Advanced tickets go on sale today for Peter Jackson’s first “Hobbit” installment, “An Unexpected Journey” — with major U.S. circuits offering up a not-so Hobbit-sized 450 total locations capable of screening the film’s high-frame-rate 3D version.
With the increased 48 frames-per-second 3D format, “Hobbit” auds will be able to choose from five theatrical versions when the pic bows Dec. 14. The other formats are 2D, 3D, Imax and Imax 3D.
Exhibs are selling advanced tickets for all formats simultaneously. Filmgoers will not have to pay an additional surcharge for the pic’s high frame rate version beyond the usual 3D uptick.
Warner originally planned to keep the HFR version far more limited, though the studio ultimately sided with Jackson, who advocated for a wider footprint with the format. As a result, Warners hand-picked theaters, with at least one location in all major U.S. cities.
“If this is going to be a game-changer, we needed to be responsible with the format,” Warner domestic distribution prexy Dan Fellman told Variety.
The size of the high-frame-rate rollout is an impressive achievement considering that no theaters were considered HFR-ready in April.
The difficulty of upgrading digital cinema systems so they can handle 48 fps depends on the age and type of the system.
Essentially, it becomes a hardware vs. software upgrade: Early “Series 1” d-cinema systems can’t be upgraded for high frame rates at all. Some “Series 2” auditoriums have to add an integrated media block at the projector, which is a significant hardware upgrade. More recent “Series 2” installations that already have an IMB need only a software update.
At Cinemark, the third-largest theater chain, all of the firstrun 3D locations are now HFR-capable. “The Hobbit” will occupy only some 70 of those, however. The nation’s largest circuits — Regal and AMC — have set aside more than 90 HFR-capable domestic locations for the film.
The 48 fps “Hobbit” version will be available only in 3D.
All the 3D system makers (RealD, Xpand, Dolby, MasterImage) say their systems will be ready for HFR when “The Hobbit” opens.