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The Hobbit, in IMAX 3-D at 48 fps

I went to see The Hobbit today: at 48 fps, just like I’d been wanting to. This is a big technological step forward for movies, and that’s what I want to talk about today. I don’t want to talk at length about about the film itself. Real quick: I thought it was good, if not great. It had some excellent visuals in parts, but other parts looked like they were composed for the small screen rather than the large one. There were some things that were silly, or over-the-top. There were some things that were very effective. Gollum was well-done. There were some good character-driven scenes, and there were parts where the main thrust of the plot got lost and things got bogged down. Frankly, some aspects of the presentation were distracting and gave a bad color to my experience, so I’ll leave my appraisal of the film at that. Now I want to talk about the technology.

Digital 3-D: We all know the story, don’t we? Digital projection is not as bright as film, and the 3-D glasses cut down on the light levels even further. A director who knows what he’s doing can compensate somewhat, perhaps in the color timing of the digital image. The movie was preceded by a teaser for the new Star Trek film that looked pretty good, after all. The Hobbit, however, did suffer from the reduced light levels; perhaps no one took the time to adjust the levels for digital projection so the image wouldn’t be so dark. So that’s a minus. The use of 3-D itself was pretty good, at least. However…

Digital IMAX: I AM DONE with Digital IMAX! I’m not paying for that shit again! Image MAXimum my ass! Digital IMAX uses DLP projectors (at least it does where I went,) which create a bright spot in the middle of the screen (relative to the sitter’s position) and leave things darker at the sides. It didn’t help that we got stuck sitting in the front row. But when we saw Raiders of the Lost Ark in Digital IMAX, the problem was the same. Fucking DLP. Remember how rear projection TV sets always looked shitty, with that god damn hotspot in the middle and things getting darker at the sides? It’s back in Digital IMAX. It’s like looking through a tunnel, with a light at the end and darkness all around. Add THAT to the already darkening effect of 3-D glasses, and it’s too fucking much. I’m not going for this Digital IMAX shit again!

48 fps: This is the long-awaited innovation for me. HFR (for High Frame Rate) is what they’re calling it, if you want to find it yourself. For my part, yeah, unfortunately, I didn’t think it looked that good. Part of it may be the shutter angle of 270°, which was chosen as a compromise so that the film would look acceptable at its native 48 fps and reduced to the usual 24 fps, which it will have to be for many venues. This means that light is coming into the camera 3/4 of the time for every frame, rather than 1/2 the time — a shutter angle of 180° — as is customary with most films. This means a lot more motion blur in every frame relative to the amount of time it’s on screen than we would usually see in a movie. It looked unnatural to me: too smooth. I do think that if he’d gone for a 180° shutter angle — just had the balls to go for it — it would have looked more natural. I’ve seen demo footage from various sources that looked more natural than this. Well, in the future, maybe…

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