Continued from page 1

Proponents, including James Cameron, say higher frame rates provide more lifelike images, sharpen 3-D effects, and lessen or eliminate a flickering effect known as “strobing” that comes with camera motion. I saw the movie first at 24 frames a second and then at 48, and they’re absolutely right that higher speeds clarify the picture. Strobing noticeable at 24 frames is gone at 48, providing a continuity that greatly improves the action sequences. And the panoramas are like Middle-earth actually come to life, as though you’re standing on a hill looking down at the hobbits’ Shire. If Cameron’s “Avatar” was like looking through a window at a fantastical landscape, “An Unexpected Journey” at 48 frames is like removing the glass so you can step on through.

But with great clarity comes greater vision. At 48 frames, the film is more true to life, sometimes feeling so intimate it’s like watching live theater. That close-up perspective also brings out the fakery of movies. Sets and props look like phony stage trappings at times, the crystal pictures bleaching away the painterly quality of traditional film.

This may be cinema’s future, and the results undoubtedly will improve over time. It’ll be an adjustment for audiences, though, and like the warmth of analog vinyl vs. the precision of digital music, the dreaminess of traditional film vs. the crispness of high-frame rates will be a matter of taste.

The technology may improve the story’s translation to the screen. There’s just not that much story to Tolkien’s “Hobbit,” though. Jackson is stretching a breezy 300 pages to the length of a Dickens miniseries, and those in-between bits really stick out in part one.

“I do believe the worst is behind us,” Bilbo remarks as “An Unexpected Journey” ends.

From a hobbit’s lips to a filmmaker’s ears. Let’s hope Jackson has the goods to improve on a so-so start. Otherwise, “The Hobbit” _ subtitled “There and Back Again” by Tolkien _ is going to feel like traveling the same road more than twice.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” released by the Warner Bros. banner New Line Cinema and MGM, is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. Running time: 169 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

___

Motion Picture Association of America rating definition for PG-13: Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.