The Hobbit Footage Screens at 48 fps; The Internet Does Not Approve

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?

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  • Byron B

    I thought the theatres just had to apply some firmware updates to enable 48fps. Its hard to say if its a gimmick without seeing it for myself as guys like Jackson and Cameron seem like real technofiles who genuinely believe this is the future of cinema

  • http://bmovieshelf.blogspot.ca/ Slushie Man

    I love the Lord of the Rings movies to death and this is one of my top anticipated movies of the year.

    However, if it’s shown at 48 fps in the theaters then count me out. By the sounds of it, that’s an even worse plaque on cinema then 3D is. At least 3D has the leeway to be fun when it’s done right, this just sounds like a horrible mess.

    I’m hoping that cinemas make the right choice with this one.

  • Maopheus

    Definitely one of those things that you have to see to understand, but I think I know what the writer means. You can just tell the difference between video and film, and it must be that apparent. Reminds me that I still need to calibrate my HDTV. Everything looks like it was shot on video.

  • cap

    Not that I know too much about that stuff, but wasn’t digital visibly worse than film at first? And then they upgraded the tech (I think) to a point where now a lot of digital footage looks just as good and you can’t really tell the difference. Maybe it will be the same process? Then again there would be no point to the whole thing if it just looks the same as it does now…

  • Owozifa

    A good question would be at what rate Jay shoots his stuff. I tend to find it to have a cinematic look.

  • http://www.mossercasting.com/PlanBFromOuterSpace PlanBFromOuterSpace

    The people that will see “The Hobbit” will see “The Hobbit” regardless of how it’s presented. If they don’t like the new presentation, they’ll be complaining about it after the fact, so while that may affect things later on, it won’t necessarily be reflected in THIS film’s take.

    The “The Internet Does Not Approve” line in the title immediately made me think of how worthless of a statement that is. It’s a good line, and no offense to the writer. It’s just that the internet, or the groups that are loudest on it anyway, never approves of ANYTHING. Well, they approve of a few things, but movies like “The Help” and “The Blind Side” (which combined did like 17 times the business of “Serenity”) still manage to do just fine, despite the complaining of people that weren’t going to see them anyway.

  • 1138sw

    In my opinion it really depends on how far Hollywood is willing to go…meaning the more sharp and crisp things look the more Hollywood will have to spend to compensate for it.

    For example has anyone watched Wrath of Kahn on Blu-Ray? At a resolution of 1080p you can actually see how beat up the costumes and sets are. Everyone knows how Paramount skimped on monies when they ordered the Star Trek sequel…well now you can see it. Point being the sharper and crisper film images become the harder it will be for hollywood to create the illusions they’re so famous for.

    Now that we are approaching resolutions that are double or 4 times that of 1080…how is that to be compensated for?? Combined that with frame rates that will only enhance screen image even further.

    I love the movies, it’s magical in how the illusions are created and this is coming from a person who has worked and directed on sets. But when you can tell that sets are fake, that actors have blemishes you never thought they had (pimples! Yuck!), that costumes have loose threads, and guns are nothing but toys…then what’s the point of going to the movies?

  • Maopheus

    The frame rate thing in and of itself doesn’t seem to fly because IMAX is, what, 60 fps, and no one ever said anything about IMAX looking like video. Maybe 48 just doesn’t suit the eye right? I don’t know technically how to make it look better, and this all might be very early. We’ll have to wait until the finished product to make any real detemination.

  • 1138sw

    P.S. I am so waiting for this movie! I hope the advance screening opinions do not forecast what is to come! Either way I am waiting on that line opening day!

  • Owozifa

    @6
    I’m not really sure what the “Internet Does Not Approve” had to do with anything as it seems more important that people at CinemaCon, who would appear to be industry pros, did not approve.

  • http://www.mossercasting.com/PlanBFromOuterSpace PlanBFromOuterSpace

    @10

    What it had to do with article or what I said about it? I guess I did kind of go off on a tangent that didn’t have much to do with the new tech there.

