Filmmaker Peter Jackson’s new installment from Middle Earth has so much sexy technology you’d think reviewers would swoon: 3D; high def; 48 frames per second. Instead, we’re hearing a big yawn. Where did The Hobbit go wrong?
Welcome to the Q Curve. Consumer technology has gotten so good that the professionals we once paid to produce something startling now have difficulty staying ahead. I call this phenomenon the Quality Curve, where the rising quality of what you can produce with the iPhone (AAPL) or Samsung (005930) in your hand, if drawn as an upward line, now often surpasses the quality of professional producers. If the excellence of what you or I create rivals that of pros, our demand for their wizardry starts to slip.
Bilbo Baggins is a case in point. Jackson, whose brilliant The Lord of the Rings series won 17 Academy Awards, decided to solve one of film’s biggest flaws with this new preinstallment about the One Ring to Rule Them All—the flickering effect we get from a film speed set 90 years ago. When movies were first produced, film stock was expensive, so the standard rate of celluloid rolling through a camera was set at 24 frames per second. This means, for every second of a movie, 24 images flash rapidly on the screen to create the illusion of motion. The pace was set not for visual smoothness, but rather to conserve film—24 frames per second was the minimally viable option that gave users an acceptable moving image while holding down film costs.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Don’t misunderstand: New Zealand’s independent film community is enormously grateful for Peter Jackson, whose blockbuster “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, among other things, gave Kiwi directors a jolt of confidence.
“We saw one of our own kind do it,” said Robert Sarkies, a Wellington-based screenwriter and director. “For a remote country that lacks industry and has a feeling of cultural insecurity, what Peter Jackson achieved is pretty huge.”
Still, some film people here worry that Mr. Jackson’s rise has come at a price. The New Zealand government has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Mr. Jackson’s mainstream movies and even rewritten labor laws to accommodate his Hollywood partners. What about other homegrown directors, particularly those interested in artier cinema? Is enough being done to make their careers sprout?
“The government has shown generosity toward these big films while smaller ones are left to struggle,” said Mr. Sarkies, whose movies include “Two Little Boys,” a comedy starring Bret McKenzie. “The fact is, government funding for smaller New Zealand films hasn’t even remained the same; it has gotten smaller and smaller.”
This time last year, New Zealand was under the spell of the Rugby World Cup, with host nation enthusiasm going a long way to realising the organisers’ vision of a “stadium of four million”. In 2012, the big event features hairy feet of a different sort, with the New Zealand-made film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opening with a world premiere in Wellington, the home town of director Sir Peter Jackson, in six weeks.
A decade after Jackson’s three-film adaptation of JRR Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings emerged to critical and popular acclaim, the countdown to The Hobbit – in its film form, also a trilogy – began last week in earnest. In earnest and in fact: Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown unveiled a giant clock, complete with an image of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, counting down the minutes to the 28 November premiere.
The clock sits atop the Embassy Theatre, the handsome 1920s cinema that will host the screening. A bevy of international stars, led, it’s safe to predict, by Freeman, will return to Wellington to walk the red carpet down Courtenay Place. The last time the 500m carpet was unrolled, for the world premiere of The Return of the King in 2003, about 120,000 people came to watch the procession. Organisers expect a similar turnout this time. “It will be a real carnival atmosphere,” promises Wade-Brown.
There is nothing subtle about efforts to piggyback. The national tourism slogan “100% Pure New Zealand” has become “100% Middle-earth“, while in the days leading up to the premiere Wellington will be “renamed”, Wade-Brown announced last week, as “Middle of Middle-earth”.
It would all no doubt bewilder Tolkien, who conjured up his Middle-earth from Oxfordshire in the 1930s, and never travelled as far as New Zealand.