Friday, July 6, 2012

"The Hobbit": 48 Frames Per Second or 24?

I was reading last week's Entertainment Weekly, which featured a nice cover story on The Hobbit, the first part of which is coming out this December.  It was a well-done, in-depth set visit, with some interesting morsels thrown in to sate fans' appetites, however the most intriguing morsel for me was seeing how they plan on releasing the film.  The Hobbit has been shot on a Red Epic digital camera, no film in sight.  As well, the entire movie was shot in 3-D at 48 frames per second(fps).  Like all other movies shot in 3-D, the viewer will have the option, come December, to decide if they want to see the movie in 3-D or 2-D, but they will also have the choice of whether or not they want to see the movie in 48 fps or 24 fps.

To explain a bit, frames per second is how many images flicker across the screen each second to create the illusion of moving pictures.  Since the Golden Age of movies, film has been projected at 24 fps, however the more fps there are, the closer the image comes to looking like how we naturally see with our own eyes in the real world.  What this does, is that when the film is shown at a higher frame rate than the standard, it makes the movie look more fake because the movements across the screen are more fluid than we are accustomed to seeing in a film.  Many BBC shows are shot at higher frame rates and that is why they often look so different.

Where this creates such a big hoopla is that The Hobbit director, Peter Jackson, is a big fan of higher fps and chose to shoot The Hobbit at 48 fps because he felt that if the film showed closer to how our eyes actually process images, then the end result would be more immersive and more realistic.  In many ways, he is right, however we are not accustomed to seeing films at such a faster frame rate, so when early footage was screened of the movie in 48 fps at a convention a few months back, many in attendance were outraged at what they saw, complaining it looked cheesy, like a BBC TV show.

Till now, I had assumed that the studio was going to release the film in 48 fps and trust Jackson's artistic decision,  after all that is how it was shot so why convert it.  How stupid was I?  Very stupid.  In an age where the studios will convert a film from 2-D into 3-D, even if it wasn't shot that way, why wouldn't they cater to the few cry babies out there.  That is exactly what they seem to be a doing, and the poor showing at the convention is probably to blame as to why The Hobbit is going to be released in both 48 fps and 24 fps.

Now, I honestly prefer 24 fps, because that is what I have always been accustomed to, but if Jackson really believed that 48 fps was the best way to show The Hobbit, then I would have seen it at 48 fps and possibly become a fan.   Not only does this show MGM's lack of faith with Jackson's decision, but it also begs the question as to whether or not if film will ever evolve or just remain stagnant.

I love movies, and for me the real issue is not that I want 48 frames to become the standard -- as of right now I am still a firm believer in 24 frames -- it's that it seems the film industry is trying to shun innovation.  Jackson is one of the most high profile filmmakers in the world, and if he's not given carte blanche to experiment and release upon audiences to see how it plays, then can anyone truly innovate in this system?

James Cameron is on record saying that he is going to shoot Avatar 2 at 60 fps, but will 20th Century Fox release every print of the movie at 60 fps?  If this precedence with The Hobbit continues, then, no they wont.  Here's the thing about different frame rates, it's not like 3-D where some people just can't physically handle 3-D, if they have migraines, or one eye, or a certain medical condition, 3-D either a.) doesn't work for that viewer, or b.) is detrimental to their well-being.  With the change in frame rate, it does nothing different than what we have always experienced with film, it's just a different way to represent the events transpiring onscreen.  It's akin to the decision of whether or not to shoot black-and-white or color, or to shoot in widescreen.  Choosing a different frame rate is just another creative decision, such as those, used by the filmmaker to create a different look to tell their story.

The thing is, there weren't color screenings and black-and-white screenings of The Artist shown this past year.  And no one back in the early-60s told David Lean, "We're going to release Lawrence of Arabia in both 16:9 and 4:3 and let the moviegoer choose."  The fact of the matter is, certain decisions are for the studio to decide, and others are for the filmmaker to decide.  David Lean wanted Lawrence of Arabia to be widescreen, so he shot is as such and it was released the way he shot it.  Peter Jackson shot The Hobbit at 48 fps, so it should be shown at 48 frames.  While it is going to be shown at 48 frames, it will also be shown in 24, so it defeats the purpose.

Just picture this, you're waiting in line to buy your ticket for The Hobbit, and the person at front says they'd like a 3-D ticket.  That's great, but then they're asked if they want to see it in 48 frames or 24 frames.  Now, I'll just say that I know a lot of people who either do not know what frames per second are, or they do and just don't care as long as that is how it was meant to be seen.  Most moviegoers just want to see the movie, and all this will do is confuse people.  If MGM just believed in Jackson's choice, no matter what sort of negative reaction it got from staunch industry folk who don't want to try anything new or different, then first off it would alleviate any possible confusion, and secondly it might actually catch on with the casual moviegoer.  If color was never tested on audiences, then how would the studios know it was any good?  And if you've seen Singin' in the Rain, you know that this type of fear of change is true in Hollywood.  Just look at how they dramatized Hollywood when they started making movies with sound and the fear that so many in the industry had that it was going to make movies vulgar.

Once again, I'll reiterate, it's not like shooting a movie in 3-D trying to create an immersive, pop-up-book of a film.  Frames per second is simply how the movie is displayed.  It's not really about immersion, it's simply about the look of the film.  If the filmmaker wants the film to look more realistic, then they can shoot it at a higher frame rate.  Just like if they want to make an epic, then they can shoot in widescreen to have a larger image projected across the screen.  This is the fault of what is going on here.  Had the Golden Age studios decided to never project a film in widescreen and only show movies in Academy (4:3), then Lawrence of Arabia would have looked very wimpy, and not all that epic by not having those vast, nearly endless shots of the desert.

To go back to Jackson's argument that this will make The Hobbit seem more realistic, silent films don't seem as real as talking films.  Why?  Because people talk and we hear sounds in real life.  Same goes for color.  Majority see things in color, therefore it makes film more realistic to be in color.  If 48 frames is closer to how we actually see, then perhaps 48 frames will actually make it more realistic.  I guess we'll know if it actually does come December, when The Hobbit is released.  I still don't personally know whether or not I'll be a fan of 48 fps for 3 hours, but I'll give it a try, along with the 24 frames version to see which is better and more "realistic."

1 comment:

  1. I saw the 48 FPS footage and was not impressed. It killed off the whole "movie effect". If i want true realism , I'll go watch National Geographic in HD. the whole perpose of movies and the story they tell is to take you off in to a different reality (in the case of movies like LOTR and Avatar). I dont want it to look too real and especially not like a BBC Special. this is the first i've heard of there being a choice to see it in 24 fps, i welcome this choice being offered to the viewer. I was very disapointed when i heard and thought that this was only going to be released in 48. I agree that new things should always be welcomed, but having the option to choose in this matter doesnt mean that if it will kill of the higher frame rate future movies.