I am extremely finicky about movie-watching. My rigid set of ideals about how a movie should be viewed states that the best way to watch a film is in a theater, on film, and every downgrade that must be made from that perfect experience is a sacrifice. This has been hard to maintain as movie-making becomes progressively more digital. When I say what I want in a screening I have begun to add “or a 4k projection”. That’s alright. I can groove with technology. But as technology advances, it’s becoming cheaper and easier to improve your home theater… and there is so much more room for error. It began with the widescreen television. People buy them and set the aspect to whatever the internet says is right, then disable the controls and now you’re watching everything distorted and stupid. Now as quality increases, it’s getting worse. Have you ever tried to watch something on a TV and it’s looked odd and too fast, the refresh rate is way too high, or there’s something very off about the frame rate? It seems unnatural, the speed is right, but the movements are too clean and quick?
Well, that’s what The Hobbit is going to look like. Intentionally.
10 minutes of newly finished footage from the upcoming fantasy epic were presented in Las Vegas this week at the CinemaCon convention. The Hobbit footage was in 3D and projected at 48 frames per second, an unusual frame rate (as film is normally projected at 24fps, and video standard is 30fps).
The screening began with a pre-recorded message from director Peter Jackson, where he told viewers this footage would be “much more gentle on the eyes, without the strobing or as much flicker, and much less eye strain.” He then added that he desires to “start the process of changing the entire industry to higher frame rates, which quite honestly provide a much more attractive experience, especially in 3D.”
But from the reaction of many critics, few are seeing it that way. The general consensus is just that it looks cheap and bad, like.. well, like incorrectly projected footage, or a TV on the wrong settings. From what’s been said about the actual content of the footage, The Hobbit seems to be getting very positive reactions. But everyone has been quick to change the topic to the 48fps issue.
Personally, I just don’t understand why frame rate, something that’s worked just fine for audiences all along, has to change. As I wasn’t at CinemaCon, much of what I’m saying is assumption. And I know I’m ranting like an irritable old man who can’t handle the advancements of a new era. I just want my dog, my gun, my rocking chair on the porch, you kids to stay off my lawn, and 2D film movies. Maybe Jackson is right, and this shift into a new frame rate will bring in the other portion of audiences that just can’t tolerate watching films in 3D. But is that a good thing?
3D is alright, but it’s a gimmick, and rarely used in a way that enhances anything about cinematic storytelling — films like Wim Wender’s Pina are artistically transformed by the medium, it’s a beautifully layered spectacle of human movement. How does Wrath of the Titans benefit from being in 3D? Well, the tickets cost more, and it’s gimmicky, which stirs up interest in something people may have initially shrugged off as more of the same bullshit.
I guess if you are going to reinvent 3D entirely, a new frame rate makes sense, but Jackson isn’t doing that at all. He’s just changed the speed at which his film was shot and is now going to be projected, it’s not different, it’s just disorienting, when the entire population of moviegoers who enjoy 3D in the first place are accustomed to seeing it at 24fps. The assertion is that the 48fps causes the feature to look more like reality, as if the events on screen are actually occurring in front of you. But either way, you’re still looking through those lame glasses.
Let’s try out 48fps when we have holographic movies!