The long awaited movie The Hobbit is finally out and I finally got a chance to see it today. Luckily a theater nearby has the option of seeing it in the high frame rate (48fps) version which is amazing so I jumped on that chance. As the movie was shot at 48fps, at 4k, and stereoscopic, I highly recommend seeing the 3D hfr version as that is what the movie is meant to be seen at. While some people may have qualms about these features just being gimmicks, watching film as an art form has to be appreciated the way it is mean to be seen.Additionally as a side note, the trailer for The Croods was amazing to watch in 3D. It was also great that during the trailer for The Host, based off the novel by Stephanie Meyer, everybody started booing.
The Hobbit was shot in stereoscope for it was meant to be seen in 3D. It is not one of those movies that was converted afterwards as a gimmick to sell tickets but rather converted down to give some people the option to see it in 2D. Stereoscope is a really powerful new method of showing films that has evolved a lot over the years. While some may have qualms about the image quality being darker or blurring, the stereoscope is beautiful in the spacial composition it creates. No longer is 3D a gimmick where elements attempt to pop out of the screen but rather the space is pushed back from the screen to increase the atmospheric quality.
I originally did not buy my ticket for the theater with Dolby Atmos as I had missed the option but was glad that I upgraded. The surround sound quality was amazing as it produces a more natural audio along with ambient sound. As characters and dialogue shift around and even off screen, the audio revolves around the room fully enveloping the audience in the experience of the movie.
48fps on the Red Epic camera is a very interesting choice that I was excited to see how it would turn out. The standard 24fps is a legacy of the film camera that has been used to shoot movies and was still being used until pretty recently in the last few years as directors have gradually shifted to digital. The image was beautiful an extremely crisp. Actually maybe slightly even too much so as a lot of the motion blur was not caught, or vice versa there were still a little bit of it left in certain areas that made the movie strange in some areas. It may just be being used to seeing motion blur in standard films shot a 24fps but motion blur is undeniably an excellent method for smoothing out movement. In certain areas, particularly the fight scenes with swords swinging, the motion blur was slightly there but not fully due to the higher frame rate that a few frames are caught in midair and thus giving an afterimage effect rather than motion blur.
Unlike Life of Pi, I did not decide to reread The Hobbit again prior to watching the movie as I am currently caught up in the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss so I did not have any extreme biases of the movie. Overall the plot was done well and it was nice to see Gandalf fight quite a bit as he is one of the best characters and unfortunately we do not see a lot of him in Lord of the Rings. However there was a large amount of fluff with a lot of extended scenes which was expected as Peter Jackson decided to make the movie a trilogy, the same length as the LotR series even though the book was significantly shorter. I did not like the gag scenes though, such as when Gandalf sliced a goblin but the goblin just stood there looking confused and Gandalf has to push the goblin's head off the body and when the goblin king challenged Gandalf on the bridge and after being sliced said "that will do it" before collapsing and dying. Tolkein's books have always struck me with more of a serious tone with wit for banter and humor instead of random gags to make people laugh. One particular banter that I had wanted to see but was unfortunately only shown a partial segment of was in the beginning where Bilbo and Gandalf argue about the meaning of the phrase "good morning" and about the daily life and meals that a hobbit must have.
Andy Serkis was awesome as Golum, as expected. A big thing about Gollum for The Hobbit was that the model was completely scrapped from LotR and redone. I'm not quite sure if Gollum looks a hundred times better as I had thought that the original version worked well but what was great was the animation on the character. Gollum's facial feature controls can clearly be seen to have an extreme upgrade as Gollum went through a lot of facial contortions and emotions as he talked to himself and to Bilbo. The face was highlighted nicely with a lot of close up shots.
I don't know if it was due to the high frame rate or if it was Weta working on all three films at the same time but quite a bit of the visual effects looked odd and did not seem to fit well into the rest of the shot. It's hard to pinpoint specific shots or what was wrong but at times there was a feeling that something was off. One shot may be the shattering wooden bridge as Gandalf and the dwarves fell down from the goblins. I did feel the pale orc character, Azog, looked somewhat low detail as if it was a video game character instead of being high resolution detail common for feature films. Also, there always seemed to be a strong rim light on the characters, even at night, which was strange.
A small qualm that I have is that the elvish blades that Bilbo, Thorin, and Gandalf had did not glow blue all the time when they were fighting the orcs and goblins. The blue glow was used to highlight the event of danger approaching but as soon as that was over, it seems that someone forgot to composite the glow in all the shots that required it.
Splitting The Hobbit into a trilogy does feel strange and I do feel that the movie could have been done within two. It does give people at Weta a lot of work to do though.