Last week Peter Jackson premiered 10 minutes of footage for The Hobbit. Obviously, this was a huge deal. The Hobbit is one of the most anticipated films of the year. Personally, I wasn’t a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I loved Return of the King at the time, but when I rewatched the first two films I had so little interest I couldn’t compel myself to watch the third. Anyways, the 10 minute presentation was more than just footage from one of the biggest films of the year. Supposedly, it was a presentation that was going to reveal the future of cinema: 48 fps.
For anyone who isn’t 100% sure what this means… film has almost always been shot at 24 fps. Other frame rates are used in an artistic manner to create slow motion, or speed up time. For example, if you shoot 48 fps and then project that film at 24 fps the footage would 50% slower. However, somewhere a long the line Peter Jackson and James Cameron decided they wanted to change the way films have been shot for the last 100 years. They want to shoot in 48 fps and then project in 48 fps. They claim this would create a smoother, more realistic image. I wasn’t at CinemaCon, but other people were, and it sounds like they really didn’t like it. Here is how Devin Faraci described it at Bad Ass Digest:
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.
This is just one man’s opinion, but I’ve seen this sentiment all over the internet. I haven’t seen what the footage looks like, but I have seen “HD” movies on uncalibrated TVs… and that looks like crap. A term I like to use is plasticky. It doesn’t feel natural in any way. The producers claim the film will be released in 24 fps as well. Which is good. It’s nice to have the option, but this is a huge deal because it’s just another example of how people take film for granted. When I first heard this idea I thought it was incredibly stupid. Doesn’t everyone love the cinematic look of 24 fps? I’m pretty sure all my friends in film school who shot on digital formats shot 24 fps, desperately hoping their footage would look more cinematic (I know I did).
To me, some people’s obsession with all these new technologies is absolutely crazy. Every time filmmakers get a new technology they spend all their time trying to figure out how to make it look like film. Well, guess what!? Film already exists! And it’s beautiful. And very talented people have spent the LAST 100 YEARS perfecting the process. With digital cinematography, that process has to start over every couple of years. Every new digital camera has to be lit differently or the footage has to be assembled in some new way, but industry people are forcing everyone to accept these new “standards.” Some people think film will be pushed out of the industry in the next decade. Potentially, none of the authors on this blog will shoot their first feature on film, and it won’t be a creative choice. This is a sad thought. I love film, and it will always been the right creative choice for me. My films are always going to be raw and gritty. This just isn’t something digital photography can do. It always looks like clean plastic. I highly suggest you read Film Crit Hulk’s amazing piece about film and why it shouldn’t be kicked to curb the way it is. And when The Hobbit comes out, see it 24 fps.