Tony: I do want to see what he's doing with the Necromancer; however, the whole thing with Azog is total bloat as that character really did die in that battle in the source material. Jackson keeping him around as Thorin's nemesis is pretty ridiculous.

Cindy said...

Thanks for the review. I can't wait to see this movie. Now if I can just get the 3 hours together. Maybe this weekend.

Matthew MacNish said...

It was $36 for me and two kids to see the HFR IMAX 3D, and I did not like it. I don't want to pay more for something that detracts from the movie.

I do think the technology will advance though, as filmmakers learn to use it to better server the art.