Wednesday, 9 January 2013

HFR reviewed

As many of you know, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has been in cinemas for some time now. I saw it the first weekend it released, but due to the chaos that is Christmas and feeling rather lethargic after over-indulging on mince pie and an array of unhealthy food, I didn’t have time to review it. Not that it’s an issue, as I am sure that you could find many review dotted all over the web with people expressing their love or hatred for Peter Jackson’s return trip to Middle Earth. I previously saw the film only in 2D, however, today I to take a return trip to Middle Earth and see the film again in 3D HFR. HFR, or High Frame Rate, intends to make the visual experience as real as possible, increases the speed of the frames from 24 per second to 48 per second. The result is a more lifelike and fluid looking film, narrowing the gap between reality and making what the audience see feel real.

After hearing the mixed reviews that the preview footage received, I was not too bothered about seeing An Unexpected Journey in HFR. After seeing the film today in the different format, I can see why people had their concerns. There is no denying that the visual scenery of New Zealand Earth is breath-taking, making it look as though the film is a documentary of Thorin and Company’s quest to Erebor through Middle Earth. However, this realism, when applied to the CGI and the actors, doesn’t look as cinematic, making it harder for the audience to suspend their disbelief. At times I was watching and could tell when the actors were on a set and not on location; I could see the contact lenses in characters eyes and could tell when they were standing against a green screen. Just like the Uncanny Valley theory in 3D technology and robotics, the attempt at making the film as realistic as possible ultimately causes the audience to feel manufactured and artificial, thus making it impossible for the audience to believe in what they are seeingFor me HFR is like caviar: it’s high quality and is provided for those who like to overspend on simple things; you enjoy it for a short while but when you realise what it is actually consists of (namely fish eggs) you’re not as keen on it as you thought you were. I would go as far to say it looks like shit but that’s a bit harsh on the film, seeing as caviar really does look like shit.

For me, my first experience watching a film in HFR feels very much like the first time I watched my first 3D film – which was Avatar (2009) if anyone cares. Personally I am not a big fan of 3D. It is a gimmick that intends to provide the audience with something unique but ultimately fails to deliver the desire effect. However, if it is done well and does not include scenes with blatant and overt uses of the technology – like some of the effects in The Final Destination with blood-covered poles and champagne corks popping out into the audience like you’re watching a 3D short film at an amusement park – then 3D does have its good points.  The same can be said for HFR: it’s clunky, unnecessary, and the film can be enjoyed far more without it. However, as I said before, if it is done well – as in the case of An Unexpected Journey – then it is a brilliant cinematic experience. Yes, there were occasion where the film felt fake and contrived, but I can’t deny the beauty of some of the imagery and sequences and the way they were shot – including the escape from Goblin Town and the Stone Giant battle which are much more exciting to watch in both 3D and HFR. I will say that when The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again are released, I intend to see both in 2D first to appreciated the story, then HFR 3D to enjoy the visual experience. 
Perhaps HFR may not be the future of cinema, but it is a superb visual treat nonetheless. As Gandalf said to Bilbo, every good story deserves embellishment.

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