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The Hobbit‘s HFR Reviews Are In, and They’re Not So Good

Peter Jackson knew this day was coming. Last night at midnight, the studio embargo on reviews of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was lifted, and the first pieces began appearing on the web. Based on early reaction to a screening of 48fps high-frame-rate (HFR for short) footage from the film, the Hobbit team knew that first reactions to the completed film were likely to include negative comments on the new technology, which some observers have variously complained makes the film look cheap, sped-up, and-or nausea-inducing. And it's true — writers seem to have mostly gone out of their way to pan the format, with critics for both The Hollywood Reporter and Variety saying the cons of HFR outweigh the pros.

Some web-based reviewers were harsher, while a few more seemed to reserve judgment, noting that the negative effects of HFR seemed to be lessened over the film's running time and suggesting that moviegoers will eventually grow accustomed to the process and its improved temporal resolution. And it's worth noting that many heavy-hitting publications and writers — The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Rogert Ebert, to name a few — have not yet weighed in on the film, which opens next week.

To be fair, it should be noted that film critics see a lot of movies, year in and year out, and may be especially sensitive to changes in the look of the medium. (Some critics remain skeptical of digital acquisition and projection in general, let alone at 48 fps.) The real test will come when paying audiences fill HFR screenings and react, positively or negatively, to what they see. For now, here's a sampling of the notes on HFR and The Hobbit that went live this morning. 

An initial comparison of the two formats weighs against the [48fps] experiment. The print shown at Warner Bros. in what is being called High Frame Rate 3D, while striking in some of the big spectacle scenes, predominantly looked like ultra-vivid television video, paradoxically lending the film a oddly theatrical look, especially in the cramped interior scenes in Bilbo Baggins' home. For its part, the 24 fps 3D version had a softer, noticeably more textured image quality.

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

The film's 48-frames-per-second digital cinematography solves the inherent stuttering effect of celluloid that occurs whenever a camera pans or horizontal movement crosses the frame — but at too great a cost. Consequently, everything takes on an overblown, artificial quality in which the phoniness of the sets and costumes becomes obvious, while well-lit areas bleed into their surroundings, like watching a high-end homemovie.

Peter Debruge, Variety

48 frames per second is essentially harsh-looking and disconcerting…until it isn’t. It’s incredible how discordant and off-putting the increased frame rate appears to the human eye initially, but as Jackson himself has asserted, audiences will tend to forget (and or tolerate) once they’re absorbed into the story (though admittedly it takes a good hour, and the experience will be both subjective and divisive). And becoming engaged in The Hobbit once the adventure truly starts isn’t difficult. In fact, by the third act when the action is at its thunderous peak, the 3D/48 fps visuals are wholeheartedly spectacular. Indeed, a few moments of panoramic action vistas are as stunning and gorgeous as anything seen in AvatarHugo or Life Of Pi.

Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

This decision to film at a higher frame rate really ruins the movie. You do adjust to it eventually, but almost every scene requires some sort of adjustment and the human brain can't do that and escape into a fantasy world at the same time…. We recommend avoiding the 48 fps experiment if at all possible.

Edward Douglas, Comingsoon

I'm half-convinced that there was a projection problem when I saw the film, because I have trouble believing that what I saw reflected the desires of Peter Jackson and his team. Throughout the entire film, there was a strange Benny Hill quality to sequences, with things that appeared to be sped up. It happened in both dialogue and action sequences, and the overall effect was like watching the most beautifully mastered Blu-ray ever played at 1.5x speed. It doesn't make any sense to me that this process, which is supposedly all about clarity and resolution, would create that hyper-speedy quality unless they were doing something wrong in the projection of it.

Drew McWeeny, HitFix.com

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. Jackson seems enamored of 48 fps, but I can't imagine why. To me, it turned the film into a 166-minute long projectionist's error. I wanted to ask the projectionist to double-check the equipment, but really, I should just ask Jackson why he wanted his $270 million blockbuster to look like a TV movie.

James Rocchi, Boxoffice.com

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.

Jen Yamato, Movieline

[HFR] gave the entire production a strange tangibility, like of that of a BBC TV show or uncalibrated HDTV. In the dialogue scenes, it put the audience in the room with the actors, even making the CG characters look more real. Only in the film's swiftest action moments was there blur. An interesting experiment that mostly works, but perhaps a tad distracting for those who want to sit back and lose themselves in Middle Earth.

