"Lord of the Rings" fanboys and general movie buffs alike have been buzzing for months over the debut of Peter Jackson's new film format in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." The mega director doubled the frame rate of the film -- to reported dizzying effects.
Some footage of the 3D film's high frame rate (HFR) was previewed at CinemaCon over the summer to mixed response -- many complaining that the extreme sharpness of the images takes away from film's historic beauty.
But now that select audiences and film journalists are starting to see "The Hobbit" in its entirety, some are saying the higher frame rate of 48 frames per second (fps) is not only a visual oddity, but also disorienting. (Most of today's films are shot on cameras that capture 24 frames per second. The higher the frame rate, the sharper, more real the image.)
"The filming technique made [audience members] nauseous and dizzy, with some even complaining of migraines," The New Zealand Herald reported as some of the reaction they were getting from early viewers of the film. "You have to hold your stomach down and let your eyes pop at first to adjust," one fan in New Zealand reportedly tweeted [via Movieline]. (12/5 UPDATE: It is worth noting that the tweets in question were anonymous and not sourced.)
12/5 UPDATE #2: Warner Bros. has issued the following statement: "We have been screening the full-length HFR 3D presentation of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY extensively and feedback has been extremely positive, with none of thousands who have seen the film projected in this format expressing any of the issues described by two anonymous sources in media reports. We share the filmmakers' belief that by offering filmgoers the additional choice of HFR 3D, alongside traditional viewing formats, they have an opportunity to be part of a groundbreaking advancement in the movie going experience and we look forward to having audiences everywhere share in this new way of storytelling."
Indeed, during an early viewing in Wellington, New Zealand, I encountered one viewer who complained of a headache after seeing the film, attributing the ailment to the film's new visual extravaganza.
Collider reviewer Dave Trumbore listed a con of the film: "Definite 'motion sickness' potential during scenes of chaotic action or fast movement." He further described the 48fps as making you feel as though you're on set with the actors. So when they, say, "take a crazy tumble down a rabbit hole, for example, you feel just as disoriented…which might not be too pleasant for some."
Let it be known, the effect of the film is markedly different than "found footage," shaky cam movies such as "The Bourne Ultimatum" (2007), "Cloverfield" (2008) and "The Blair Witch Project" (1999). But if any of those made you feel queasy in the theater it could be a guide to your "Hobbit" tolerance level.
[Instagram Slideshow: 'Hobbit' dispatch from New Zealand]
For those concerned about a possible amplified effect when viewed on giant IMAX screens, and in 3D, take heart -- those will be screened in the normal 24fps.
Yahoo! Movies' own Matt McDaniel didn't report motion sickness but did say "The Hobbit" never looked like "a movie" as we've come to understand it. "Some shots do create an astonishing effect like you really are there, but others just look like you're watching a really expensive HDTV."
Now that early reviews are pouring in, the overall response to the film is mixed. While 95 percent of audience members say they want to see "The Hobbit," critics have so far given the epic 2 hour, 40 minute film an average rating of 6.7 out of ten [via Rotten Tomatoes].
Having seen the film, the issue of nausea or headaches shouldn't cause concern unless you have a tendency toward sea sickness -- in which case a stomach full of bread or even a preemptive Dramamine tablet should do the trick. Dehydration could also amplify the film's roller coaster effect. And for the love of Erebor, hold off on the alcohol until after your screening -- if at least for the sake of the theater workers cleaning up after you.
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" opens everywhere on December 14.