By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 0 Comments
Bill Murray might have made a good Hobbit, back in the day. Playing Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, may seem like a stretch. But in Hyde Park on Hudson the FDR role fits Murray like an old pair of slippers. As for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Martin Freeman, makes a solid impression as Middle-earth’s mild-mannered Bilbo Baggins. But sadly neither film lives up to expectations. And because the expectations surrounding The Hobbit has been so huge, the hollow thud of disappointment is more resounding.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
First let me put my biases on the table. I’m not a Tolkien fan; I’ve always found his up-hill-and-down-dale prose tedious. But I was duly impressed by Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, or at least the first and final episodes. So I was expecting the same level of spectacle, character and story from The Hobbit. But I’m not sure if I even saw the movie Jackson intended to make, because I found it so hard to get past the film’s vaunted, and now controversial, 48-frame-per-second format, now acronym-ed as HFR (high-frame rate). Having tinkered with frame rates myself as a videographer, I never thought I’d see the day when they would become a subject of a mainstream media wonk. But like a lot of critics who saw The Hobbit in 48 fps 3D, I found the results disastrous.
A quicker primer. Movies have been shot at 24 frames per second since the early 20th century. That speed is part of what makes film look like film. It gives the moving image a softness and texture. So when directors started to shoot on video, they choose to shoot at 24 fps, because the more typical TV video speed of 30 fps tends to look too “crispy.” Well, Jackson has cranked the speed to 48 fps to smooth 3D camera movement, reduce strobe-like flicker and create a more immaculate sense of realism. You can see the logic behind what he’s doing— even the best 3D movies have trouble making fast action scenes look smooth. But to these eyes, The Hobbit looked even more video-like than a daytime soap opera. Everything was way too clear—the sets looked like sets, the costumes looked like costumes, the makeup like makeup. Paradoxically, everything appeared so real it looked fake. Filmmaking magic is a conjuring trick, an art of illusion. So a movie devoted to magic set in a mythical world, the contemporary video lustre of the scenes was distracting to say the least. It reminded me of watching behind-the-scenes B-roll footage of a movie being made.