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As 'Hobbit' Opens to Mixed Reviews, Jackson Defends Faster Film Speed

'Experiment' to Provide More Realistic Look

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'The Hobbit'
'The Hobbit'

Director Peter Jackson defended his decision to use new projection technology for "The Hobbit," calling it an "experiment" designed to give the 3-D fantasy film a more realistic look.

"As a filmmaker it's a joy because it gives a more immersive, realistic feel," Mr. Jackson, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. "It's much more gentle on your eyes. You don't get the eyestrain and headaches."

The movie opened strong in midnight showings Thursday night, selling $13 million in tickets, suggesting it's on track for a $100 million opening weekend or better.

Some critics have complained, however, that the sharper images resulting from so-called high-frame-rate projection provide too much detail and make parts of the movie look fake. Kenneth Turan, a film critic for the Los Angeles Times, recommended fans seek out traditional screenings.

The new technology moves at 48 frames per second, double the conventional speed. Time Warner 's Warner Bros., distributor of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," limited the number of screens using HFR to test public reaction. Beyond that question, a survey of critics also showed the film winning less praise than the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, Mr. Jackson's Oscar-winning epics based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Mr. Jackson and "Avatar" director James Cameron have championed the new technology, which enables projectors to put more detailed images on the screen. The HFR version of "The Hobbit" will be in about 10% of the 4,000 theaters that begin showing the movie today, according to the studios.

"The Hobbit" is the first film to use the technology. Mr. Cameron has said he plans to shoot "Avatar" sequels using a higher frame rate. Mr. Jackson dismissed news articles that cited unidentified audience members who claimed the faster projection made them nauseous.

"There are no physical side effects," Mr. Jackson said. "It's complete nonsense."

The HFR screenings probably will attract technology geeks and hard-core Tolkien fans, at least initially, said Gitesh Pandya, CEO of Boxofficeguru.com, an industry website.

With ticket inflation and premium prices for 3-D screenings, the picture will probably have higher first-weekend ticket sales than the "Rings" predecessors. The previous films also opened midweek, Mr. Pandya said.

Mr. Pandya estimates $86 million in weekend sales. That compares with the $80 million forecast by Ben Mogil, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus & Co. He estimates $350 million in sales for the film's full theatrical run in the U.S. and Canada.

The first "Rings" film opened with $47.2 million in December 2001, according to Box Office Mojo, another industry website. The best performer was the final installment, which took in $72.6 million in its December 2003 debut.

"The Hobbit" is a joint production of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Time Warner 's New Line Cinema, part of the Warner Bros. division. The companies plan two additional films.

Critics have also complained that the story in "The Hobbit" moved too slowly to justify a 2-hour, 50-minute picture. Grantland's Zach Baron, for example, called it "a two-hour-and-fifty-minute movie that feels like it lasts for five or six years":

Jackson pioneered a new technique in filming the movie, shooting at 48 frames per second, twice the usual speed, which lends an unwanted, disorienting clarity to the proceedings. Much of the film looks like a video-game cut scene; or, more accurately, a movie set on which actors are acting, since you can see with terrible precision the costumes and the makeup and wigs and the fake rocks. High definition has been a miracle for sports and a largely unresolved catastrophe for nearly everything else. Anyone who has ever been on a movie or TV set knows just how much artifice and trickery and elaborate lighting and angles go into making it all look real. Filming in 3-D, and with a higher frame rate, doesn't enhance that artifice; it exposes it. You can see the paycheck sticking out of Sir Ian McKellen's beard.

"The reviews are not as good as for the past 'Lord of the Rings' movies, but on the flip side, you've got a dead marketplace," Mr. Pandya said. "There's not a lot out there. This is not only an event film, but it's the only event film in town."

~Bloomberg News and staff reports~
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