Five Things About The Hobbit 3D 48fps

Belatedly got to see The Hobbit last week, and … wow, that was interesting? Weird? Not quite sure what the right word is.

Thought the film itself – narrative, acting, all that kind of stuff – was not too bad, though that might be in part because I went in with fairly low expectations, having picked up a distinctly ambivalent vibe from previous reviews and commentary. It may also be because I was so hypnotically fascinated by the 3D/48fps combination and it’s visual consequences that I wasn’t paying 100% attention to the actual film 100% of the time.

So, I promised five things and here they are:

1. Wow, 48fps really does make cinema look like TV. Seriously. I spent half of The Hobbit thinking ‘this looks like it was shot in a (small) TV studio, except with insanely, supernaturally hi-def cameras’.

More than that, in fact: now and again, partly thanks to the 3D, it was a bit like being in a TV studio, watching all these actors do their thing right in front of you.  That might sound like the ultimate in immersion, but it’s not.  I found the effect so odd and interesting that I was distanced from the story being told by the curiosity of the viewing experience itself.  That might be something that diminished with familiary, but I’m not convinced (see #3 below).

Overall, though, I didn’t dislike the 48fps effect, in isolation.  It does create a noticeably sharp, realistic image.  (But that may not be a good thing, in this particular case – see below).

2. CGI wargs not my cup of tea. Not at 48fps, anyway. The precision and realism of image that 48fps creates is a huuuuge test for cgi, especially moving cgi. For anything that’s not actually real, in fact. Not all the fx or models or whatever trickery was being used always passed that test.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of cgi in general, since I’ve never yet seen a film where it doesn’t at some point betray its weightless, virtual origins, no matter how much money’s been spent on it.  Shine a 3D 48fps light on it, and oddly enough it wasn’t so much weightlessness that was the problem for me; it was that the technology picks up and amplifies the unreality of anything that’s not actually real, whether it’s a model or a bit of cgi.  It’s unforgiving, that’s what it is.

The wargs, in particular, repeatedly just struck me as radically unconvincing, especially in close-up.

3. I’m still not in love with 3D. Particularly, perhaps, in conjunction with 48 fps. Fast movement just seems to defeat the technology sometimes, with both the 3D effect and, especially, the crystal clarity of the image breaking down.  (Possibly a contributory factor in my warg-related problems mentioned above, as those critters were, more often than not, moving fast).

All in all, my eyes still spend a distracting amount of time exploring the layers in any complex 3D image.  It happens semi-unconsciously; my gaze just starts wandering around, revelling in the achievement.  It’s why, I think, I’ve so far found 3D movies consistently less engaging and immersive than 2D ones.  They can be immensely clever and enjoyable, but for me to love a movie, I need there to be nothing in between me and the actors, the plot.  All this technological wizardry hijacks my attention and interrupts the flow of what’s really important to my brain.

BUT, that said, there were a few moments where the 3d was spectacularly successful.  Near-static images of the interior of Bilbo’s house were disoreintatingly effective at times, and there were a few bits where the dwarves are marching across wild New Zealand landscapes that worked eye-poppingly well.

4. These three films might turn out to be fantastic prequels.  Just a theory at this stage, obviously, but I can see at least a possibility that this trilogy might end up  being a decent prequel to LotR proper.  By which I mean it might work OK to watch these first, and ‘graduate’ to the next three filmsThere’s a a natural expansion of scope, darkening of tone, upping of stakes that I can see – potentially – flowing rather well over the six movies.

Although it’s far from perfect, there’s enough about this first instalment to suggest that the next two might be good, especially if the slapstick got dialled down a bit, which given the nature of the story to come you’d think it should.

5. Ken Stott’s the Man.  Ken Stott, who plays Balin, is a wonderful actor.  And his father (whom I remember very fondly) taught me English at school.  Not important, I know, but it amuses me that Balin’s father taught me reading and writing, and now I write stuff that might not have dwarves in it, but does have other weird stuff.  Funny old world.

My overall conclusion on The Hobbit: a pleasant enough, but unremarkable, way to pass not far off 3 hours.

My overall conclusion on 3D/48fps: I’d quite like to see more movies shot like this, just to revel in and explore the unfamiliar viewing experience, but my guess is if it’s ever going to work artisitically it’ll actually be in non-fantastical, non-sfx heavy, non-action heavy films.  It leeches out so much of the grandeur from, and injects so much realism into, the image that smaller scale stuff might well work better.

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