Matt Patches, Hollywood.com


Even at 24 frames, this gorgeous film marks an enormous breakthrough in VFX production. It has astonishing digital scale and scope, but often falls victim to the-more-pixels-the-better syndrome. I do recommend seeing it at 48 fps in 3-D–even though scenes shot in full daylight look like horrid television video–in order to understand the film's foreground/background depth and design. You get used to it.

Anne Thompson, Indiewire

Not only did the movie strike me as better [on second viewing] — faster and more entertaining, though still padded and at times silly — but the [HFR] format wasn't as bothersome. I still think the high frame rate takes you out of the movie at times, particularly in scenes that feature well-lit actors prominently in the frame. But about half the time, the format came closer to justifying Jackson's experiment than it had seemed on first viewing.

Steve Pond, The Wrap

At times, the film looks immaculate. Regular landscapes and normal shots with static digital effects look so beautiful, it’s almost as if you could press pause and step through the screen. However, when there are a lot of effects on screen, or they move quickly (as when animals are present, for example) they look overly digital and obviously inserted. Fortunately, even with this problem, the look of the film never took me out of the story. I left feeling that HFR is a technology with a promising future, but it’s not quite there yet.

Germain Lussier, /Film


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  • Dump 3D, Keep 48fps

    48fps is long overdue. The annoying strobing of 24fps is what makes me ill. A lot of people will say “what strobing?” and after you point it out to them, they can’t stand it either. 48fps is to improved motion quality what imax is to improved frame quality. 24fps is last century. More than the death of 24fps, I would offer more applause for the death of the 3D gimmick. 3D is like using B&W or silent movies. Some films benefit but not every film. On the other hand, the quality of every film can be improved by going faster than 24fps.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1140589846 Larry Towers

      “A lot of people will say “what strobing?” and after you point it out to them, they can’t stand it either.”
      If you have to point it out to them then thee wasn’t much wrong, where as most people hate HFR immediately. So you HFR people can’t get used to strobing but you expect the rest of us to get used HFR for your sake!

      • http://www.facebook.com/coldbloodedkidder Dominic Paul

        good point dude!

    • JPS

      LOL! So before they didn’t notice it and now you’ve ruined most movie going experiences for them? Joking aside I agree with the maintenance of fantasy being important in films like the Hobbit and a need to make the images organic rather than synthetic. The audience I feel is being done a disservice. Also is are 48fps “better”. Ok, there is a problem with strobing but good DOP’s look out for that and compensate. Now they will have to work even harder to try and remove the plastic look. I’d rather fight the strobing to be honest.

      Though not quite the same thing it reminds me of the fashion a while back to colorize old black and white movies, so they could “add” that extra dimension of colour and sell them back to audiences again. More ain’t necessarily more.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brentogara Donald Brent O’Gara

      Actually, 24fps is “the century BEFORE last”. I think it’s hilarious that so many people seem to believe that the frames per second somehow changes the contrast, tone, clarity, and subjective speed of the film. The fact that he’s using the Red EPIC, a fully digital workflow, and his (and the cinematographer’s) choices in the editing room are really what they’re complaining about… 48fps itself has NO effect on most of their quibbles.

    • Just that guy

      Typically I would agree with you, 3D is not what everyone (read studios) makes it out to be. However HFR (48 or 60 and beyond) make 3D actually worth it, the best way i can put it is simply its like see what 3D should have been all along.

    • Anonymous

      While I welcome 48fps as another tool for filmmakers I disagree with and can’t grasp this either/or approach.

      2D doesn’t have to be dropped in favour of 3D or visa versa; and 24fps doesn’t have to be dropped in favour of 48fps or again, visa versa. Nothing has to replace anything.

      The creators of movies should be able to use all of these tools to whatever ends they intend; using nearly any combination of the following choices:

      2D/3D, 24fps/48fps, Film: 16mm/35mm/65mm/Imax1570, Digital: 2K/3K/4K/5K+, Various Aspect Ratios, Shutter Angle, Colour/Black&White, DI/Photochemical etc.

      Movies shot in 3D should have both 2D & 3D showings in proportion with demand. And movies shot in 48fps can be decided on; 48fps for all versions, 24fps for all versions, 24fps for 2d and 48fps for 3D or visa versa; or release multiple versions (a bit complicated but a simple moniker right next the title “2D” / “2D-HFR” / “3D” / “3D-HFR” with a clear and simplistic explanation for luddites it should be ok).

