Watching the HFR 3D Version of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" in an RPX (IMAX-Lite) Theater

Smaug

Having experienced the amazing detail of the HFR 3D version of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey last year, the next frontier for me was the same format in an IMAX theater. Unfortunately, my local IMAX theater didn’t show An Unexpected Journey in the HFR format and won’t do so for its sequel The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug either.

A couple days ago, I accidentally stumbled into a screening of the sequel in an RPX (Regal Premium Experience) theater, which has a screen that’s significantly bigger than average but smaller than IMAX, comfy and spacious leather seats, and a state-of-the-art surround sound system.

I was really just looking to see the fantasy film in 48 fps, and had thought RPX was just another acronym for that format (like HFR). I didn’t know that I was in an IMAX-Lite screening until I googled RPX afterwards. I had initially thought the theater did a major upgrade. “Man, this screen is huge. Wow, look at all those speakers on the walls. Leather seats?!”

A bunch of trailers played before the sequel, but the one that stuck out was the RPX version of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 trailer, which had an introduction by Andrew Garfield. The image was crystal clear, and the Spidey scenes were breathtaking. During the swinging sequences, I felt like I was right there with Spider-Man. Afterwards, I’ve decided that whatever RPX stood for, it’s awesome and I would like more of it.

I saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 3D in the normal frame rate on a normal screen in a press screening last week. Although I like the sequel a lot more than the first, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of image detail before my eyes. It looked blurry to me, and that’s why I sought out the HFR version.

So what’s the experience like with twice the frame rate (HFR), better sound and a bigger screen (RPX)? Much Better. Like I said in my write-up last year for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the HFR experience is more live theater than cinema. It’s like watching a stage performance without its physical limitations. Everything’s more life-like and immersive. When Smaug or Beorn (in bear form) goes toward the screen, with twice the amount of visual data, I felt like they got a bit too close and personal.

The second film is visually darker than the first, but in 48 fps, the 3D doesn’t turn the images into a muddy mess. I can see the detail in the shadows clearly.

I can tell that Peter Jackson is a Jet Li fan because during a sequence where Bilbo and the Dwarves are being chased down a stream by Orcs, Legolas fights them off by stepping on the Dwarves’ heads, much like a similar scene from Fong Sai-Yuk (aka The Legend). During this fun and exhilarating sequence, movements are fluid and not choppy.

Where the first film sets things up by introducing us to familiar characters and settings, the sequel puts us on an exciting new journey with new characters and new places. And they look glorious in an RPX theater showing it in HFR 3D. Although not quite the holy grail of cinematic experience as I would expect from the IMAX HFR 3D version, it’s pretty close to it.

In terms of pricing, the RPX HFR 3D version is only $1 more than the regular 3D version. An evening show for a regular screening cost $11 at my local theater. 3D pushes the price to $15; RPX is $16; and IMAX is $17.50. If you’re gonna watch the 3D version, you might as well pay the extra dollar to watch it in the RPX theater. It’s well worth it for the larger screen, improved sound system, and a more comfortable seat.

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