One does not simply walk into a British cinema and watch The Hobbit at its best -- with less than a month to go before Bilbo Baggins sets off from the Shire, only selected screens are confirmed to show The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at&48 frames per second. It's apparently due to a need to upgrade projectors.Update 3/12/12: With just over a week before release, the situation has improved as the major multiplex chains have finally confirmed which cinemas will offer HFR. Hurray!
The three Hobbit films are filmed by Lord of the Rings helmer Peter Jackson at a frame rate of 48fps -- also known as high frame rate, or HFR -- twice the rate of traditional cinema presentations.
A long list of movie theatres have confirmed US cinema-goers will be treated to 48fps presentation, but here in the UK only a selection of multiplex cinemas and a few IMAX screens have apparently confirmed they will do the same.
Where can I see The Hobbit in HFR?
Vue is presenting The Hobbit in HFR at 29 cinemas, including Dublin, Edinburgh and a handful of London screens -- click here for the full list. Odeon has also announced a list of cinemas that will present the film in HFR.
Cineworld told me it will present The Hobbit in HFR at 25 of its 76 cinemas, once projectors have been upgraded with new boards that decrypt the movie file in the projector rather than on a server. It's not clear this is the reason other chains aren't showing the hairy-footed epic, with few companies offering a reason.
Showcase cinemas are now taking bookings for the film at cinemas in Cardiff, Bristol, Derby, Dudley, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Nottingham, Peterborough, and Teeside -- but not London. Bluewater is the closest screen to the capital.
So far, the only other rumoured screenings are at the IMAX screens in Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham -- and as Bleeding Cool points out, the Nottingham IMAX isn't actually built yet. The IMAX in Dublin will go HFR too, but the London IMAX will not.
Fancy cinemas Everyman and Picture House told me they're not screening the film in HFR.
What is HFR?
Most films are filmed and screened at 24 frames per second, which gives them a distinctive cinematic look, but causes motion blur when the camera moves. Shooting at a high frame rate (HFR) cuts down on motion blur and gives you a better look at the sumptuous sets, clever CGI and British telly stars in fake noses that comprise Peter Jackson's vision of Middle Earth. James Cameron is also planning Avatar 2 in HFR.
I'm fascinated to see what the results will be. I love the cinematic look, but I do find motion blur frustrating. Such a visually lush movie presented in a frame rate that allows you to drink in every detail is a big deal for cinema.
HFR is not without controversy: Jackson screened 10 minutes to press at CinemaCon, where viewers were disoriented by how smooth and real the footage looked, saying it felt like a TV show rather than a film. That echoes the negative reaction to 3D, which many feel is an unwanted innovation -- but HFR actually improves 3D as the higher frame rate eases eyestrain and nausea. And unlike 3D, 48fps works with existing projection equipment -- although it does require upgrading -- so shouldn't lead to a ticket price hike.
Ultimately cinema-goers deserve to see it for themselves -- so let's hope more cinemas decide to offer HFR to film fans after The Hobbit's royal premiere on 12 December.
Is this the start of a new era for cinema, or another innovation no-one wants? Are you looking forward to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page.
Update 16 November: Added information from Showcase.
Update 3 December: Added information from Vue and Odeon.