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.
Where you can see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in HFR (released December 26, 2012, in Australia)
- Event Cinemas, Greater Union Birch Carroll and Coyle Cinemas: George Street, Castle Hill, Bondi, Macquarie, Parramatta, Top Ryde, Burwood, Liverpool, Hornsby, Campbelltown, Tuggerah, Glendale
- Hoyts: Blacktown, Broadway, Chatswood Westfield, Penrith
- Dendy: Newtown
- Hoyts: Chadstone, Eastland, Melbourne Central, Northland, Highpoint
- Village Cinemas: Jam Factory, Knox, Southland, Doncaster, Fountain Gate
- Event Cinemas, Greater Union Birch Carroll and Coyle Cinemas: Innaloo, Morley
- Hoyts: Carousel, Garden City
- Event Cinemas, Greater Union Birch Carroll and Coyle Cinemas: Marion
- Hoyts: Norwood, Tea Tree Plaza
- Event Cinemas, Greater Union Birch Carroll and Coyle Cinemas: Brisbane Myer, Cairns Central, Carindale, Chermside, Indooroopilly, Garden City, Maroochydore, Robina
- Hoyts: Stafford