Of all the huge films coming out this year — "The Hunger Games," "The Avengers, "The Dark Knight Rises" — none is as hotly anticipated as "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which arrives in theaters this December eight long years after "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." Expectations, as they say, are sky high.
Or, they were, anyway, right up until Peter Jackson debuted the first 10 minutes of "The Hobbit" at CinemaCon in Las Vegas yesterday. That's how long it took to go from sky high to the sky is falling. Uh oh.
First, the good news: By all accounts, the movie itself — the acting, the script, the action — was totally cool. So why are early reviewers across the board reacting so negatively to "The Hobbit?" Well, it has to do with how Jackson is filming it; instead of the traditional 24 frames per second, Jackson is using new technology that shoots in a hyper-real 48 frames per second.
And that's got pretty much everybody in a tizzy. Here's a look at the first reactions to "The Hobbit" from across the internet:
"It looked like a made-for-TV movie," one projectionist told The Los Angeles Times. "It was too accurate — too clear. The contrast ratio isn't there yet — everything looked either too bright or black."
"So what does 48fps movie footage look like as opposed to your usual 24fps theatrical movie experience?" IGN asked rhetorically. "In this reporter's opinion, it looks like live television or hi-def video. And it didn't look particularly good. Yes, this is shocking, but I was actually let down by the Hobbit footage, as were a number of the other journalists that I spoke with afterward."
"The bad news is the 48fps is so jarring that I’m not sure casual moviegoers will enjoy it," Collider 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. While watching Bilbo fight the trolls (which looked great), it looked like nothing I’ve ever seen projected on a movie screen. Granted the visual effects weren’t done and the lighting wasn’t finalized, but it was such a change that by the end of the presentation, I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch the entire movie in this new 48fps format. This is definitely not what I expected to say."
"The 48FPS demo, well, it has some issues," said FirstShowing. "The entirety of CinemaCon has been buzzing since seeing The Hobbit about how bad, or how awkward, it looked. 48FPS is a big change, a drastic change from the 80 years of 24FPS footage, that we're used to, and it will take a while to get into it. But I noticed problems where it seemed like movement was running at double the speed as the rest of the footage, even though it was all in sync. It was odd, even awkward, and a bit weird to see, and a bit weird to get into. But was it just unfinished, raw footage? Will it look better finished by December?"
"The richness of Jackson's imagery, while beautiful, was marred because the 48 frames made each scene too crisp, if that's possible," said The Wrap. "It looked more real, in fact — too real. Instead of an immersive cinematic experience, Middle Earth looked like it was captured as part of a filmed stage play."
"Here's what The Hobbit looked like to me: a hi-def version of the 1970s 'I, Claudius,'" said BadAss Digest. "It is drenched in a TV-like — specifically 70s era BBC — video look. People on Twitter have asked if it has that soap opera look you get from badly calibrated TVs at Best Buy, and the answer is an emphatic YES."
So is 48 frames per second really the second coming of Satan? Before you panic, it should be noted that almost no theaters in the world are actually equipped to project films at 48 frames per second — indeed, the whole point of showing this footage was to try and convince theater chains to spring for the expensive new projectors — so what these folks saw is not the same as what you'll be seeing in the theater.
Still, it is a disappointing first reaction. Personally, we have faith in Jackson. But are you still psyched for "The Hobbit?" Or has this taken the wind out of your sails? Let us know. Because the future of how we watch cinema may depend on how "The Hobbit" is received and Hollywood needs all the votes it can get.