‘The Hobbit’ Take 2: Fewer frames per second means more movie magic
Updated: February 19, 2013 11:57AM
What a difference a couple dozen frames-per-second make.
In my original review of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” I tried to warn readers about the ill effects of director Peter Jackson’s hyper-realistic, ultra-high-frame-rate on the film’s fantasy quotient. Also about the way his commitment to adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s 287-page novel into another “Lord of the Rings”-like epic trilogy had made this first installment long, slow and even occasionally tedious for two thirds of its running time.
So imagine my dismay when I recently saw the standard 24-frames-per-second version of “The Hobbit” instead of the shockingly stark 48-frames-per-second 3D version shown to reviewers — and realized I’d been only half right.
In other words, “The Hobbit” is a much more enjoyable film than I first believed, rendered slow, dull and tediously difficult to watch by a filming technique that undermined its essential ingredient — the element of fantasy and magic.
It’s hard to fault Jackson for trying. After all, he’s an innovator who has made impressive advances in cinematic techniques in the past so it’s not surprising that he would make the world’s first high-frame-rate feature film. Even though the method turns out to be counter-productive, at least in this case. Perhaps it could be effective in other genres — documentaries about wonders of the natural world such as “Koyaanisqatsi” or “Samsara” — but it’s hard to see how it could enhance stories that require willing suspension of disbelief.
Some viewers even have complained that the experience of watching “The Hobbit” in super-high-definition gave them headaches or even made them physically ill. For me, the worst thing was the way its unrelenting realism kept me from connecting with the story by making everything on screen look artificial. I felt a sickening lurch myself only moments into the film, but it wasn’t nausea. It was the queasy realization that this film I had eagerly anticipated for two years, was failing in front of my eyes.
Even in those circumstances I felt that “The Hobbit” did finally click properly into gear as soon as the always-spectacular Gollum appeared for his first fateful meeting with the hobbit Bilbo Baggins and that it stayed in gear all the way through the flashy finale, generating some hope for subsequent installments of “The Hobbit.” But I couldn’t have imagined the extent to which the entire film, viewed in the standard frame rate, would pretty much work as well as Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films. In other words, very nicely indeed.
All of the returning actors, including Ian McKellan as the wizard Gandalf, Andy Serkis as Gollum, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving as the elven royals Galadriel and Elrond and Christopher Lee as the pre-evil wizard Saruman, seem perfectly at home in the soft-focus version of “The Hobbit” — and the same goes for Martin Freeman making an effective and entertaining debut as Bilbo. The best news, though, is that the film itself, from beginning to end, even allowing for some padded exposition here and there, looks every bit as magical and is almost as effortlessly involving as its predecessors.
Sometimes, it seems, it may be better not to see things too clearly.