The Hobbit is one of the most anticipated movies of all time. After the bar was set so high by the Lord of the Rings trilogy (except for the horrific abomination that is the battle of Helm’s Deep… don’t get me started) Tolkien fans are champing at the bit to see how this big-budget prequel turns out. With an amazing cast and proven source material, how could it fail? The answer may be held in a fraction of a second.
As all followers of The Hobbit movie know, Peter Jackson is pushing the film to be viewed in 48 frames per second. What does this mean? Well normal movies and TV shows are shown at 24 frames per second and our minds naturally fill in the missing bits. We don’t even realize that it’s happening. However, soap operas, home movies, and other videos are shot at 30 frames per second. This is why you can instantly tell a soap opera or reality TV show from other programs just by looking at it for a few seconds. In general, our minds link video and high frame rates to low budget programs. Despite Peter Jackson’s assurance that it will revolutionize movies, many fans are worried about him using The Hobbit as a guinea pig.
Jackson has been praising the new frame rate for months, claiming that it was “more attractive” and “more lifelike.” He sings its praises and never fails to mention how it will improve the 3D experience for movie goers (how thrilling..not). In April, Jackson and Warner Bros debuted about 10 minutes of footage at CinemaCon. This footage was shown at 48 frames per second and was met with a resounding “Ugh” by pretty much everyone in attendance. The consensus seems to be that it looked TOO real. It looked like a home movie and wasn’t “cinematic” enough. The level of detail and realism distracted people from the movie rather than adding to the experience. Even directors like Chris Nolan and Neill Blomkamp (considered by many to be Peter Jackson’s protege) have gone on the record as hating footage shot in 48 frames per second.
Last week at San Diego Comic-Con, Jackson debuted twelve minutes of footage at The Hobbit panel. (No, I didn’t wait in the ten hour line to see it in person, I had too much cosplay stuff planned this year and am uncomfortable sleeping overnight on public sidewalks.) This time the footage was shown at 24 frames per second and the crowed went crazy for it! Peter Jackson stated, “With our 48 frames per second presentation, negative bloggers are the ones the mainstream press runs with and quotes from. I decided to screen the Hobbit reel at Comic-Con in 2-D and 24 frames per second, so the focus stays firmly with the content and not the technical stuff. If people want 3-D and 48fps, that choice will be there for them in December.”
Interesting. So now the big question, was it the frame rate or the people in the audience that made the difference? Would the CinemaCon critics have found problems with the unfinished footage no matter what? Would the hardcore Tolkien freaks have loved anything they were shown at ComicCon after being in the hot sun for 8+ hours, regardless of the frame rate? Just like 3D it will be a matter of personal taste. Jackson claims that 48 fps is the future and that once we get used to seeing such crisp, clear footage we will never want to watch 24 fps movies again.
Maybe Middle Earth is the perfect place to show at a higher frame rate, and I’m sure many fans (myself included) will see it both ways. We’ll see how it goes. I have a Quenya-to-English dictionary on my desktop and have Elvish baby names picked out for my future children, but I seriously doubt that even Tolkien can make me like 3D.