I imagine that Peter Jackson and the team behind The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had a certain idea of how audiences would react to their movie when it hits theaters. Diehard Tolkien readers will probably gasp and laugh in all the right places. Sherlock fans will probably simultaneously orgasm when Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch are on-screen together. But I don’t think anyone assumed that audiences would be moved to puke during this highly-anticipated film.
According to The Guardian, audiences came out of an early screening in the UK complaining of dizziness, migraines, and nausea. It’s all because of the 48 fps, or frames per second, that Jackson has instituted. That’s twice as much as his other Lord of the Rings films, which operated on 24 fps. One fan told the newspaper, “You have to hold your stomach down and let your eyes pop at first to adjust. This is not for wimps.” Wow, that’s not what I expected to hear about a movie.
On our side of the pond, U.S. film critics aren’t faring much better. Ironically, most complaints are that the picture is just too damn clear, which takes away from the theatricality of the movies. Here’s a smattering of what we’ve seen online so far.
What the 48 frame-per-second projection actually means is flat lighting, a plastic-y look, and, worst of all, a strange sped-up effect that makes perfectly normal actions—say, Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins placing a napkin on his lap—look like meth-head hallucinations.
Put it this way: the picture is so clear that in one scene I could see Ian McKellen’s contact lenses. I won’t claim to be a Tolkien expert, but I am pretty sure Acuvue does not exist in Middle Earth.
…Granted, this could be related to my own attention-deficit issues, but I was often taken out of the story because I just wanted to look at things. There’s a scene that takes place in Rivendell in which Gandalf (McKellen) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) are having an important conversation near a waterfall — but all I could do was stare at the waterfall. It was so pretty.
But it didn’t take a few minutes of adjusting to get used to it; even two hours and 40 minutes later my brain was rejecting the look of it. It felt like watching daytime soaps in HD, terrible BBC broadcasts, or Faerie Tale Theater circa 1985, only in amazingly sharp clarity and with hobbits.
On Twitter, people are deriding film critics who obviously aren’t used to video games — some of which operate at 60 fps, apparently — but the fact stands that with a movie that already has several controversies associated with it, this doesn’t help. I’m not even talking about the grisly animal deaths reported by PETA, though those are upsetting. I find myself just not that psyched for this movie because of how the studio is stretching it into a trilogy when it really doesn’t need to be this long. And do I really want to sit through 48 fps for three movies in a row?
Oh, and Egotastic is trying to make the hashtag #HobbitVomit happen. Yes.
That said, I doubt this physical overreaction will affect the film’s box office prospects. Consider similar complaints about The Bourne Legacy and Avatar, with the latter making billions worldwide.
I have to imagine that all this hubbub is what prompted Ian McKellen, who is a BAMF whether he’s playing Gandalf or not, to post a part defense, part “no comment” tweet:
The Hobbit hits theaters on December 14th. If you can’t wait another minute and are hitting up a midnight screening, be careful. You’ll be punchy enough that late, so don’t make it any harder on yourself.
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures