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"The world is not in your books and maps. It's out there!"

Let’s summarize what we had already heard about The Hobbit from critics before it was even released, shall we?  Well, it’s too long, obviously.  We can’t believe Peter Jackson is trying to stretch J.R.R. Tolkein’s small children’s book into three epic-length movies.  It’s pretty, but there’s too much time spent setting up the story, not enough actually moving forward the plot.  And, let’s see, what else?

Hmm.  No, that’s pretty much all the feedback they gave us.  And that is why I say that all movies – especially those  with a pre-exisitng fan base – should be screened for civilians alongside or instead of professional critics.  There is so much to love about this movie, and who knows how many people may have been turned off from seeing it because of the reviews’ arch negativity?

If you are at all in doubt or have been discouraged from seeing The Hobbit because of something you read about it, I exhort you to push through and see it for yourself.  It’s a beautiful and insightful film, emotionally wrenching and faithful to the source material in ways that only professional fanboy Peter Jackson could achieve.

I myself chose to see it twice: once with my kids in good old traditional 2D, 24FPS (frames per second) projection and once on my own in the 3D version of Jackson’s shiny new 48FPS presentation.  I enjoyed them both heartily, but if you can only do one, go 48FPS for sure.  More on that in a minute.

I have a theory that part of the reason The Hobbit struggles to engage viewers right out of the gate is that it centers around the dwarves.  Oh sure, we loved Gimli in LOTR for his gruff comic relief and unlikely bond with blonde bombshell Legolas, but was he anyone’s favorite character? If he had been among the fallen in the end, would it have rocked us too deeply?  My perception is no; despite the gargantuan talent and investment by paragon John Rhys-Davies, Gimli and all dwarves remain rough country cousins to the hobbits in popular view – strong and valuable for cultural color, but best kept along the periphery, please.  That’s right: I’m suggesting that there is some fantastical racism going on out there.

Yet The Hobbit at its heart – in fact, the entire Lord of the Rings saga – is a story of looking beyond what meets the eye.  The lofty and powerful fall while the humble and underestimated save the world…the last shall be first and all that jazz.  So yes, the dwarves are coarse, messy, and loud, but Jackson once again drives home an observation easily missed from the book if you read it too quickly: They are homeless.  They are refugees.  They were abandoned by elves and men while dragons and orcs stole the homes that they and their ancestors built.  What would they care for social graces and manners?  They’re driven to survive, not charm or even get along.  Who can blame them?

Once our hearts are softened to them, however, and we get to spend some time with them, we like Bilbo, find beauty in their quest and become deeply invested in it.  I went into the movie wanting to see Gollum and Smaug and the Eagles.  I left wanting to see these valiant fighters win back their home and find rest.  With that in mind, the credits come too soon.

Speaking of what meets the eye, any assessment of The Hobbit that does not address the new 48FPS format is sorely incomplete.  For one thing, the higher frame rate is how Peter Jackson envisioned and filmed the story (read his thoughts on the decision here), so the old format is automatically going to fall short for this particular series.  What convinced me, though, was learning that, when film was first being developed as a technology, Thomas Edison himself said anything less than 48FPS would be a strain on the eyes.  This fascinated me, and I was hungry to see what the new format could do.

It was amazing.  It was everything I have wanted from movies all along; in fact, we all have, but we just didn’t know it.  We have adjusted to the weaknesses of 24FPS, but we have been settling for an inferior experience.

Here’s the difference: With traditionally filmed movies, be they digital, HD, or 3D, there is a blurring effect on the big screen that we have chosen to overlook.  It happens primarily during rapid movements of the camera or characters, but in 3D it is especially pronounced around everything except the central point of focus in the scene.  48FPS eliminates that almost completely.  There is no drag, no strain, no need to get the 3D glasses set in exactly the right point on our noses so we don’t get a headache.

Of course, these weaknesses don’t show up on the small screen, which I believe is one reason that people are so easily abandoning the cinema for home viewing.  When 48FPS – or even better – becomes the mainstream, it will help to turn that around, because the big screen will once again be able to immerse us in ways that the small screen can’t.  More 48FPD, please!

So that’s a thumbs-up from me on all counts.  Here’s looking ahead to The Hobbit Part 2: The Desolation of Smaug – more Gandalf and Bilbo and yes, even the dwarves, with a healthy dose of giant spiders and Benedict Cumberbatch thrown in…and no headaches!  I’m geeking out already.

(originally posted 12/30/12 on the write naked blog)

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