The 48fps Hobbit morphs into Smaug

Hobbit, The: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson, 2012)

I really like this movie’s poster! It sells, in a wonderfully vivid – yet brief – way, exactly what The Hobbit is about: a homebody, set in his ways, forced to confront the outside world, rising to the occasion as he does so. As books (and later, as movies)), I found the Lord of the Rings trilogy beautiful, yet also a little tedious as the interminable battle sequences ground on and on. The Hobbit had the great virtue of being a simpler story, without the grand ambition of its sequels. It was short and sweet.

Unfortunately, the movie of The Hobbit, itself, is not so brief. At 166 minutes, it’s a bit of a monster. If one considers that the book is not even 300 pages long, and that the director, Peter Jackson, has planned a total of three movies of equally great length as his adaptation, then the monster begins to grow ever more Smaug-like (for those of you who don’t know the story, Smaug is the dragon that the main characters are destined to confront at the end).

This Peter Corliss review in Time Magazine sums up much of how I feel. I’ll allow his review to speak for me, so that I can write . . . briefly . . . here.

I did not hate the movie. Far from it. There’s a lot of fine filmmaking on display. Jackson, after all, knows what he’s doing with the camera, with special effects, and with actors. Speaking of the latter, I very much enjoyed the actor playing Bilbo, Martin Freeman, as well as Ian McKellen as Gandalf. Combined, they almost make the epic length bearable.

Unfortunately, Jackson has chosen to film and project his overlong saga in a new 48 frames-per-second  format. What this does is to create an image that feels like a cross between a soap opera and a high-definition sporting event!  It’s both hyper-real and artificial. We have become used to 24fps, with its 180-degree shutter that leaves each individual frame up on the screen for just 1/48th of a second. The slight image stutter of which most viewers are not even conscious produces what we think of as the “magic” of movies. Take it away and replace it with the extra frames that produce a super-smooth glass-like interface , and that magic is gone. And yet . . . it probably seemed like a great idea, since you feel like you’re on set with the actors (and on set with the CGI, as well). As much as I did not like the new format, I nevertheless stopped thinking about it after an hour. And you never know, it could catch on, and if it does, then 20 years from now we’ll look back at the 24fps world as old-fashioned, and not understand how we could ever stand that stutter.

Back to the story – there is just so much here that is unnecessary. Here are just 5 that I can think of:

  • Opening with Frodo.
  • What is the point of Radogast? How does he help the story?
  • Orc king unnecessary.
  • Setting up Sauron for The Lord of the Rings – gets away from the small scale of The Hobbit book, though it does help explain the epic three-part movie saga that Jackson has planned.
  • Thunder gods!

As an added question: what, exactly, will happen in the second film? I can see what Jackson plans for film #3, but there doesn’t seem to be enough story to fill up the middle installment. I guess we’ll see.

How you react to this film (and its sequels) will depend on what you want out of a movie. Do you want spectacle? If so, then the sprawling story (like a long TV epic) will not bother you. More and more, the line between television series and movies have been blurring, anyway, as cable and the networks produce work that is more and cinematic, and as we watch more and more movies at home. I suspect many viewers will enjoy the slow pace of this Hobbit, as it will allow them more time to spend in that universe. It’s a little like “Game of Thrones“, after all.

Know thyself, therefore, dear reader, and you will be able to guess whether or not this film is for you.


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