Originally I had planned to see The Hobbit in IMAX 3D so I could catch the 9-minute preview of the new Star Trek film, but at the last minute I changed my mind, figuring I should try at least once to see it how Peter Jackson intended. I’m glad I did it for the experience, but I probably won’t see a live-action film in that format again given the choice. Some of the exteriors were breathtaking, but overall it had more of a videotape feel to it. Unfortunately, we’ve been conditioned over the years to associate the video tape look with cheapness and I don’t think that’s going to change, at least not for our generation.
No doubt that everything is much more detailed with the 48 fps format, but maybe too much so. It certainly makes you feel as if you could step right out in that world, and this worked great for the wide-shot exteriors, but not so well for the interiors. I was never able to get past the feeling of watching a made-for-TV version of Lord of the Rings. I wouldn’t say it looked fake so much as unreal, especially since the look of Middle Earth had already been established in the original LOTR trilogy. And the closeups of characters in exterior shots often made the distant backgrounds look flat, which probably wasn’t helped by the 3D acting in conjunction with the frame rate.
Taken apart from the frame rate, however, the 3D was perfectly fine, so if you want to watch it in 3D, see it in IMAX in the normal 24 fps frame rate. That experience will be more like what you’re accustomed to seeing, and at least that way you’ll also get to see the Star Trek preview. I, however, am thinking about going back to 2D for the next two installments of the trilogy so that their look will feel more synchronous with the Middle Earth established in the LOTR trilogy.
As for the movie itself, it was well done, with nonstop action once they finally left the Shire. It doesn’t have the same stakes as Lord of the Rings and I can see why some people think the material felt stretched to accommodate the split into three films, but there is a lot to like, particularly the Gollum scene, and it’s always nice to revisit Middle Earth. Personally, I think I could do with another viewing where I can watch the film for just the story rather than spending most of it preoccupied with the 3D and the overly-detailed picture.
Films have essentially looked the same since the early days of Hollywood. This new technology isn’t like upgrading from black and white to color, or even to 3D. It’s a fundamental change in the way films look. I understand why Peter Jackson wanted to introduce it, but I don’t think we’re quite ready for it.
Final verdict: definitely worth seeing, but I’d avoid the 48 fps version.