Reviews of the highly anticipated The Hobbit: The Unexected Journey have hit the Internet, and for the most part critics seem to be mixed on the Tolkien adaptation. Currently its Rotten Tomatoes freshness rating is far below that of any of the beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy and is even lower than Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong. It is, however, much, much, much higher than his last movie as director, The Lovely Bones.
But disappointment aside, if you love the source material and/or Jackson's prior tours through Middle-earth, you're going to see the first Hobbit movie. The thing to consider now, the only thing that matters from these reviews for you, is whether or not you should see it in 3D HFR -- or high frame rate, aka 48 frames per second. You probably read our round up of reactions to the disastrous CinemaCon preview of the film in this new format back in April, and you want to know if the response is improved with the full feature-length experience.
Nope. It's not easy to find a review that doesn't have mostly negative things to say about HFR, but many of those that go with pros in addition to cons will still intrigue the curious. The key to deciding how to see The Hobbit -- at least your first of 20 times -- seems to depend on if you want to primarily watch The Hobbit or if you want to primarily check out some new technology, an innovation that steps to the future of cinema or merely a failed experiment attempting to be such. As a non-LOTR trilogy fan, I mostly just want to experience this concept for myself. And fast. If it does actually just disappear quickly as a massive failure, at least I'll be able to say I tried the modern equivalent of New Coke, Crystal Pepsi and Smell-O-Vision.
Below is a collection of excerpts from 10 reviews of The Hobbit that are only focused on the HFR/48 fps aspect. Bold highlights are my own.
"It makes for absolutely gorgeous establishing shots and exploration of new settings [...] great when steady or slow-moving camera work is applied. [but] definite “motion sickness” potential during scenes of chaotic action or fast movement [...] 48 fps means you cannot hide mistakes…period; there were some poorly rendered VFX sequences that were unintentionally comical and resembled the old-school tactic of filming a stationary actor in front of a moving background. These effects were bad, bad, bad; there’s no way around it." - Dave Trumbore, Collider
"A bit of a mixed bag. At times, the film looks immaculate. Regular landscapes and normal shots with static digital effects look so beautiful, it’s almost as if you could press pause and step through the screen. However, when there are a lot of effects on-screen, or they move quickly (as when animals are present, for example) they look overly digital and obviously inserted. Fortunately, even with this problem, the look of the film never took me out of the story. I left feeling that HFR is a technology with a promising future, but it’s not quite there yet." - Germain Lussier, Slashfilm
"The problem is that it’s never consistent, which pulls the viewer out of the movie because it never achieves a coherent feel. The 48 frames per second looked best during the CGI work, but on a whole it doesn’t work [...] it’s definitely a baby step, but there’s nothing about what’s on-screen that suggests this is the way of the future. Perhaps it’s cranky to insist this is a bad decision as cinema has to learn new tricks to evolve. But is 48 fps like the first steps of sound or color? The problem is that with those advances there was a palpable, understandable reason for the why. Here, it’s hard to see on the surface why anyone would want this, and there’s no obvious benefit for moviegoers." - Damon Houx, Screen Crave
"It isn’t a case of good or bad. It’s an aesthetic choice, like Michael Mann’s use of video in ‘Public Enemies.’ I never 'got used to it.' In fact, I found it a distraction. When Ian Holm was giving his early exposition, I couldn’t hear a word of it, because everything looked so unusual and that’s what held my attention. [...] You really recognize the cuts between exteriors, effects shots and sets. There’s a scene on a cliff where Storm Giants fight that probably looks terrific in the traditional format. Watching it here all I could think about was 'oh, that’s them on a set. Oh, that’s an effects shot. That looks like an actual mountain. Ooh that cut brought us back to the set again.'" - Jordan Hoffman, Screen Crush
"Throughout the entire film, there was a strange Benny Hill quality to sequences, with things that appeared to be sped up. It happened in both dialogue and action sequences, and the overall effect was like watching the most beautifully mastered Blu-ray ever played at 1.5x speed. It doesn't make any sense to me that this process, which is supposedly all about clarity and resolution, would create that hyper-speedy quality unless they were doing something wrong in the projection of it." - Drew McWeeny, Hit Fix
"Gave the entire production a strange tangibility, like of that of a BBC TV show or uncalibrated HDTV. In the dialogue scenes, it put the audience in the room with the actors, even making the CG characters look more real. Only in the film's swiftest action moments was there blur. An interesting experiment that mostly works, but perhaps a tad distracting for those who want to sit back and lose themselves in Middle-earth." - Matt Patches, Hollywood.com
"An experience I recommend, but maybe only on second viewing. I never adjusted to the look, which makes everything feel more real and closer to you, an effect that's utterly bizarre when seeing giant trolls or goblins or even a band of tiny dwarves [...] it's fascinating seeing familiar characters like Gollum move with an unbelievable realness, but also nearly impossible to feel as swept away by this journey to an imaginary world." - Katey Rich, Cinema Blend
"It robs a fantasy movie of its escapism by making it feel too "real"; it still looks like broadcast video, making the 48 fps presentation of The Hobbit look like the greatest BBC or PBS production ever. I'm glad I saw it in 48 fps, but more glad that I first saw it in 24 fps." - Jim Vejvoda, IGN
"The results are interesting and will be much-debated, but an initial comparison of the two formats weighs against the experiment; the print shown at Warner Bros. in what is being called High Frame Rate 3D, while striking in some of the big spectacle scenes, predominantly looked like ultra-vivid television video, paradoxically lending the film a oddly theatrical look, especially in the cramped interior scenes in Bilbo Baggins' home. For its part, the 24 fps 3D version had a softer, noticeably more textured image quality." - Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
"I'm not in the minority on the frame rate issue. 48 fps may be D.O.A. even before The Hobbit opens in wide release on December 14. Maybe that's a good thing; save your dollars and see it in regular ol' 24 fps." - Jen Yamato, Movieline