REVIEWING A NEW FORMAT OR A NEW MOVIE?
What a year! As we near the end of 2012, I find myself in full reflective mode, looking back at a year in film that, while not likely to be one for the ages, still found ways to inspire me to spend a few moments turning a critical eye on my assumptions about what I do and, more importantly, how I do it. Breaking my unspoken code and reviewing a Video on Demand (VOD) forced me to acknowledge that film should be defined by some factor other than the format in which it is viewed. The big screen, theater-based experience does not a movie make, I told myself while watching Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz” with my wife at home thanks to Time Warner Cable (this was my second shot at the film though, following a festival screening at last year’s Toronto Film Festival) and knowing that this would be the only opportunity for audiences in the region, I figured it was my duty to offer a full review for a film that certainly needed the support of a critical advocate out there.
The times, they are a’ changing, and I find myself at another pivotal moment, having hunkered down for a boldly unique viewing experience – the 48-frames-per-second presentation of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” Having missed the advance screening, just days before opening weekend, I made my way down to the nearest multiplex on a cool Friday morning and faced a cornucopia of options. There was regular 2-D, basic 3-D, IMAX 3-D and the high frame rate (the 48-fps) 3-D version. I went for what the techie cinephiles might consider the deluxe edition, although some fanatics might argue that the 3-D IMAX offered the real bonus (an exclusive trailer for “Star Trek In Darkness,” which was, in a word, awesome).
Buzz abounds though surrounding the 48-fps version because the additional frames per second creates a hyper-reality to what the eye perceives and may expose the fakery of the special effects utilized. Early critics issued what amounted to warnings to audiences that it would take a while before their eyes would get used to the more vivid images, but with a film as long as “The Hobbit” (which clocks in at 2 hours and 46 minutes), there’s more than enough time to adjust and enjoy the ride, if it turns out to be your thing.
Was it my kind of thing, you may be asking? Well, the answer is … kinda, sorta, which is a wishy-washy response from a critic, but in this case, it is extremely accurate. As someone who thoroughly enjoyed Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, I was certainly on board with his decision to take the reins of “The Hobbit,” which is JRR Tolkien’s prequel to that epic saga. My feelings wavered slightly when word leaked that he was planning to break the story into three parts, incorporating extensive notes and appendices to flesh out this new trilogy.
But the real issue, as the project loomed, was this new shooting format. What would it add to the already pleasurable rendering of Middle Earth? As crisp and hyper-real as it is, the frames do take a bit of getting used to, and I never quite made the leap because, especially during the large-scale action sequences, I felt like I was in the middle of a first-person shooter videogame moreso than a feature film, and I’m simply not a fan of games, not to that extent.
I appreciated the quieter moments – the exchange between Bilbo Baggins (the wonderfully engaging Martin Freeman) and the schizophrenic Gollum (the ever-resourceful motion-capture specialist Andy Serkis) is the film’s centerpiece – over the spectacle, because the effects were largely dependent upon the performers rather than the technicians. So, my response, I must sadly say, is indeed “unexpected.”