The Hobbit and HFR

The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey
The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

I just got finished watching the first of the Hobbit movies, An Unexpected Journey. I’m a little late to the party, but I did end up seeing the 48fps 3D version otherwise known as HFR.

I have a lot to say about the flick and so this blog post (a rare thing in itself) is a collection of my rambling thoughts. I bet my opinions differ from most, but here they are regardless.


That is the three-letter word that I equate the visuals of this movie to.

This is how I wish I could watch every single movie. I don’t know whether it was the higher framerate (48fps vs 24fps), the Red Cameras they used, or the digital 3D; but the HFR version of the Hobbit has the clearest, cleanest images on-screen I have ever seen.

For me, it really was like I was part of the world of Middle-Earth. No, it’s not cinematic (which I’ll touch on later). It’s better than that. The colors, the focus, the utter smoothness of the picture. It’s like watching the best HD video one has ever seen.

I’m a framerate and clarity snob. I want high framerates in my video games (100+ fps please). I want high resolution with nary a pixel in sight. I want super clear focus where every detail can be seen. The projection of this movie was phenomenal. I’ll be cliché and say it was magical.

Yes, the first 10-15 minutes are jarring. It’s almost like they are speeding up the playback by fast forwarding the reel. However, once you get used to it the detriments are not noticeable. In fact, it almost becomes comfortable.

The closest I can equate the HFR to is like video you’d see in an amusement park motion ride, kinda like Transformers the Ride. Tons of detail and buttery smooth. All of that led to it being totally immersive to me.

To me, the folks saying 24fps is the way things should be are like photographers still attached to film.

It’s not a movie, it’s like watching a book

An Unexpected Journey isn’t a movie. It doesn’t have a well paced story. There is no real beginning, middle, or end. There is far too much detail present. Scenes linger on for far too long. There are honestly too many characters. Some dwarves I didn’t even remember their names.

What it is instead is a visual book. It’s like a book in that it feels like you are reading at your own pace. Book chapters can last forever and be packed with details that can’t be squeezed into 90 minutes or more. This “movie” is just a world that is laid out on-screen. The filmmakers just happen to use cinema to tell this story. It’s the format they used, not the style.

The Harry Potter movies are movies. Details and story are sacrificed in order to fit the standard movie model. An Unexpected Journey doesn’t do that. In fact, they give fans of Middle-Earth every little detail. Every word from the book and then even more from appendices.

I honestly pine for the day they ever remake the HP movies in this style. Give me more, more, more.

Visual Effects

I went into the film hearing that the HFR and CG would make it look like a cartoon. That the makeup and sets would look fake. Like bad British television sci-fi.

It wasn’t that way for me.

Goblins and orcs looked real. Sets and forests, and falling mountain giants looked real. Giant eagles and their feathers looked real. The makeup even looked great. The scale of races felt great. Even certain battle scenes (like the fall of Mordor) looked amazing. The places where CG and live-action met was incredible.

And this version of Gollum was such a step up from the LOTR trilogy. He was living being in that world.

The 3D was great

Other than some sweeping pan shots and quick cuts, the 3D felt dialed in almost perfectly. The depth of field was quite amazing. With the higher framerate and higher resolution, it felt natural to watch it in 3D. The brightness was also not an issue for me as scenes felt bright. The focus was on-point as well for me. Only once did I feel like the focus of the shot was not on the right character. Again, this movie felt immersive.

It’s not for everyone

For casual fantasy fans or even the common populace: this movie isn’t for them. I’d assume more than 80% of moviegoers would find the film boring. Yes, long stretches are tedious and pretty much meaningless. But to me, give me every bit of detail and background. That kind of information is my favorite part of fantasy and lore. I could easily deal with even more detail added in.

I want to see it again

I really do want to see it again. Not immediately, but soon. Definitely before the HFR version disappears. I don’t think I could ever replicate the HFR experience at home. Do I look forward to having to set aside another 3+ hours? No. But it really is a great experience that I want to relive.

Final thoughts

It’s going to be hard waiting for the next 2 movies of the Hobbit, but they are definitely content I truly look forward to seeing.