Whether it’s turning the shorter prequel to “Lord of the Rings” into a trilogy or filming the story in 48 frames per second (fps) there is no end to the spurious speculation surrounding the much-anticipated live film rendering of “The Hobbit.” What fans hope will be a cinematic masterpiece may end up being better known for its pioneering use of 48fps technology. When it was finally settled that Peter Jackson would once again be at the helm bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s world to life, it seemed like all the drama would die down. But dear Bilbo and his ilk are getting no free passes – and fans who got a sneak peek at the high frame-rate footage were less than enthusiastic.
Jackson, who originally planned a mass release of “The Hobbit” in 48fps, changed his mind after the response to a 10-minute 3D preview at CinemaCon in April. The high frame-rate version will now be a limited release, in order to give people time to get used to the sharper, more life-like images. According to James Cameron, who is a proponent of 48fps and even plans to shoot future “Avatar” sequels in as many as 60 frames per second, “If watching a 3D movie is like looking through a window, then [with this] we’ve taken the glass out of the window and we’re staring at reality.”
That doesn’t sound too bad, so what’s got everyone’s knickers in a twist? Since 1927 movies have been shot in 24 frames per second, and that is what our eyes and minds are used to seeing when we watch a film. The biggest difference in the 48fps world is that everything looks smoother – so smooth that some viewers think it looks fake. High frame-rate eliminates the strobing and flicker that we have become so accustomed to in 24fps. When those interruptions are missing, the action looks wrong to us. Another complaint is that the high definition provides too much reality, making sets look like sets and exposing every flaw of man, prop or beast.
Some who saw the CinemaCon sneak peek felt the reality captured in 48fps made the movie seem less magical, less of an escape into a different world. Others found the footage similar to what they’d seen in IMAX 3D nature documentaries – at least on the big, expansive shots of Middle Earth that fans came to expect from Jackson in “The Lord of the Rings.” Those appreciative fans sang a different tune when it came to intimate scenes of dialogue, saying that everything looked different and jarring. The conclusion being that 48fps looks awesome on wide, capacious shots but our eyes and minds have a hard time processing it on close-ups.
Jackson kind of agrees. He has stated that he doesn’t’ think high frame-rate technology is right for all movies, and that smaller, character-driven movies might not be the best fit for 48fps. And even he admits that viewing 48fps film can take some getting used to.
“It does take you a while to get used to,” Jackson said, later adding that “you get used to it reasonably quickly. We have obviously seen cuts of our movie at 48 and in a relatively short amount of time you have forgotten (the frame rate change). It is a more immersive and in 3D a gentler way to see the film.”
In consideration of the difficulty some audience members may have adjusting to the new technology “The Hobbit” will be released in 48fps, 24fps, 3D and 2D. For such an anticipated movie, it was a risky choice for Jackson to jump into the future of cinema, but it may be the perfect way to ease moviegoers into the next age. And, for those diehard fans out there, trusting Jackson’s judgment goes a long way. It will be interesting to see which format of the film sells the most tickets and how audiences react to a complete, polished 48fps version of Bilbo and Gollum mooning over their so-real-it-looks-fake “Precious.”
About the Author:
The author, Lisa Forester, has been enamored with The Hobbit since elementary school. When she isn’t making her way through middle earth, she is a professional blogger.