    After reading that all again, I’m not sure who would benefit from this “improved” presentation exactly. Maybe the manufacturers of the equipment. I can’t even see how the studios would benefit, because equipment on their end would be more expensive too, and like someone pointed out above, the clearer picture just shows off weaknesses that much more, which means more care would have to be put in the projects to begin with, meaning more time and more money, etc. Ticket prices would get jacked up even more to compensate, and if managing a theater for as long as I have has taught me anything, it’s that customers DO want the next big thing…unless they have to pay more for it. People used to complain and complain that we didn’t have 3D, and then we got our digital projectors (not even half of our theaters are converted yet), which gave us 3D capabilities, and those same people were now like “Wait, it costs HOW much? Fuck that, we’ll just see the regular version”. As usual, if there’s something that people REALLY want to see, they’ll pay whatever they have to to see it. They might think twice though if it’s a non-tentpole kind of flick.

  • curtis talls

    High frame rate is the worst. It makes everything look like General Hospital. Hate this Idea.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/ripplesdip James

    I’m going to guess that if it looks to stark and like video they will just apply some filters to “warm” the image a bit? I remember during the LOTR years there were special features on the DVD’s etc touting how they digitally toned images post editing to help on the eye. Maybe a similar solution…less stark and jolting but still smoother to watch?

  • http://www.twitter.com/Swivel Swivel

    I think people need to get used to 48fps. That’s what happened with the “talkies”, decades ago. Exactly the same.

    I approve it.

  • BarBar

    It can’t help that the still on this item looks like a live action Fraggle Rock

  • Owozifa

    @11

    I wasn’t really calling you out or anything, just the article didn’t seem to be that much about random people on the Internet.

  • James

    @15

    And that is my bigger worry, never mind frame rate! Dunno…I get this weird feeling we might get another Phantom Menace in that the film is more for kids. Also core audience being 10 years older may make the perception different now. I hope I’m wrong…

  • Brendan

    “…that soap opera look you get from badly calibrated TVs at Best Buy” is actually the “smooth motion” (or similarly named) effect that is often seen on 120hz and 240hz HDTVs. It’s not exactly “bad calibration” of those tvs, just that it’s an option that is usually selectable by the tv’s owner. It was meant to reduce “judder” (a jerkiness of motion) which is created due to differences in the frame rate of content like film and the TV’s native frame rate. Most films are shot in about 24 fps. Since modern TVs can only show more frames per second than that, that means some of the film’s frames have to be shown twice in order for the frame rates to line up properly. With smooth motion frame interpolation, the TVs don’t just re-show the same frame twice, they actually create frames to go in between, which reduces judder but it makes motion look smoother due to the additional frames. Since video tape commonly used 30 fps, and modern video frame rates for things like live events use 60 fps, the smooth motion interpolation effect makes films look more like those shot at higher frame rates. Since it no longer has that “film” look we’re used to, people don’t like it. We also associate it with things that were produced on video at higher frame rates, like soap operas and other TV content, because video was less expensive (and faster) to use than film. So we also think it looks cheaper by association.
    Sorry that was so long. I should have just put in a link instead.

  • Theman

    I wonder if he can go back in it? The trailer look awesome I wonder why it wasn’t in 48fps? Personally I’m curious but I wish he’d experiment with a less important film.

  • Film

    EVERYBODY INTERESTED IN THIS SHOULD LISTEN TO WHAT THE GUEST HAS TO SAY ON THIS VIDEO! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpZd-UoYWCY&list=PL62ABBF907BCDB44E&index=1&feature=plcp

  • Possum Hunter

    As Brendan says what is being described sounds a lot like the ‘smooth motion’ or ‘true motion’ setting that comes with a lot of new LCD HD TVs. When I first bought my full HD Samsung 47″ TV this option defaulted to on and my Blu-ray’s looked horrible, much like behind the scenes footage and I couldn’t get into the films. It made every film feel cheap and nasty. I was contemplating taking the TV back until I realised what the issue was and found out how to turn it off and ever since then movies look like movies rather than HD home video.

  • http://- George

    That “cinematic” looks people are talking about is arbitrary. It’s just what you’re used to is all. If all film was sho tin 48fps from the get go this wouldn’t be an issue, but there are so many morons out there talking about how it looks cheap. It doesn’t look cheap. It looks smooth, TV looks smooth. Cinema still has superior image quality and sound, so stfu you utter morons.

  • HD Hamburglar

    People are always scared of change. The transition from silent film to sound, BW to Color, SD to HD, and now to 48 fps. We have to progess technology in spite of all the whiners and film snobs.

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