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Could High Frame Rate 3D hurt The Hobbit?

Categories: Movies

The HobbitAccording to The Hollywood Reporter, the new technology lends "the film an oddly theatrical look, especially in the cramped interior scenes in Bilbo Baggins' home. (James Fisher/Warner Bros/AP)

There's a storm coming to Middle Earth and its name is HFR 3D.

Years in the making, director Peter Jackson epic's retelling of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit unspools its first instalment in theatres across in Canada on Dec. 14. As a critic, I had the chance to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on Monday night. While I'm still under embargo, my American colleagues are not -- and let me tell you, they've got a lot to say.

HFR is High Frame Rate, a new technology in which films are shot and projected at 48 frames per second, double the traditional rate of 24 fps. According to a FAQ on the Hobbit website, the increased frame rate is closer to what the human eye sees (roughly 55 fps) and the newfangled tech supposedly reduces motion blur and increases sharpness.

However, early reviews suggest doubling the amount of info streaming into our eyeballs might not be a step in the right direction.

Variety's take:

"More disconcerting is the introduction of the film's 48-frames-per-second digital cinematography, which solves the inherent stuttering effect of celluloid that occurs whenever a camera pans or horizontal movement crosses the frame -- but at too great a cost. Consequently, everything takes on an overblown, artificial quality in which the phoniness of the sets and costumes becomes obvious, while well-lit areas bleed into their surroundings, like watching a high-end home movie."

What did the The Hollywood Reporter think?

"The print shown at Warner Bros. in what is being called 'high frame rate 3D,' while striking in some of the big spectacle scenes, predominantly looked like ultra-vivid television video, paradoxically lending the film an oddly theatrical look, especially in the cramped interior scenes in Bilbo Baggins' home. For its part, the 24 fps 3D version had a softer, noticeably more textured image quality."

Still, not all critics have been negative. Oscar blogger and industry insider Jeffrey Wells has been banging the drum in favour of the new technology for months now. Although he wasn't a fan of the film, he says the process is the future.

"The 48 fps feeling of discomfort or unfamiliarity, if you insist on that being your primary response, goes away after 20 minutes or a half hour or thereabouts. You get used to it and then it's nothing. It doesn't get in the way, it doesn't call attention to itself -- it's just there. And it's fine."

This debate about the future of digital projection and experimentation with high frame rates has been simmering since a preview of The Hobbit at the CinemaCon convention for theatre owners earlier this summer. While those teasers didn't play well with critics nor some exhibitors, digital filmmaking guru James Cameron himself has commended Jackson for pushing ahead. He's even musing about shooting his forthcoming Avatar sequels in 48 -- or even 60! -- frames per second.

In Canada, The Hobbit HDR experience will be widely available at cinemas across the country. For theatre owners who just finished upgrading to digital projectors, a software patch should enable them project at 48 fps. However, given the reception so far, this new, ultra crisp video-viewing experience could be the unlikely factor that puts a damper on The Hobbit's box office romp.

The HobbitThe Hobbit director Peter Jackson (second from left) poses with actors (from left) Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and Elijah Wood in Tokyo on Dec. 1. (Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)

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