Dolby Laboratories Inc. and director Peter Jackson's Park Road Post Production announced Wednesday that "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" will be mixed and released in Dolby Atmos, the company's immersive new sound system that features two extra arrays of overhead speakers and the ability to direct sounds to individual speakers inside movie theaters.
"(Jackson) felt it was going to make a big difference in how he tells stories," said Stuart Bowling, Dolby's senior technical marketing manager. "He doesn't want people to just go and observe his movies. He wants you to feel like you're part of the experience of the stories that's he's trying to tell on the screen and allow you to be part of Middle-earth."
The director of the Oscar-winning "The Lord of the Rings" films adapted J.R.R. Tolkien's tale of Bilbo Baggins, set in the fictional realm of Middle-earth 60 years before "The Lord of the Rings." Besides the standard 2-D format, Warner Bros. Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures are releasing the series in high-frame-rate 3-D, IMAX and other 3-D formats.
Bowling said Dolby's goal is to have the Atmos platform installed in 80 to 100 theaters in time for "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which is scheduled to premiere on Dec. 14.
The second and third films, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" and "The Hobbit: There and Back Again," are set for release Dec. 13, 2013, and July 18, 2014.
Other movies slated to be released in the Atmos format include Fox's "Chasing Mavericks" and "Life of Pi." Disney-Pixar's "Brave" was the first film to debut with the audio format earlier this year.
Bowling said the company expects more than 15 films to be released in Atmos next year and hoped to have the system in 1,000 theaters by the end of next year.
"Dolby Atmos is fantastic from a sound quality position," said John Neill, head of sound at Park Road Post Production. "We can now hear full range surround speakers, meaning that when we pan from the front to surround, the sound does not change in quality. The overhead speakers give us the opportunity to place the theater patron really in the location."
Jackson shot "The Hobbit" in 3-D and at 48 frames a second, twice the speed that's been the standard since the 1920s. He received a mixed reception for high-frame-rate preview footage of "The Hobbit" at the Cinema Con theater owner's convention last year. Some thought the images were too clear and realistic, taking away from the magic of the film medium.