At midnight US east coast time, Twitter bore witness to a flood of reactions to “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” Having screened for select international media in New Zealand last week, and then in Los Angeles and New York over the weekend, the press reviews had all been embargoed until a few hours ago.
As a result, the reviews and rants flew thick and fast with much of it centered around not just the film, but the decision to screen it for media with Jackson’s experimental 48 frames-per-second (HFR) technology.
Putting the latter aside for the moment, the film itself scored mixed to positive reviews with praise for the various actors, and the common criticisms relating mostly to a bloated length, a slow first hour, and overuse of CG. Some say Thorin is the only dwarf with any real development, others seemed to be taken surprise by the lighter and broad tone of the story (albeit one with a lot of decapitations).
With fourteen reviews counted at Rotten Tomatoes it currently sits at a solid albeit unremarkable 71% and a 6.6/10. A lot more reviews will come in though so its score is entirely in flux at this point.
In regards to the 48FPS technology however, the reaction is notably less enthusiastic. Most of the reactions veering between ‘distracting’ to ‘detrimental’ and even a few wondering if the screening was suffering from projection issues. Here’s a sampling of reactions:
“The results are interesting and will be much-debated, but an initial comparison of the two formats weighs against the experiment; 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 a 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… ” Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
“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 homemovie. A standard 24fps projection seems to correct this effect in the alternate version of the film being offered to some theaters, but sacrifices the smoother motion seen in action scenes and flyover landscape shots… ” Peter Debruge, Variety
“I still don’t know what I think. I’m half-convinced that there was a projection problem when I saw the film, because I have trouble believing that what I saw reflected the desires of Peter Jackson and his team. Throughout the entire film, there was a strange Benny Hill quality to sequences, with things that appeared to be sped up. It happened in both dialogue and action sequences, and the overall effect was like watching the most beautifully mastered Blu-ray ever played at 1.5x speed… The voices are off-pitch, and the pacing of scenes goes to hell when it’s played this way. This is still recognizably the world that was created for “Lord Of The Rings,” but it looks more like you’re seeing behind-the-scenes footage that reveals it was all a real location instead of seeing something created for a movie. I think the 48FPS format actually makes the digital and practical work more seamless in some ways, but the overall impression takes a while to get used to as a viewer… ” Drew McWeeny, HitFix
“Its effectiveness remains to be seen: while the images are clearer and more stable – especially watching 3D photography – they have an almost super-real clarity that seems too fast, like a DVD player on 1.5x speed or an HDTV with its TruMotion setting amped up to dizzying levels. I admit that I’m unclear what the long-term benefits are for using this sort of technology, although I don’t presume there are none. But I can’t recommend 48fps presentation as superior to standard 24fps exhibition, at least as it is, and one can only hope that its purpose – and its usage – will improve with time… ” Todd Gilchrist, Celeb Buzz
“I viewed this film twice; the first time in 24 frames-per-second and 3D, and the second time in 48 frames-per-second and 3D. While we’ll address the 48 fps issue in greater length in a later feature, I will say that it certainly looked better than it did at CinemaCon and ultimately didn’t bug me as much as I thought it would. Still, it robs a fantasy movie of its escapism by making it feel too “real”; it still looks like broadcast video, making the 48 fps presentation of The Hobbit look like the greatest BBC or PBS production ever. I’m glad I saw it in 48 fps, but more glad that I first saw it in 24 fps. The movie looks just fine in 24 fps… ” Jim Vejvoda, IGN
“It isn’t a case of good or bad. it’s an aesthetic choice, like Michael Mann’s use of video in ‘Public Enemies.’ I never “got used to it.” In fact, I found it a distraction… When people run, they look like they are on the ‘Benny Hill Show’… anything shot in daylight looks like a BBC production from the 1970s. The movement is too smooth, and yet, when the camera moves it looks somewhat jerky… You really recognize the cuts between exteriors, effects shots and sets. Overall Film Score: 5/10.” Jordan Hoffman, Screencrush
“it’s a bit of a mixed bag. At times, the film looks immaculate. Regular landscapes and normal shots with static digital effects look so beautiful, it’s almost as if you could press pause and step through the screen. However, when there are a lot of effects on screen, or they move quickly (as when animals are present, for example) they look overly digital and obviously inserted. Fortunately, even with this problem, the look of the film never took me out of the story. I left feeling that HFR is a technology with a promising future, but it’s not quite there yet. Overall Film Score: 7/10.” Germain Lussier, Slashfilm
“The 3D is a waste and the results of the 48 fps are so distracting that it practically ruins the film. Mind you, this is coming from someone who is a big proponent of 3D, both filmed and in some cases converted, but ‘The Hobbit’ is clearly a film that would have benefitted greatly from the magical fairy dust of film. We recommend avoiding the 48 fps experiment if at all possible. Overall Film Score: 6/10.” Ed Douglas, Coming Soon
“Never got used to it. I couldn’t help but think, ‘Why does this look like some highly produced BBC TV drama?’ In fact, about every 10 minutes or so (or maybe whenever something was particularly bright on screen) I found myself being literally drawn out of Middle-earth and back into the present. Therein lies the issue. I was constantly taken out of the story and performance because my brain was distracted by the ‘bells and whistles’ on screen. I was jolted out of the content of the film and noticed the tech behind it. That is unfortunate. Overall Film Score: 9/10.” Calisuri, TheOneRing.Net
“The grumblings and rumblings after my screening of The Hobbit – in bold, daring, frustrating 48 frames-per-second 3-D – were decidedly not raves. There’s a shared quality of too much visual information that The Hobbit’s 48 fps shares with high-def television. But it didn’t take a few minutes of adjusting to get used to it; even two hours and 40 minutes later my brain was rejecting the look of it. It felt like watching daytime soaps in HD, terrible BBC broadcasts, or Faerie Tale Theater circa 1985… ” Jen Yamato, Movieline