3D experience at 'Hobbit' promises new sharper view

The adventure follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor ...

Rating: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images

Length: 166 minutes

Released: December 14, 2012 Nationwide

Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish

Director: Peter Jackson

Writer: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson, J.R.R. Tolkien

More info and showtimes »

The much-anticipated Middle-earth epic "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" opens Friday on close to 30 Mid-South screens, but only in Auditorium 16 at East Memphis' Malco Paradiso will the movie be projected in Peter Jackson's new "HFR 3D" format, a digital technology the director claims will "increase the immersive, spectacular experience that cinema should provide."

The "HFR" stands for "High Frame Rate," which refers to the rate-per-second at which frames of film pass through a camera, during shooting, and through a projector, during screening. The current standard, formalized in 1927 with the introduction of sound, motion pictures is 24 frames per second. Because actual celluloid film has been replaced in large part by digital technology, the traditional standard frame rate is arguably arbitrary or obsolete. For "The Hobbit," Jackson developed a 3D technology that doubles the rate, to 48 fps (frames per second).

"Science tells us that the human eye stops seeing individual pictures at about 55 fps," Jackson writes on the film's website at thehobbit.com. "Therefore, shooting at 48 fps gives you much more of an illusion of real life. The reduced motion blur on each frame increases sharpness and gives the movie the look of having been shot in 65mm or Imax." In other words, you should be able to count the hairs on Bilbo Baggins' oversized feet.

Advance viewers have been divided about the process. Reporting in Variety, critic Peter Debruge wrote that the "disconcerting" 48 fps cinematography "improves motion at the expense of visual elegance," giving the images an "overblown, artificial quality."

"It really is unlike anything you've ever seen," said Malco film booker Jeff Kaufman. "It is a different look, and a different experience at the movies. I'm not going to tell you if it's better or worse, you'll have to judge that for yourself."

The first installment in a three-film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's 1937 novel, which preceded the author's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy by close to two decades, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" will be seen in the HFR 3D format on about 450 out of 4,000 screens in North America. The technology required that costly new "computer modules" be installed in the digital projectors that will screen the movie.

All Malco cinemas now screen movies via digital projection rather than traditional celluloid film. In the case of "The Hobbit" and many other major films, the image is retrieved from a "Digital Cinema Package" hard drive that is downloaded into the projector.

Tickets to "The Hobbit" in HFR 3D at the Paradiso cost the same as tickets to any other 3D presentation.

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