Peter Jackson Debuts a Disappointing ‘Hobbit’ at CinemaCon

The impact of “The Hobbit” footage Peter Jackson screened at CinemaCon was more telenovela than “Avatar”

Peter Jackson hoped that an extended look at his upcoming “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” would convince the theater owners who flocked to CinemaCon this week that higher frame rates was the next revolution in film.

Based on the roughly 10 minutes he screened, “The Lord of the Rings” director may need to work on his pitch.

In a taped segment, Jackson, who is in New Zealand editing the prequel, said that raising the rate at which film is projected from 24 to 48 frames per second will enhance the 3D experience. To do that, theater owners will have to purchase a software upgrade for digital projectors.

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“The movement feels more real, it feels smoother,” Jackson said.

He also argued that by speeding things up, the 3D would be “more gentle on the eyes.”

The presentation was part of Warner Bros. annual pitch to exhibitors; one that also included early looks at Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby,” Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rising” and Adam Shankman’s “Rock of Ages.”

Based on the buzz that accompanied the exit from the Caesar's Palace theater, at least some theater owners and film bloggers were unimpressed. It should be said that much of the footage Jackson screened still needed effects work — some of it had green screens in the background –  but the impact was more Spanish telenovela than “Avatar.”

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There will be plenty for fans to savor. However, the richness of Jackson’s imagery, while beautiful, was marred because the 48 frames made each scene too crisp, if that's possible. It looked more real, in fact — too real. Instead of an immersive cinematic experience, Middle Earth looked like it was captured as part of a filmed stage play.

One blogger was overheard saying that it reminded him of  “I, Claudius,” a PBS series from the 1970s that is not renowned for its visual aesthetic.

Perhaps what is currently unpleasant to the eye will be smoothed out in post-production when it is color corrected, or maybe, like rock music or Twitter, it is a cultural shift lost on old fogies. 

As for the footage itself, Jackson screened shots of epic battles, confrontations with trolls and a chilling sequence with Gollum that showed that he still has a knack for finding the narrative heart in J.R.R. Tolkein’s dense mythological landscape.

If only it looked a little more like a movie.