      The poor 2D to 3D conversions need to stop, the cinemas and the industry as a whole really need to pull their fingers out and get 4K projectors into theatres that can do any combination of 4K, 2D/3D & 24fps/48fps and cinemas need to start operating their projectors properly, not leaving 3D lenses on for 2D movies for eg. and proper image (and audio) calibration.

      We also need to start getting more cinemas using lossless surround mixes and calibrating their audio setup. The majority still use Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks when many should be on 5.1/7.1Ch LPCM-WAV @ 24-Bit 48KHz+.

      The majority of cinemas I go to feel like a punch in the ear as opposed to a nuanced, directional envelopment with intelligible dialogue.

      Back to image. In favour of 48fps and in reply to those complaining about getting used to it; the projectors showing it have been adapted for it, not built for it so there’s room for improvement there. Further experimentation with shutter angle will likely yield more benefits. People ‘got used to’ sound, colour and widescreen when surprisingly there was a lot of resistance to those formats. 3D, while still controversial is also something many are warming to now that good creators like Ang Lee and Martin Scorsese have embraced it where it fits and with quality.

      • PStJTT

        You can’t support two parallel standards simply because of the costs one has to “win.” If HFR wins, billions of dollars will be spent retooling Hollywood, the effects houses and the theaters (and billions will be cast off in materials optimized for 24fps.) Sad, but inevitable.

        What bothers me the most is that 24fps films will become “quaint,” like the older hand-cranked films. That’s the flip side of getting our eye re-aligned to accept 48fps — we’ll expect that look. I hate to think of The Maltese Falcon becoming too “old” to watch, or worse — having it remade.

    • Anonymous

      It a shame no one showing the 2D 48fps version of the film.

  • http://www.dennedy.org/ Dan Dennedy

    It sounds like my impression of Blu-ray on some of the higher end, very high contrast, LED-lit LCD panels I have seen in stores where, at times, I believed I might be watching a “behind the scenes” track instead of the main feature. I believe some of these panels have motion interpolation to simulate higher frame rate. Is that correct? Is that what leads to the impression as much as the high contrast and saturation?

    • Bill

      Yes, that’s it. Many HDTVs have technology that interpolates frames to “smooth” motion, giving filmed content the feel of HD video.

      Thankfully you can shut it off on most every set.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1140589846 Larry Towers

      You have it exactly! High frame rate looks like video, because it is video for all intents and purposes. This is nothing new. I am just sick of elitist people acting as if they know better. We aren’t ignorant! We’ve seen live video for years. Higher quality live video is still live video! The problem with the directors and DP’s advocating for this is that they are paying attention to things like motion and temporal resolution. They aren’t watching a movie, they are technically assessing it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1140589846 Larry Towers

    I am so tired of people pushing technology while subtly casting blame on
    consumers for not being ready for it. People have long had experience
    with higher frame rates with television. And more recently as cited with
    high frame rate interpolation of Blu-ray sources. High frame rate
    acquisition/ presentation is nothing more than a better version of
    something aestheticaly terrible! This is not something new that takes
    getting used to! The point of going to see a movie is not to experience
    reality, it is to escape it. Did photography end the art of painting or
    sculpture? The more realistic something is the more it calls attention
    to itself as something illusory. Realistic scenes engage different parts
    of the brain which interfere with the suspension of disbelief necessary
    for transportation to a different place. Movies should feel like a
    memory. Memories are not high resolution/3D. The more convincing the
    reality is the worse the illusion of being transported. Save the high
    frame rates for games/ documentaries/ simulations where immediacy and
    interactivity is wanted. 29.97/30FPs would probably be fast enough to get rid of some of the judder and still remain not as video like. Plus it would be more compatible with the native refresh rates of most displays.

  • Deep’

    “I am so tired of people pushing technology” – what a great comment ! And always pushing – for WHAT ? Mr. Jackson – you have this wonderful Legacy of the 1st 3 films , and then you have to , just HAVE to go and do this- because you can.
    “You get used to it” ? Are You KIDDING? Amazing – who could spend $200 Mil & have excuses ?
    They may fall for it on the 1st one, but by the 2cnd – I predict a big Promo campaign running up to the 2cnd film to convince the public “Its all been solved”.

    • Anonymous

      In the LOTR films he also pushed a lot of new technology as well, especially CGI technology he use.

      • Ga

        I hate it too, they should have just stopped at black and white. That was perfect! Color hurts my eyes and now this? Where does it end with you people…

        • northisland

          Color was really new tech. High frame rates have been around for a long time. And as many have pointed out there is a reason they don’t work well for certain types of storytelling cinema.

