I finally saw The Desolation of Smaug and really enjoyed it. I’m not much of a fan of the Lord of the Rings. I’ve read the books and seen the movies. I actually liked the Two Towers. I have a hard time staying awake through the extended tedium of watching hobbittes walk to a fro. When the first Hobbit prequel came out I skipped it at the theater. I only just saw it for the first time on Apple TV last month in preparation for seeing its sequel. The sequel promised more action and dragons. There are at least four different ways you can see Smaug in the theater from 2-D to IMAX. I opted for the High Frame Rate (HFR) presentation. My understanding of this is that they project the picture at 48 frames per second (fps) on the screen. It’s in 3-D so each frame is polarized to be visible one eye at a time alternatively. The result is that each eye through the glasses gets its own 24 fps experience. Television and video players are normally shot at 30 fps. Most TVs today have a refresh rate above 60Hz which means they completely redraw the screen 60 times per second. Any slower than that and your eye can perceive flicker or screen rolling. Old school movies ran at 24 fps. They were using exposed film frame with light being shown through it onto a silver screen. Your brain sees the individual frames and fills in the missing parts. If you’ve ever watched a horror movie you know that you can see something in a single frame. An action may only take a few frames but it still looks fluid to your eye. Traditional 3-D films are limited to the same 24 or 30 fps limit split between two eyes. The result is an often dingy movie. Directors make things worse by having the monster appear and fight at night, in the rain, for no apparent reason except to hide their flaws: Pacific Rim. The experience is even worse if the movie were not originally shot in 3-D: Clash of the Titans stands out for me an an especially bad 3-D experience. I’ve pretty much sworn off all process 3-D movies. They are not worth the money. Until now, Avatar was the gold standard for 3-D movies. So I went to see the 3-D HFR presentation of Smaug with some expectation that it would be a good experience.
I was unprepared for the clarity, depth of field, brightness and amazing New Zealand inspired version of Middle Earth. I soon forgot about the glasses on my nose. I could see details in the scenery and on the characters faces. I could imagine Peter Jackson being pleased with his creation as never before. If you have not seen it, make sure you see it in a HFR theater. If not, you are missing the experience. Jackson did not rely on gimmicks of object flying out of the screen. He seemed content with having is characters inhabit a very deep set whose terminus coexisted with the screen in my theater. Battles were fought in daylight. There was a bit of hyperreality at times due to the lack of atmospheric distortions to give some of the scenes a bit of a video game look. I think the uncanny valley is hard to overcome. If this is a preview of what we will see in Avatar 2 then I am certainly looking forward to that movie.