Did you recently attend a midnight screening of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? Did you believe you had purchased a ticket to a magical fantasy world only to behold something that looked more like a made-for-TV affectation? Were you excited to see this accelerated frame rate everyone has been talking about but were shocked and horrified by what you saw? No doubt you are currently feeling confused, angry, and possibly even a little scared. You probably have a lot of questions about what just happened. We feel your pain.
We at 48Friends Per Sadtime are here to help you. We are a newly formed support group for people who saw The Hobbit in 48fps. At this point, you’re probably asking yourself, “how do I know if I saw The Hobbit in the now infamous higher frame rate? I think I did, but I slipped into a rage coma halfway through and can’t be sure.” Ask yourself a question; did it look like a movie? Was there a heavy veneer of falsity to what used to be a seamless world of magic and wonder? As you progressed through the mythic lands of Middle-earth, did it remind you of watching DVDs on your PS3 in 1.5x fast-forward mode? Did it make everything look like a big-budget soap opera instead of a fantasy epic? These are indeed telltale signs that you have been subjected to this dubiously innovative technology.
Many have afforded Jackson a certain benefit of the doubt, citing the advent of past cinematic innovations such as sound, color, and widescreen and the initial reactions to each of these in their respective times. You may have even been duped by these comparisons into believing you should go see The Hobbit in 48fps. You are not alone. However, the difference here is that there are immediate benefits to things like sound (being able to hear the actors deliver their dialogue) and widescreen (being able to see everything the filmmaker intended you to see). The only merit of filming in this higher frame rate appears to be the long-awaited reconciliation of your conflicting passions for J.R.R. Tolkien and Mexican telenovela.
Well that and it does reduce some of the blurriness that tends to plague the extra-dimensional exhibition. However, this may offer you little comfort. How necessary is 3D in the first place? The answer to that is entirely subjective, but more specifically the answer is that it’s not at all necessary. So we have is a new nonessential technology that exists solely to improve a second nonessential technology. But we at 48Friends Per Sadtime don’t want to judge. If you’re a fan of 3D, you can rest assured the images coming at you will be sharp, crisp, and well separated in the foreground from the episode of Benny Hill playing out behind them.
While watching The Hobbit, did you begin to notice, for the first time, distracting elements like, say, makeup lines and contact lenses? Did the hobbit feet suddenly look like puffy house slippers? You are not alone. The overly fluid movement of the digital beasts in this frame rate disconnects them from the physical elements around them, and removes much of their cinematic impact. The pain of certain characters in the film suddenly garnering comparisons to Jar Jar Binks hurts us just as it does you. As Jackson ironically believes this presentation causes the movie to appear hyper-real, it actually goes beyond that mark to something bordering on unfinished, behind-the-scenes footage. We have several counselors ready to talk you through the difficult feelings engendered by this watered-down exhibition of special effects company WETA’s normally brilliant work. After all, you should never feel like you’re watching the dailies instead of the finished film product.
It’s understandable that you would feel cheated. Peter Jackson is a filmmaker who has proven time and time again to understand the complexities of grand-scale fantasy universe construction, as well as the application of the best possible photography to bring that universe to life. And now, like George Lucas before him, he turns a deaf ear to the cacophony of reasonable discontent. His response was troubling….
“I'm fascinated by reactions. I'm tending to see that anyone under the age of 20 or so doesn't really care and thinks it looks cool, not that they understand it but they often just say that 3D looks really cool.”
Well as long as young people who don’t understand what they’re looking at are happy, what need is there for concern? You may be asking yourselves to what degree this argument differs from Lucas’ convenient critical umbrella that his Phantom Menace, with its plot laden with trade embargoes and committee politics, was made for children. Before you start chewing on your tongue at this contemplation, take several deep breaths.
We must not allow ourselves to, in our aggravated state, denounce Jackson as a director. Try and remember that joyous feeling that possessed you the first time you saw The Fellowship of the Ring. Try and visualize the thrill of seeing a film as genre-heavy as Return of the King win the Oscar for Best Picture. Let us not abandon Jackson and write him off like a bad boyfriend/girlfriend, though it may be clear that we want different things, he’s moving too fast (or at least his dwarves are), and that maybe we should just see other movies.
We know you’re upset, and we feel for you, but you are not powerless. You do have options. Simply keep repeating the affirmation: “My theater offers 24; I’ll only pay for regular frame rates evermore.” If that doesn’t assuage your anger, take in two episodes of Game of Thrones and call us in the morning.
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures (2)]
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