The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an interesting film for me to offer a review on.. It is a follow-up to a grand trilogy that I didn’t expect to wow me on the level it did, so there’s a wee bit of expectation I could bring in to seeing this new film. And of the three available theatrical formats my friends and I chose to watch this film in, we chose the newest, labeled “HFR”.
HFR stands for High Film Rate and the HFR version is projected at twice the film rate than normal projection rate. The point of HFR is supposed to be that you’re getting a clearer, sharper image to watch because there’s twice as much footage and thus visual information you’re seeing in the same amount of time. Director Peter Jackson filmed The Hobbit films in this HFR so you’re seeing the film in the same higher quality that he shot it in.
So not only was there some expectation by me about how I felt the film should be, I was also going to be distracted by analyzing the picture quality of the film.
And it was a 3D screening. So there’s the added notion of whether 3D will hinder or heighten my enjoyment of The Hobbit.
After two hours and fifty minutes of sitting in a theatre watching a HFR 3D film, I will say I was very entertained.
I’ve never read the book. But the story in this first cinematic chapter of The Hobbit was very fairy tale-like. I did go in having seen headlines of reviews saying it was a slow-moving movie, and I’m glad I knew that going in. There are some big action set pieces, but most of the film is more character-building than character battles. And for the most part, I kept pretty much interested in seeing all that character arc stuff. I don’t know that I need to pay to go see it in a theatre again for all that, but if someone forced to go I wouldn’t be disappointed re-watching it all either.
But mostly here I want to let loose about what I thought about the HFR and subsequently the 3D too.
Going in, I had heard that some movie-goers who’s seen early screenings got sick and nauseous. This concerned me. I got a little motion sickness watching Cloverfield and also during my first trip on Star Tours: The Adventure Continues at Disneyland.
Then, I had a friend tell me that a friend of his who saw an early screening thought it had a “video quality” and that that made it look to more 3D than usual.
Those notions were on my mind going in to see it for myself and during the film. Here’s my take.
Watching the images of The Hobbit in HFR 3D is a lot like looking at pictures through a View-Master.
Images, especially those in bright daylight, are saturated, sharp, and breath-takingly full of color. And while I noticed more 3D at the beginning, it’s likely my eyes got adjusted to the 3D the longer I watched. I lost all sense of 3D-y heighted depth of field about 30 minutes into the movie. But to be sure, don’t take my View-Master analogy as a negative. It’s just the best way I can describe the HFR look. At the same time, because the imagery was so crisp and sharp and rich in color, there was a bit of a surreal quality to viewing the film too. Not “so real it’s 3D” type of feeling, but just so sharp in image quality that my brain couldn’t understand why it was damn sharp.
The only time I didn’t like the HFR look was at the very beginning of the movie. It’s a prologue scene and it wasn’t until after the scene ended that I knew the scene was filtered to give it a uniquely different look, because the next scenes was gorgeous!
So I enjoyed this HFR presentation. You can imagine the kinds of outdoor vistas Jackson would shoot or create of Middle Earth, and seeing them in HFR was Ah-mazing.
So for those of you who even knew about there being HFR screenings and were curious, these were my thoughts about it. I saw the opening weekend Sunday matinee show at the ArcLight Beach Cities in El Segundo for $17, and I wasn’t disappointed (and my company of friends were definitely a plus as we got into our usual geeky breakdown analysis of what we’d just seen). I don’t know that I need to see every film in HFR either. But I don't doubt the studios offering HFR more, just we have more IMAX and 3D choices today than we did five years ago, if The Hobbit continues to do as well as it’s expected to over the holidays.
On December 7, 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture arrived in theatres ten years after its last first-run episode aired on NBC. I became a fan - a Trekkie - while watching the reruns during the 70's. And I remember being caught up in the excitement of the release of the new movie and the new starship and the new uniforms, even as I knew watching it that something was definitely off about this latest “episode” of Star Trek. But there were clunkers among the show’s 79 episodes (e.g., "Spock's Brain"), so no matter what, fans like me would forgive the fact that the movie, like any one of the carbon-based units in the film, is not perfect. Star Trek was back one last time (so we thought at the time), and that was great!
Star Trek: The Motion Picture, referred to commonly as TMP, arrived two years after Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a year after Superman: The Movie. Those were the films that John Williams astounded moviegoers’ with, introducing heroic scores and signature themes that would make him The Composer for fantasy adventure films of the day. Naturally, he influenced the works of other film composers working on similar projects. I bought his records and sought out any other works that were just as exciting to listen to, that carried a weight that was as epic, romantic and inviting as Williams' work. And Jerry Goldsmith’s score to TMP easily met the criteria.
Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams are contemporaries. Both started working in the 50’s in Hollywood, both composed music for scores of 60’s television shows – Goldsmith counts The Twilight Zone and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. among them and for Williams, Lost in Space, Land of the Giants, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – before moved on to scoring for films. Williams won his first Oscar for adapting the music from Fiddler on the Roof for its film adaptation. Goldsmith earned his one and only Oscar for his score to The Omen. But you’ve also heard Goldsmith’s work in Patton, Chinatown, The Wind and the Lion, The Sand Pebbles, Legend, Planet of the Apes, Alien, Rudy, Hoosiers, Gremlins, First Blood, Air Force One, The Mummy and Poltergeist.
If by chance none of the above films are familiar, everybody still knows at least one Goldsmith piece of music. The "Main Title" from TMP was re-used as the theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Specifically, the music wasn’t composed to be a TV theme, but no one can argue the theme sounds right for a Star Trek show. It exudes confidence, adventure, discovery, even a little whimsy. Hum a few notes and everybody knows the show you’re talk about.
On June 4, 2012, Jerry Goldsmith’s seminal work on TMP was celebrated at an event promoting the release of a new expanded edition of his score to the film. Titled “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” Soundtrack Celebration, it was sponsored by La-La Land Records and Creature Features and featured a panel of speakers who worked with Goldsmith including some who were orchestra members during the TMP scoring sessions. In addition, the discussion featured video interviews of Goldsmith, who died in 2004, and footage from TMP with rare music cues composed by Goldsmith that were re-written after feedback from director Robert Wise. A screening of the 2001 Director’s Edition of TMP concluded the evening.
Some friends and I attended the event, where we also got to buy our copies of the new 3-disc collection a day before its official release date plus have them autographed by two of the panelists. The 115-minute panel discussion, hosted by Jeff Bond, included among others the soundtrack's producer and long-time Goldsmith recording engineer Bruce Botnick, and Craig Huxley and David Newman who both performed on this score. It was a much better program than I had expected it to be. Many of the anecdotes that were shared were very informative or very entertaining. David Newman, who played violin in the score and would become a successful film composer himself, scoring the Star Trek-inspired comedy Galaxy Quest and the sci-fi cult favorite Serenity, explained that Williams’ popular romantic style of film music that had quickly become the norm to film goers and filmmakers, and that challenged Goldsmith’s own modernistic style of music, a challenge he slowly but obviously successfully overcame. Goldsmith’s agent Richard Kraft shared with us the composer’s annoyance of a young James Horner who hung around the recording sessions to watch Goldsmith but also spend a lot of time talking to the Paramount execs. Horner would later go on to compose the score to TMP’s next two sequels, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock before scoring Titanic.
Another highlight of the evening was a demonstration of an instrument called the blaster beam. It’s featured prominently in the TMP score. In another intersection of the Star Trek universe, the creator and performer of the blaster beam, Craig Huxley, was formerly a child actor who was cast in two episodes of the original Star Trek series. As he explained at the event, he went on to become William Shatner’s musical director when the actor “…wanted to combine beat poetry and jazz scat singing with outer space.” He produced Shatner's infamous “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and "Rocket Man" during those days.
Huxley told the audience how excited and intrigued Goldsmith was when he learned about the blaster beam, and how the composer was eager to use it in his score for TMP. In the middle of the panel discussion, Huxley stepped behind the blaster beam to recreate some of the tones Goldsmith composed for it in the score and sounds used in the sound design of the film. For all the geeks in the room, it was an amazing experience to hear these familiar sounds performed live in front of us! I recorded the entire demonstration. Take a look at it below.
Since that evening, I’ve played the hell out of my new CD purchase! My friend has too, sharing with each other over the next few days how nostalgic it's made us feel and how much we love the new recordings, which were drawn from a different source as any previous releases which essentially makes every track on the set previously unreleased. And let me tell you, the fidelity of every bit of the score is AMAZING!! It even inspired me to pull out a book that I've owned for quite a while, Star Trek: Phase II: The Lost Series, and finally read the story of what would have been the 1970's return to television of most of the original cast in a series continuation before Star Wars and other factors forced Paramount to elevated the project into a motion picture production.
The new Star Trek: The Motion Picture 3-disc original soundtrack collection is limited to 10,000 copies and can be ordered from La-La Records or Screen Archives Entertainment.
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!