'Hobbit' technology rare

British actor Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins in the eagerly awaited The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, to be released on December 12, but how will Otago audiences see it? Photo supplied.
British actor Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins in the eagerly awaited The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, to be released on December 12, but how will Otago audiences see it? Photo supplied.

Cinemas in Arrowtown and Wanaka have embraced the digital revolution early enough to present The Hobbit in all its glory this week, but only a few cinemas in the South Island can project the epic at its controversial 48 frames per second (fps) speed.

Dorothy Brown's Cinema manager Samantha Relph announced this week digital films were now being shown in the Arrowtown boutique independent and 3-D will make its debut with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on December 12.

Miss Relph said she was delighted with the response from patrons.

''The latest Bond movie, Skyfall, has played to full houses and from comments I have received, our new technology has really captured the imagination of movie goers,'' she said.

Cinema Paradiso owners Calum MacLeod and Andrea Riley made the digital switch one year ago and noticed the ''massive difference'' in presentation over analogue.

Mr MacLeod said it was a ''crying shame when you're moving away from film, a medium I know and love, but it was last Christmas we crossed the threshold of there being more digital theatres than film theatres, so it's either stay in the industry and make the transfer, or get out of the industry.''

Ruby's Cinema, Cardrona Rd, Wanaka, has had digital and 3-D capability since it opened 13 months ago.

Reading Cinemas Queenstown will present films digitally and in 3-D by the first half of 2013.

Complex manager Rebekah Moore said it was ''interesting to note only limited cinemas have The Hobbit in 48 frames, as that's the only film in this format for another 12 months''.

''Even if a cinema has digital, the conversion to 48 frames costs about $15,000, so the economics of it make it unsuitable, more so given the 35mm film quality is excellent, anyway, and the customers lose no quality, entertainment or otherwise, from seeing it in this format.

''That's why the film is only on a handful of screens in 48 frames.''

''High frame rate'' (HFR) is what makes The Hobbit different from 3-D movies which have gone before.

Cinema Equipment managing director Mark Christensen, of Nelson, said most cinemas in the South with 3-D systems could upgrade to HFR, although not all were.

Of the independent cinemas he serviced, the St James, in Gore, and Fiordland Cinema, in Te Anau, would be operating HFR for The Hobbit.

The 48fps of HFR reduces strobing, flicker and motion blur which can occur with traditional 24fps systems.

Mr Christensen said HFR was ''the new innovation'' of The Hobbit, although Kiwi Magic, shot in the 1970s and played in Queenstown for many years, was a film with an even higher frame rate than The Hobbit.

''When I first saw fast frame rate with Kiwi Magic, I was absolutely bowled over by it and I have seen 17 minutes of The Hobbit at high frame rate, and it is spectacular.''

Mr Christensen said some film critics did not like HFR ''because it didn't look like film''.

''It was a bit like when we moved from records to CDs and suddenly the scratches were absent.''

Rialto Dunedin complex manager Craig Robinson said the adjustment to HFR had already been made in the complex's 300-seat 3-D theatre.

Sample footage he had seen had made him feel like he ''was really there, in the adventure''.

''It's so smooth, crystal clear and everything is just amazingly in focus.''