HFR3D: An Uncertain Future

I bet you’re probably sick of me ranting about imperfections without actually reading about them. Don’t worry, because everything that follows is a direct response to my first reaction with the format. Please let it be noted that I’ve never seen HFR3D before and that this was my first viewing of the film as well. So, chances are high that the format could “grow” on me or perhaps get worse with multiple viewings. My eyes were still adjusting to the entire experience halfway in, so my response is that of a fresh one and one that could change over time.

The absolute worst thing about HFR3D is the most important thing directors must follow when making a movie. We need to feel like we’re in the movie. What HFR3D does is it scrubs away that cinematic look and feel and exchanges it for a presentation that looks waxy and over-polished.

Characters look like actors in costume, wearing make-up and fake ears and wigs. Most of the first hour is spent in the home of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and that means you’re treated to lots and lots of up-close shots of characters in a small space. This means that everything is smoothed out and sped-up, so while fast movements may look almost surreal and eye-popping, the rest of the stuff encompassing the scene looks phony. Sets look like built sets and not actual locations and some early CGI sticks out like a sore thumb. I wouldn’t go as far as calling this a “soap-opera” experience, but it does lessen the usually visually pleasing locations and sets.

It’ll initially knock you back, because characters move so much quicker that you’ll begin to think that the film will be over in the blink of an eye. But once their movements become normal you’ll soon realize the other slight distractions, like actors contact lens’ or a costume that’s supposed to look naturally dirty and aged, but instead looks like a piece of new clothing that received some add-on paint or smudging.

Again, the only reason these minor things are getting so much detail is because HFR3D is intended for smoothness and quickness and there’s nothing in the first hour that calls for such enhancements.

The rest of the film operates fine with HFR3D and actually becomes even more immersive as a 3D experience. Battle scenes are now completely watchable and defined, with dirt and dust and giant set pieces actually rendering within the frantic fight sequences. The camera moves freely from character to character or location to location and not a single shred of detail is viewed as blurry or hard to make out. Everything is instead constantly focused on, which gives your eyes almost too much to pay attention to in one viewing.

Your eyes might get sore from the lack of blinking, because at one point deep in the film’s second half you’ll truly start to believe that you’re standing right next to Gandalf (Ian McKellen) or Gollum (Andy Serkis). This is when the format prospers and this is when you start to realize what Jackson was trying to accomplish all along.

It feels like a game-changer and something that could create an entire new wave of hyper-realistic cinema, but it still makes you question why Jackson introduced the tech with this specific film. At one point Jackson even mentioned in an interview that HFR3D could be like IMAX, meaning that some films could switch frame-rates for specific scenes that would benefit from the quicker process. I like that idea a lot, because the second half of The Hobbit is spectacular to look at. But the opening hour lacks the proper look and feel.

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