The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - A New Era of Realism?

Author: Elliott, Darren Jack

Date: 2015

Publisher: University of Waikato

Type: Thesis

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University of Waikato


Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy is a familiar blockbuster franchise, adapting a well-known piece of literature and designed to appeal to global audiences. This trilogy, however, is also experimental, as the premium release of each film utilised higher frame rate (HFR) technologies together with computer generated imaging (CGI) and 3D in ways that were intended to extent the apparatus of cinema itself. These technological processes are part of a long line of developments aimed at creating a more compelling cinematic experience (Michelle, Davis, Hight, and Hardy, 2015). 3D film is thought to be the culmination of technological advances in film as the format’s ‘implicit mission was to conquer the entire sensorial complex, to represent reality in its totality’ (Asselin and Gosselin, 2013, p.132). Thus, this thesis focuses on the reception of global audiences to the technological aspects of the second film of The Hobbit franchise, The Desolation of Smaug (2013), focusing on whether 3D HFR quantifiably alters viewers’ viewing experience in terms of improving perceptions of realism and immersion. The research draws from a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods, including an online survey of 650 respondents across multiple countries and 39 Skype and email follow-up interviews. The responses to and interpretations of a self-selected audience formed the basis of understanding whether these technological advancements have created a more perceptually realistic and immersive cinematic experience. The findings from this research indicate that these new technologies were a challenge to many of the expectations of Hobbit viewers. Despite general approval of the nature of these technologies and their possibilities for enhancing the aesthetic experience of cinema, key segments of the audience were clearly disenchanted with these innovations, especially in comparison with their experience of Jackson’s earlier Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) and other CGI-based and 3D cinema. Respondents outlined problems in the interplay between the different imaging techniques, which generated jarring visual artefacts. They critiqued scenes where the filmmakers failed to seamlessly meld the technologies effectively, and many reported being frustrated at interruptions to their efforts to immerse themselves in the film’s narrative. Furthermore, my findings suggest that ultimately, the 3D HFR technologies and the aesthetic presented were subsidiary issues to the narrative surrounding the Middle-earth world that emotionally resonates with the majority of respondents. This does not mean that these interviewees found 3D HFR technology to have clashed with the narrative, but that the film ultimately stood as a return to their Middle-earth world. These 3 responses are consistent with those noted by Michelle et al. (2015), who found that existing fan communities of Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings trilogy had complex reactions to the use of 3D HFR technologies and their impact on The Hobbit films. These findings suggest a mixed future for similar efforts to advance cinematic aesthetics through new technologies.

Subjects: Audience research, 3DHFR film

Citation: ["Elliott, D. J. (2015). The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - A New Era of Realism? (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from"]

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