The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is setting box office records but it's not because of the ground-breaking high frame rate (HFR), stereoscopic production techniques employed by director Peter Jackson.

The filmmaker's preference was always to show the film in 3D at 48 frames per second (double the current standard) to create a more immersive and realistic cinematic experience. However, early HFR footage divided audiences, who have spent decades associating the cinematic experience with the vagaries of 24fps projection.

While the distributor (Warner Bros via Roadshow Films in Australia) was long planning a widespread release of the HFR version, it ultimately took a more cautious approach.

“In hindsight, it was probably the right decision not to go with a wide release because I think they would have had a significant number of technical issues on their hands,” Hoyts Cinema Technology Group chief technology officer Adam Wrightson said.

The Hoyts chain will show the HFR edition of The Hobbit on just 15 of its 366 screens across Australia when the film is released on December 26, 2012. However, 60-70 per cent of Hoyts’ screens are currently HFR-capable and all HFR screenings of The Hobbit in NZ have gone well, Wrightson said.

Amalgamated Holdings (AHL), which runs the Event Cinemas, Greater Union, and Birch Carroll & Coyle chains in Australia, had a similar experience. AHL managing director David Seargeant said it will show The Hobbit’s HFR edition on just 23 of its 486 screens.

“In each case the number of 48fps prints / screens were the maximum we could obtain from the distributor – we were seeking more for Australia,” Seargeant said via email.

A Roadshow spokesperson did not respond to emails. 

Village Cinemas chief executive Kirk Edwards said its server upgrades to accommodate HFR screenings had gone smoothly and Australia had a much higher level of HFR-enabled screens than overseas. (Village Cinemas is owned by Village Roadshow, which also owns Roadshow Films.)

"We've got a much higher ratio in Australia than they do in America and a much higher ratio than they do in the UK," he said.

He said the decision to show fewer HFR screenings was made by Warner Bros. Village Cinemas will screen The Hobbit's HFR edition on 9 of its 507 screens.

Only about 4.5 per cent of the approximate 10,000 screens in the US are showing the film at 48fps, according to Deadline.com. Warner Bros. domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said the limited rollout was due to equipment still being tested and glitches corrected, rather than a failure to win support from exhibitors.

The film grossed $US100 million in the US in just five days and about $US270 million worldwide, making it the biggest ever Christmas release.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of a planned trilogy based on J.R.R Tolkien’s short fantasy book. The three films will serve as prequels to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Contact this reporter at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bcswift.

Where you can see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in HFR (released December 26, 2012, in Australia)

NSW

VIC

  • Hoyts: Chadstone, Eastland, Melbourne Central, Northland, Highpoint
  • Village Cinemas: Jam Factory, Knox, Southland, Doncaster, Fountain Gate

WA

SA

QLD

ACT

Join the Conversation

9 Comments

  1. I am going to 2D first to absorb the story without thinking about anything else, and I plan to go to all versions available, but if I could only go once, I would most definitely want to go to the HFR showing.

  2. I plan to go 2D first just so I can absorb the story without thinking about anything technical, and I plan to go to all versions available, but after all I have read, if I could only go to one, it would definitely be the HFR rate version.

  3. Having heard of these sorts of differences before in the screening of The Hobbit overseas, I hope Australian cinemas have all version playing under their optimum conditions.

    I’ve seen the Hobbit twice in 3D HFR at two different cinemas. The first was at Birmingham Broadway Plaza isense, which was only installed at the end of October; the image was pristine. My second viewing was at my local Milton Keynes Cineworld, which has older screens; the image here was almost as good, but I did feel that the image was ever so slightly less distinct. I suspect this was down to the quality of the screen than anything else (very important for 3D as it must maintain polarisation of the reflected light). It didn’t alter my enjoyment of the film, however.

    The only other 3D film I’ve seen at the cinema was Tron Legacy, and this was at cineworld. I have to say that was appalling, double-image as you describe and quite horrible to watch. It didn’t seem to make much difference whether the glasses were on or not. It was definitely not a problem with the glasses, as I took them along to check when I saw the Hobbit. I strongly suspect that the polarisers had not been put in front of the projector to separate the left/right images.

    Now I know what a 3D presentation should look like, if I ever see something like Tron Legacy again I’ll be stomping out of the theatre and getting someone to sort it or demanding a refund.

    I hope this helps. Please don’t give up on the HFR; it is worth pursuing and I would recommend you speak to someone at the cinema about this.

  4. Thanks for the updates and corrections about where you can see the film in HFR. The list is now up-to-date.

  5. I tried to see it in HFR today at a Macquarie Center Events theatre. The staff were mostly clueless. “Umm, yes, that’s HFR”. After convinced I had seen it in 3D non-HFR, I went on a quest to find out what was going on. It turns out one theatre (7) was showing HFR and the other (10) was not (but both 3D). I had the senior person selling tickets tell me they were absolutely identical and that I must have been imagining that it was not as good as the HFR version I saw in San Francisco 2 weeks ago. Then I snuck into theatre 7 and it was like night and day. Finally I found the projectionist who confirmed that 10 was not HFR and he found the manager who refunded our tickets.

    Fwiw, At this particular Event Theatres has one coded as “The Hobbit 3D” and the other as “The Hobbit 48fps”.

    My take away: if you’re watching and you’re not sure if its HFR, its not! The difference is immediately obvious.

    Also, do everything you can to see the HFR version. The article above is rubbish imnsho. Anyone who has seen both, unless perhaps they’re cinefiles who love that it looks bad, I mean authentic, finds the HFR WAY better.

  6. Hoyts has stopped showing HFR everywhere except WA. useless can’t see it at any of theres in melbourne, also no explanation to why.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *