Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey- 48 fps 3D or HFR 3D review; regular IMAX review

I've seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in regular IMAX and 48 fps 3D or HFR 3D. (High Frame Rate) This is review of both versions and a recommendation as to version you should see. Of course, your choice may be academic if you decide the movie is no good and don't want to see it. As for that question, this review will also cover the film whether you see it in 2D, 3D, 48 fps 3D, or IMAX.

It's been nine years since we've visited Middle Earth when director Peter Jackson made the classic Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. (2003) Jackson returns us to Middle Earth with the prequel, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The movie's based on J.R.R. Tolkien's children's book, The Hobbit. Believe it or not, there's going to be three films based on the book. Writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Jackson take the appendices from the later Lord of the Rings novels to expand the storyline. That may sound like a good idea but at times, it gives the simple story a bloated feeling.

The plot to The Hobbit is rather simple. Wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) enlists hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to accompany thirteen dwarves on a quest to reclaim their kingdom The dwarves are led by Thorin Oakenshield. (Richard Armitage) Hobbits are peace and food loving beings but are known to be able to sneak into places. Hence, Baggins will be the group's burglar. But it won't be that easy since the dwarves's kingdom is being occupied by a dragon. Along the way, the party will encounter trolls, elves, orcs, goblins and Bilbo will meet some guy named Gollum. (Andy Serkis)

Jackson's The Hobbit is no mere G rated children's book. There are epic and exciting battles, some of them bloody. Some of them are told in flashback. Those are the most successful. The CGI used since the Rings movies has advanced. The action is clear and one gets a feeling for the battle. It's the chase and battle scenes that are a little too busy. For example, the dwarves attempt to escape the cave of the goblins. Jackson's camera is too busy here and it's hard to follow the action.

Ten years after the Rings films and you can see the evolution in CGI. Orcs, and trolls have texture. And actors facial expressions are captured for CGI characters that have speaking parts. Gollum, who was in the Rings movies, looks fantastic here. There's greater definition to his skin and you can see the muscles in his face. Serkis' more subtle gestures are captured. You feel like he's a real person. While CGI is used for some locations, Jackson also mixes in the real landscape of New Zealand. It makes for one gorgeous looking film.

Thankfully, Jackson understands that a movie is more than its special effects. He gets great performances from the cast. Ian McKellen looks older but he still relays Gandalf's gentle wisdom. Richard Armitage as Thorin is haunted by the defeats of his race and his longing for a home. Two actors from the Rings films return as elves. Hugo Weaving is noble as Elrond, leader of Rivendell. Cate Blanchett reprises her role as the ethereal and angelic Galadriel. She's so beautiful and luminous that she's her own special effect. And Martin Freeman is wonderful as Bilbo. He displays fear, comedy, kindness and heroism with aplomb and skill.

Okay, now for the review of regular IMAX and HFR 3D or 48 fps 3D. Let me start with regular IMAX. When you see an IMAX film, you'll notice the screen is larger than the usual movie screen. It's usually taller. The projection also gives the picture better resolution. That being said, I found the IMAX 3d of The Hobbit to be unimpressive. There was not enough pop, i.e. objects on the screen didn't seem to push out. Many times, I wondered whether the movie was in 3D. That being said, no matter what version you see, you should be grateful that Jackson shot the movie in 3D. The darkness issue with 3D is not here. You can see things in the dark caves of the goblins. Additionally, shooting in 3D allows the camera to catch the nooks and crannies and the light and shadow of a scene. That's much better than crappy 3D conversions.

I then went back and saw the film in HFR 3D or 48 fps 3D. The common movie is shot in 24 fps. That's 24 frames per second. When you shoot a movie at 48 fps, you're doubling that and adding more visual information. The result is a crystal clear image. Movies shot on normal film speed are more like paintings whereas HFR 3D is akin to a photograph. Don't get me wrong, a skilled director can take out the harshness of 48 fps with careful lighting. Some have complained that the sets look like well, movie sets. This is a comment that I find ridiculous since there's nothing wrong with seeing the grain in the wood of Bilbo's hobbit hold. The higher frame rate makes you feel you are there and in the world of Middle Earth.

So, what about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in HFR 3D? I wasn't expecting much of a change but was surprised by what I saw. Peter Jackson's shots now made sense. There was pop and depth. As with any great 3D cinema, I thought that some of the characters in the movie were in the theater with me. A couple times, I gasped with surprise and wonderment. I smiled many times at the visuals and the feeling I could touch Tolkien's world. My recommendation is to see this movie in 48 FPS 3D or HFR 3D. I know that many theaters don't have the projectors to display the movie at that speed. But the experience is worth the search.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an epic fantasy movie. However, I found the literate dialogue between characters more enthralling than some of the battle scenes. It's the ideas of love, nobility, and kindness expressed by the characters that give this movie its big heart. The grade is A.

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