While the fact that Peter Jackson was shooting the upcoming “The Hobbit” films in 3D at 48 frames-per-second rate instead of the standard 24 frames-per-second has been around since proudction started, it gained a bit more steam last week. There were concerns about how prepared (or not) theaters would be for the blockbuster film come December, to show it in the format that Jackson intends it be viewed. The short version is that exhibitors/theater owners will need to upgrade the software on their 3D projectors to handle 48fps, and it’s not cheap (about $10,000). However, the selling point is that 48 fps offers a crisp viewing experience, free of any motion artifiacts, juttering or any other anomalies sometimes present in 24 fps screenings. Win/win right? Unfortunately for Jackson, it’s not quite a slam dunk. Presenting 10 minutes of footage today in the fancy new format at CinemaCon, the screening left many unimpressed.
On the more negative end of the spectrum was Devin Faraci who took to Twitter to say “Oh no. Not a fan of 48fps. Oh no no no,” adding that “THE HOBBIT, frankly, did not look cinematic.” Over on his Badass Digest blog he elaborated his thoughts, and essentially, the crisper looking image had the odd effect of making everything seem almost too realistic. “The 48fps footage I saw looked terrible. It looked completely non-cinematic. The sets looked like sets,” he explained.
But response from the rest of the crowd, even if negative, was toned with a bit of caution as well. Josh Dickey at Variety had a myriad of thoughts tweeting, “Great Scott, THE HOBBIT in 48 frames-per-second is a thing to behold. Totally different experience. Not all will like the change. 48 fps has an immediacy that is almost jarring. And lighting it just right will be a learning process, as 3D was and still is. 48 fps also, unfortunately, looks a bit like television. But it does bring 3D to a different level.”
Peter Sciretta at /Film also had mixed feelings saying, “Saw ten minutes of Hobbit in 48fps 3D. Very exciting, but I’m now very unsure about higher framerates. 48fps feature films will likely divide moviegoers — I expect to see stronger hate, more so than 3D.”
Meanwhile, the usually very picky Jeff Wells was impressed, but also echoed some of Devin Faraci’s concerns. “I felt astonished & amazed…the term is WOWED…and yet a bit uncertain about the 48 fps 3D footage from Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit.’ In a word, 48 fps 3D looks like high-def video. It doesn’t look ‘cinematic’, lacking that filtered or gauzy look we’re all accustomed to,” he tweeted. But it was Alex Billington at First Showing who proabably hit the nail on the head of what unfolded this afternoon: “There are going to be endless debates about 48FPS and how good/bad it looks. I just think we need to get used to change after 80yr of 24FPS.”
It’s too early to determine the success or failure of this new “format” (for lack of a better term), but calling it a “mistake” (as some people are) based on 10 minutes of footage is premature at best. In fact, much of the reaction today is reminiscent of the same concerns that James Cameron‘s “Avatar” was met with in the months leading up to its release, that 3D wouldn’t be the game changer that Fox was hoping for, and audiences wouldn’t be impressed enough to make it a hit. And then it went on to make over 2 billion dollars. But at the current moment, while everyone at CinemaCon is talking about 48fps, to the average regular moviegoer out in the real world? They have no idea what that means.
Just search “48fps” on Twitter and you’ll see numerous people who don’t know what it is or that “The Hobbit” was even shooting in that format. The problems that 48 fps purports to solve are arguably not even noticed by the average viewer. Terms like “artificating” and “juttering” are terms still best known among hardcore tech heads, not moviegoers, and frankly, that’s because when most people watch movies, they aren’t seeing those “problems.” The only criteria for the average person buying a movie ticket is that the film is good, and that the presentation doesn’t take them out of the movie. Will 48 fps be too real? Too digital? Too crisp? And more worryingly, uncinematic? Time will tell.
All told, the sky isn’t falling. Yes, footage of “The Hobbit” was shown and people were concerned. But it was a brief bunch of footage that, it could be said, wasn’t long enough to allow the viewer to truly settle in and get used to it. Our guess? More footage of the “The Hobbit” will be shown at Comic-Con and many of the people at CinemaCon today, now prepared for how it looks and feels, will start to turn their opinion around. As for the rest of us, we’ll see if 48 fps makes a difference or not when “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” opens on December 14th.