Last year at the CinemaCon trade show in Las Vegas, James Cameron gave a presentation claiming that high frame rates would be the next big technological shift for the movie industry. Since the invention of “talkies” in the late 1920s, movies have been shot at 24 frames per second, but he felt that it was time for a change to either 48 or 60 fps in order to give enhanced clarity and reduce motion artifacts. At the time, it seemed like the change was still a ways off, and would perhaps be ushered in with his Avatar sequels, but now Peter Jackson is forging ahead with the new tech by making The Hobbit the very first major motion picture to be shot at 48 fps. Unfortunately for them, the ten minutes of Hobbit footage that was shown at this year’s CinemaCon has led to a mixed reaction at best. Will there be a mutiny among exhibitors and moviegoers if they push forward with higher frame rates?
It’s obviously hard for most of us to draw our own conclusions without seeing the footage for ourselves. However, according to Devin at Badass Digest, one of the major concerns seems to have proven true: in many situations, watching a movie at 48 fps makes it look like a low budget television show. Here’s what he had to say about the experience:
“With those caveats out of the way, here’s what The Hobbit looked like to me: a hi-def version of the 1970s I, Claudius. It is drenched in a TV-like – specifically 70s era BBC – video look. People on Twitter have asked if it has that soap opera look you get from badly calibrated TVs at Best Buy, and the answer is an emphatic YES.
The 48fps footage I saw looked terrible. It looked completely non-cinematic. The sets looked like sets. I’ve been on sets of movies on the scale of The Hobbit, and sets don’t even look like sets when you’re on them live… but these looked like sets. The other comparison I kept coming to, as I was watching the footage, was that it all looked like behind the scenes video. The magical illusion of cinema is stripped away completely.
As I said above the landscape shots are breathtaking. 48fps is the future of nature documentaries. But if it’s the future of narrative cinema I don’t know if that future includes me.”
Based on the poor showing, he thinks it is unlikely that The Hobbit will end up being shown at 48 fps in regular theatres. Indeed, exhibitors will still need to decide if they want to spend money (roughly $10,000) to upgrade their systems in order to support it. Considering that many of them just shelled out a lot to support 3D, it’s definitely going to be a tough sell.
The one advantage I keep hearing about 48 fps is that it enhances 3D and makes it a lot more crisp and less muddy. Something tells me that will not be enough to convince the general public. They’re already suspicious of being forced to pay more for technology that occasionally gives them a headache. Heck, a lot of people still haven’t upgraded to high-definition TVs and Blu-ray. This is just going to confuse the average moviegoer even more. What do you think, is 48 fps just another gimmick or is it something that will just take time to get used to?