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Film review: 'The Hobbit' journeys into a lesson on frame rates

December 14, 2012|By Andy Klein
  • Martin Freeman as the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins in the fantasy adventure "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," a production of New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures.
Martin Freeman as the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins in the fantasy… (Courtesy of Warner…)

In the Shire, a Hobbit-populated region of Middle Earth, Mr. Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is setting down — for the sake of his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) — a true account of his life's great adventure. Forty years earlier, a tall wizard named Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) induced the young Bilbo (Martin Freeman, who handles the role for the body of the film) to join a troop of dwarfs on a quest to reclaim their homeland. A very long time ago they were driven out by the dragon Smaug. Bilbo and the others take off on a great journey and....

Do we really have to outline the plot of Peter Jackson's new film, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”? Unless you're an Imperial soldier who's been hiding in the jungle waiting for the end of World War II, the odds are that you've read J.R.R. Tolkien's “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy or, at the very least, seen Peter Jackson's Oscar-winning film adaptation. You know that the children's book “The Hobbit” was Tolkien's first excursion into the fantasy realm of Middle Earth, and that the author later changed it to make it compatible with “The Lord of the Rings.”

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Likewise, director Jackson (who, together with his usual team, also wrote the screenplay and produced) has gone back to “The Hobbit” and expanded its brief story to the length of three features ... three very long features. (This first installment clocks in at 2 hours and 50 minutes.)

The filming of “The Lord of the Rings” was financially a hugely risky proposition. Jackson's reputation makes “The Hobbit” a much surer bet, but he still seems addicted to taking risks. This time, he has complicated his otherwise secure project in two ways: first, taking one slim volume and adding enough for a trilogy; second, shooting it in 3-D at 48 frames per second. By itself, 3-D is hardly risky these days, but 48 frames per second? For those of you who have no notion of what that entails or why it's significant, let's at least try to explain:

Since the beginning of the sound era, film has almost always been shot and projected at 24 frames per second — that is, 24 discrete images every second. During exhibition, each frame is flashed twice to avoid flicker. In pre-HDTV American TV technology, the image was recorded at roughly 30 frames per second and “doubled” for similar effect.

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