The first preview of footage from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has drawn mixed reviews from delegates at movie theatre conference CinemaCon in Los Angeles.
But rather than the content of the film, it was Jackson’s pioneering new 48-frames-per-second projection technique that was under the microscope.
“The movement feels more real – it’s much more gentle on the eyes,” Jackson told reviewers in a recorded message, before showing them ten minutes of excerpts from the movie, filmed at twice the 24fps speed of normal movies.
The Los Angeles Times called the footage “hyper-realistic”, saying “An opening aerial shot of dramatic rocky mountains appeared clearer than the images in most nature documentaries. But the effect was different when applied to scenes with actors dressed in period costume, whose every move – and pore – was crystal clear.”
Collider’s Steve Weintraub said the new technique represented “a radical change” that “could polarise audiences”.
“The 48fps is so jarring that I’m not sure casual moviegoers will enjoy it,” he said. “While I figured the image quality would improve at 48fps, it’s like looking at real life on a movie screen – and not in a good way. You no longer have motion blur. You no longer can hide stuff in the darkness.”
The Associated Press was more impressed, calling the footage “vivid, with grass blades, facial lines and soaring mountains appearing luminous and pronounced” and describing the actors as “almost touchable, as if they were performing live on stage”.
But SlashFilm’s Peter Sciretta said the “uncompromisingly real” effect of the double-speed filming gave it the look of a “made-for-television BBC movie”.
“More noticeable in the footage was the make-up, the sets, the costumes,” he said. “Hobbiton and Middle Earth didn’t feel like a different universe, it felt like a special effect, a film set with actors in costumes… It didn’t look cinematic. Not at all, even with a top filmmaker like Peter Jackson at the helm.”
ComingSoon’s Edward Douglas agreed, suggesting that the new technique did not compare favourably with traditional film: “One of the nice things about film is that it adds a glossy look that smooths out the rough spots in sets, costumes and make-up,” he said.
Variety’s Josh Dickey said the increased speed would present a new challenge to filmmakers: “48fps has an immediacy that is almost jarring. And lighting it just right will be a learning experience,” he said. “48fps also, unfortunately, looks a bit like television. But it does bring 3D to a different level,” he added.
That final verdict could soften the blow for 3D pioneer James Cameron, who is currently developing a 60-frames-per-second set up, which he intends to use for Avatar 2.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is released in UK cinemas on 14 December this year. The sequel, There and Back Again, is due out on 13 December 2013. Martin Freeman stars as Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, with his Sherlock co-star Benedict Cumberbatch also among the cast.