The Hobbit and HFR

Leonie and I finally got to see The Hobbit this weekend. We've been busy since it came out, but as we know a few people who've worked on it, I wanted to see it "how it was supposed to be seen": High Frame Rate, 3D, on a 4K screen with a very modern sound system.

First, the film: as a first part, I really enjoyed it. I have read The Hobbit a few times, but not for many years. While I had a general idea of what was happening next, it wasn't predictable. In general, I enjoyed it. I have no idea how they are going to fill two more movies with whats left of the story, but I'll leave that to the writers.

For me, the 3D really works. Since Avatar, every 3D movie I've seen I've really enjoyed, and the ones that use the 3D to enhance the story (Hobbit, Avatar, Prometheus, Skyfall) have drawn me further into the story, which is really the point of it.

High Frame Rate (HFR) is something I can't get into. I don't get the headaches that some people do, it just looks fake to me. It looks like I'm looking into a film set, not into Middle Earth. I find it distracting and off-putting, especially the lighting on close ups of faces - eg during the dinner scene in Bilbos house.

Peter Jackson's motivation was that with normal 3D, the movement tends to jump and blur a lot unless you increase the frame rate. I would absolutely agree with him, but I'm not sure this is the answer. I also read that motion blur can be added in in post production, but at a huge cost.

We had the same issue when we were on holiday over Christmas. The place we stayed in had a fairly modern TV (and Sky SD, not HD), but everything - including Lord of the Rings and Doctor Who - just looked fake, like the lighting department went on holiday and they hired the crew from Days of our Lives. I couldn't for the life of me find the off switch for the higher frame rate on the TV, even tho there were numerous forum posts and articles about the exact problem and how to fix it.

I only have two data points - Leonie and I - but I wonder if finding HFR to be distracting is linked to frame rate sensitivity. I found the TV unwatchable (not a bad thing) and The Hobbit watchable, but only just. Leonie found the Hobbit to be fine, and the TV to be watchable, but "awful".

Our eyes are very different, however. I can look at a working fluorescent tube office light and see a faint flicker. Leonie can't. One of the shops on the high street has a broken bulb - I can see it flickering like a strobe light in a club, and find it distracting to the point where I can't really think and start to get a headache. Leonie can only see a faint flicker, if anything at all.

Back in the days of CRT monitors - which I'm so very glad are behind us - I could never use 60hz, which was the default: I had to crank the refresh up to 75 or 80hz, which ment if I wanted a good resolution (over 1024x768 - this was the 1990s!) I had to pay top dollar for a monitor. Not good when I was a broke student.

I wonder if the two are linked. The Hobbit was a little distracting, but it's something I would normally be sucked into so far, that I'd basically have no memory of the cinema - only of the movie. Not so this time.

If you have any thoughts on this, drop me a tweet or email. I'd love to hear how others found the High Frame Rate, and if you are sensitive to fluorescent or monitor flicker. I'm going to try to go and see The Hobbit again, just in normal 3D, and for the next one, I'm going to avoid the HFR version.

Nic Wise

Nic Wise

Auckland, NZ