The Hobbit: 48 fps, Our Impressions

By James DeRuvo and Heath McKnight (doddleNEWS)

So, both Web Content Manager Heath McKnight and I went and saw Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 48 fps, or what Warner Bros. is calling HFR (high frame rate), which was also projected in 3D.  And here’s our impressions.

James: My first reaction was that this didn’t bode well… opening night, on a Friday, the theater wasn’t even half full for HFR.  Not a good sign.

Then, the film started, I was instantly struck that the image looked so startlingly crisp and video like, that I felt like I was watching a live Fathom Event HD Video broadcast or a live drama done on PBS’ Masterpiece Theater.  It was very off putting.  My wife said it looks like an animated pop-up book at first and she found it most annoying.

Some complain that the detail is so sharp, and so plastic, that you could tell that the actors wore make up, and that the props look like props, the sets, like sets.  I think that’s half true.   It all looked like it would on a regular 24p film, only with no motion blur.  So for me, the props, sets and makeup wasn’t the issue.  It was just watching HDTV at 120 or 240 Hz.  I remember when a friend of mine had us over and we were watching Star Wars on her new 120hz HDTV.  After five minutes, just couldn’t watch it anymore.

Peter Jackson said in his response to criticisms that over time in the film, users will become so used to it that it’ll disappear.  I agree and disagree.  There were times when I was caught up in the story, but then a shot would change and blammo, I taken out of it noticing how video-esque the image was again.

It seemed to me that 48P worked best in the wide sweeping establishing shots of the landscape and the panoramic montages of the company traveling along their trails while the “visit New Zealand” vistas were all around them.  I found that to be the most enjoyable.  But whenever Jackson cut back to the actors themselves for some dialogue or continued plot exposition, it would jar back to plasticky video.  And it really noticeable whenever they had flame torches and fire going… I hated it.

I also felt that most of the CGI characters just looked CGI.  The Trolls, for instance, were quite noticeable as being artificial, as did the pale Orc leader Azog, and the Goblin king was down right cartoonish.  It was screaming CGI. And I think that was largely due to being able to see it in 48p. So, that was off putting for me.

Gollum, on the other hand, looked SCARY real.  If you avoid his eyes, and just look at the rest of the body, he’s really there.  And even the eyes had life in them.  Well done on the part of WETA digital, because that made the battle of wits between Gollum and Bilbo in the Goblin cave very compelling.

So, at the end of the day, I think that while 48p in the movies is an interesting experiment, I honestly think that it fails just as much as 3D does.  Oh, there will be fans and defenders who want it to be the future, but come on.  I don’t really need gimmicks like 48p or 3D … I just need a good story.  A great story.  And Peter Jackson had that with Tolkein’s The Hobbit, like he did with The Lord of the Rings saga.  And it would’ve looked just as compelling, and just as great in 4K, without all the gimmicks.  And it would’ve cost me about $8 less.  And that, I think, is the REAL reason why Hollywood wants to push it.

And it’s also the reason why I think 48fps is here to stay, whether we like it or not.

Heath: I saw The Hobbit in Cinemark XD 48 fps/3D (similar to IMAX), and it felt sped up in the beginning, like slight fast-motion, and as the movie went on, I got used to the higher frame rate (HFR). But whenever the heroes were running or fighting, it just felt too smooth. It felt like video, like a TV news program, a soap opera, a reality show, etc. The daylight shots were beautiful, but the lighting was very ‘broad’ (almost flat), so it felt even more like video. After the movie, my fellow audience members told me they felt less connected to the film. A second viewing for me in 24p and 2D made me personally feel more connected to the story.

About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.


  1. Chris Johnson says:

    Stereoscopy is as old as cinema itself and needs to go. Seriously, “get wid da times”? 48fps is, however, new to cinema and while we know stereoscope doesn’t work because 2D projections still appear as a more realistic rendering of a 3D reality, 48fps doesn’t work because it reminds us of what is, in a way, a cheaper version of cinema. In order for 48fps to work, cinema needs to find another way (other than 3D) of distinguishing television from cinema.

    Otherwise it’s just extremely expensive television.

  2. Gman says:

    If you are going to follow this hollow logic of “just give me a good story” you should probably stick to books. After all any visual representation is just a hindrance compared to what the mind can conjure. Perfect lifelike fx and no need to worry about whether something looks fake.

    For the rest of us, the ones who actually enjoy visuals an moving the industry forward, this 48fps stereo format is a real treat.

    • James DeRuvo says:

      Perhaps, and there’s every reason to believe we’ll get used to it. But preferences are preferences, and you don’t have to like 48fps to enjoy visuals. In fact, I’d prefer the old school 70mm for that reason. Thanks for reading.

  3. Jason Prisk says:

    While I agree with much of what is said here about the look, it is interesting to note that my kids (15, 14 and 10) absolutely loved the movie and had no idea there was any difference between how this one was shot and any other movie they have ever watched. I have a feeling that the video game generation is so used to seeing “life-like” CGI characters in games, that when an obviously CGI character appears onscreen in a film, it is simply accepted as normal without a second thought. Sadly, maybe it just doesn’t matter any more? And by the way, the movie industry must assume that the crowd that comes to a 3-hour movie will also be willing to sit through extra previews. We had 25 minutes of previews before the film started!

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