(Corrects December opening record in 12th paragraph.)
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,” Jackson, 51, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “It’s much more gentle on your eyes. You don’t get the eyestrain and headaches.”
Some critics have complained 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 projects images at 48 frames per second, double the conventional speed. Time Warner Inc. (TWX:US)’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, Jackson’s Oscar-winning epics based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkien.
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 percent of the 4,000 theaters that began showing the movie today, according to the studios.
“The Hobbit” is the first film to use the technology. Cameron has said he plans to shoot “Avatar” sequels using a higher frame rate. Jackson dismissed news articles that cited unidentified audience members who claimed the faster projection made them nauseous.
“There are no physical side effects,” 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, chief executive officer 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 opened midweek, Pandya said.
The film took in $13 million in midnight showings early today, according to researcher Hollywood.com Box-Office. The film will likely take in about $75 million over the weekend, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com’s box-office unit. 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 record for a December opening is held by 2007’s “I Am Legend,” which took in $77.2 million. “Avatar,” the top- grossing film in history with $760.5 million domestically and $2.78 billion worldwide, generated $77 million its opening weekend in 2009.
“The Hobbit” is a joint production of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. (MGMB:US) and Time Warner’s New Line Cinema, part of the Warner Bros. division. The companies plan two additional films. Turan, the Los Angeles Times critic, also complained the story moved too slow to justify a 2-hour, 50-minute picture.
“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,” 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.”
Time Warner, based in New York, rose 0.8 percent to $47.08 at 1:54 p.m. Before today’s trading the stock had gained 29 percent this year. Closely held MGM Holdings Inc. is based in Beverly Hills, California.
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