>You’re probably wondering why I would write a blog about the first “Hobbit” movie installment, and the current technologies in place to get us away from our home theaters and back into the movie theater. But I had a very interesting experience that I just had to share. Plus, many of the technologies developed for movie theaters end up finding their way into our home theaters, so why not?
TRADITIONAL THEATER VS. HOME THEATER
Digital projectors have been quickly replacing film as the current state-of-the-art for movie reproduction. And thanks to having almost 9 million pixels, 4K projectors are the state-of-the-art of state-of-the-art. With a video resolution this high, movie theaters could install larger screens and more seats closer to the screen, while still giving the moviegoer a sharp image. If you’ve been to the movies recently, and it was at a halfway decent theater, you probably saw 4K. (Shameless plug: you can also see 4K here at Hermary’s, as we have a consumer 4K projector from Sony that will blow you away!)
But when you take away the larger venue, and the crowds of people – the differences between movie theaters and home theaters is quite small. The sound in either is simply made up of 8 channels – movies theaters just use more than 8 speakers to reproduce it. So the powers that be have been searching for ways to get us back to the theater. 3D was resurrected for just such reason. Of course, 3D is readily available on most flat panel TVs and projectors. Even D-Box, the technology that vibrates and moves your theater seat along with the action on the screen, is available for home theaters.
So what is an up and coming film director like Peter Jackson to do to help ensure that his latest film is a blockbuster. I mean, who’s even heard of the book “The Hobbit” anyway? And it’s not enough that he had “moderate” success with his previous foray into Middle Earth, what were those films called again? Didn’t the last one win a Best Picture Oscar or something? I can’t remember.
So let’s say you want to go and see “The Hobbit”. Guess how many different ways there are to see it? Not one, not two, not even three – but seven by my count! For my first of two trips to see this movie, I decided on a relatively conventional presentation. Of course, I had to see it in 4K and in a good theater. But that was it. And I had a great time. The movie was fun, albeit a bit long, and looked and sounded fantastic. Who could want anything more than this, I thought.
My second screening was shall we say, with all the trimmings. Yes it was 4K. But it was also in 3D. And in a new surround format called Dolby Atmos. And screened at 48 frames per second, or high frame rate. So how did this second viewing stack up to the first? Read on.
WATCHING A MOVIE VERSUS EXPERIENCING A MOVIE
That basically sums it up. I’m not usually a big fan of 3D unless it is part of the director’s original intention and the director was up to the challenge, such as James Cameron (“Avatar”) or Martin Scorsese (“Hugo”). You can add Peter Jackson’s name to that list. The 3D added to my enjoyment of the film immensely, without ever resorting to fake “jump out of the screen” tricks.
What really made the experience thrilling for me was the sound. Dolby Atmos is what it’s called. Suffice it to say that a Dolby Atmos theater has full-range surround speakers mounted along the side and back walls, a step up from the smaller speakers usually used there. But there are also two rows of the same speakers mounted in the ceiling from front to back. Additional speakers are used behind the screen, depending on the size of the theater. Instead of 8 channels of sound, we now have up to 64. Sounds can be pinpointed to a particular spot in the theater for a very realistic effect. And when the action starts, you are truly enveloped in sound. It was an amazing experience, and I will see as many action/adventure movies in Dolby Atmos as possible. Thus far, less than 100 theaters world-wide are equipped with Dolby Atmos, but we are fortunate to have two in the Bay Area.
And now we get to the one element of this presentation that is truly divisive … high frame rate. Film is a series of photographs taken in succession, at a rate of 24 per second. And when they are played back at that rate, motion is simulated. Hence – motion pictures. Despite the fact that nearly every movie in the history of cinema has been filmed at 24 frames per second – this wasn’t good enough for director Jackson. So he decided to double the frame rate to 48. The results are very unique, and I will do my best to explain them here. But you truly have to see this for yourself and make up your own mind as to whether you like it or not.
The first thing I noticed that the image was sharper, more realistic. One might even say it was hyper-real. It looked less like film and more like video. But it was movement that was a bit disconcerting. When an actor moves – the movement just seems … odd. I realize that I am struggling to give a proper description, but know that I am not alone in this. Google “Hobbit high frame rate” and read the endless number of web sites devoted to this discussion. Most of the response to high frame rate has been negative, and I understand why. That said I completely understand why Peter Jackson chose to do this: the action sequences. Having seen the film in 24 frames per second 2D and 48 fps 3D – the latter made the action scenes much easier to follow. So on that count I think the decision was wise.
Simply, “The Hobbit” was a fun movie, and I look forward to the next two installments. And I want Dolby Atmos in my home theater. As soon as possible. That is all.