  • Hornady

    Maybe this HFR tech is all about seeing the movie twice. The second viewing makes it better. Well, double the income for Mr. Peter & the Studio of course.

  • Meg

    Oh my goodness if you guys are so upset and worried about seeing it in 48HFR just go to a theatre that is playing it in the regular 28. Not all theatres are playing the 48HFR (there are actually a lot less playing it this way than the regular way) so quit your whining about a new experience you haven’t even seen or experienced for yourself yet and if your so against trying new things then just don’t see it in that style there your problem is solved. I plan on seeing it in both styles just to see what the comparison between the two is.

    • Anonymous

      24* ;p

    • Anonymous

      Personally I want to see what all the fuss is about. But it a wast of time for me to go an see the 3D 48 HFR version as I cant see the effect, if only there was a cinema showing the 2D 48 HFR version.

  • Anonymous

    So the moral of the story is that drastic changes in technology takes a while to settle in for the audience to get use to it, basically you need to retrain them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/heiner.schaefer Heiner Schäfer

    The problem might be due to 3d rather than 48fps. Your eyes have to focus on the screen all the time and your brain knows which distance your eyes are focussing on. Now the scene makes you believe that an object is much closer or further away than the screen so your brain is bound to be confused.
    The other thing might be that digital effects are produced at a certain accuracy. As soon as the projection has more detail the effects have to be produced with more detail. Judging how much detail is required can be difficult enough when you have all the time in the world, but under time pressure this is impossible.
    Over all this raises the question how real we want a movie to be. It is definitely too much when paramedics will have to take us out of the theatre after a battle scene. but how close do we want to get?

  • Jon Gentry

    The scenes from The Dark Knight Rises shot in IMAX took no getting used to. They were just even more beautiful and cinematic than 35mm. Even the untrained eye appreciate films dreamy and cinematic qualities. It’s studios and that push the digital capture, not the demand from audiences. I my opinion most people still prefer the look of film to the hyper reality of most digital capture. It’s only films (mainly shot on the Alexa) that mask the harsh video look and emulate film that people really like (Drive and Skyfall are good examples).

    • Jon Gentry

      That last sentence meant to say “I hear people say they like the look of.” Sorry for the typos, on my phone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kliman Dave ר Kliman

    It looked like a cheap TV video production. I would like very much to point out that how many frames per second there are has nothing to do with the terrible depth of field, the low dynamic range, the high video-camera-like-contrast and the sped up action. We should really be asking, what cameras did they use? for me the deleterious effects took a lot away from the movie for me and kept me from being able to suspend my disbelief. even the slow motion moments seemed too fast. One positive moment was the golem scene. He looked completely real, at least in the context of the overall sped-up cartoon-like universe in which he was inhabiting.

  • NerdQuality

    The problem that arises from HFR are many. The biggest is like almost every 3D tech today, it brings everything on the screen into focus more than it needs. When our eyes look at an object, it puts what we’re looking at directly into sharp focus, and everything around that object gradually fades out of focus. We make this correction in a millisecond… something a camera cannot do. Second is the Uncanny Valley. When something that is not real looks too real, we reject it completely. Third is the same problem that affected Hi Def in its early days… over-focus and over-clarity.

    • Porst

      That’s really the best explanation. I don’t see the need for 48fps in fiction films. Everything is too focused, too crisp, and takes me out of the story.

      Documentaries on the other hand, bring on the highest framerates possible!

  • Alwyn J Kumst csc

    Man do all those negative comments about HFR in The Hobbit make their writers seem like dinosaurs. I found it to be spectacular. No dust or scratches on the print rolling by, no noise, no blurs, nice deep blacks…. All the ‘flaws’ of film gone. Well done mr Jackson. Some of us appreciate the fact that The Hobbit does not look like anything else out there. It won’t become tomorrows standard but a story telling technique for another director to come on another project. I am not a 3D fan in general but the conservative use of 3D in The Hobbit was very pleasant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/coldbloodedkidder Dominic Paul

    after reading dozens of critic reviews and lots of fan comments ,I can;t find anyone who shares my disappointment in the fact that, the orcs and goblins were all digital .this ,to me ,was a step backwards .especially since they did such a good job with many of the orcs and goblins in “the lord of the rings” .also I found there was some really cheap and tacky effects such as Gandalf lighting his pipe with his finger .i mean,fuck it looked so fake .personnally,I thought that the fan films “the hunt for gollum” and “born of hope” had the overall “feel” of “the lord of the rings” way better than “the hobbit” did .,.-D