You may not know it, but you’re about to be caught in the middle of a film war. And in addition to the currently waging, Film v. Digital, and 2D v. 3D, this will be the third film war of which you’re currently caught in the middle.
On Thursday evening at midnight, the first part of Peter Jackson’s newest epic trilogy, The Hobbit, will hit theaters. For most, the screenings will be contained to the normal visual flavor-splosion you’d expect from a Peter Jackson mega-budget blockbuster. But for viewers in a select few hundred theaters The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be, quite literally, something they’ve never seen before.
This is due to the fact that The Hobbit is the first film to be shot and projected in 48 frames per second. For those unfamiliar with how film works, every film you’ve ever seen before has been shot in and projected in 24 frames per second. And as most of you are probably quick studies you’ve realized that 48 is twice as many as 24. But why is this significant you ask?
To put it simply, hopefully not patronizingly so, a frame rate is how many images you see in one second. And up until now, since about 80 years ago, it’s always been 24. And because of this viewers have become accustomed to a certain cinematic feel, complete with motion blur, that helps film sets look like real places and actors make-up look like part of their face, and a strobing effect that provides that projector look that makes so many of us feel so warm and fuzzy inside.
However Peter Jackson would like the new standard frame rate to be 48fps. And his reasoning for this is almost as simple as it gets, 48 is double the pleasure. 48 fps gets rid of those blurs and strobes and makes everything much, much clearer (and all of the feedback so far is that it is MUCH clearer). But that’s a double-edged sword in the opinion of many. The consensus of the feedback is that seeing things so clearly isn’t a good thing. With 48 fps viewers are aware, now much more than ever, that what they're looking at is a set, and that seeing such a clear view of an actors make-up takes away a lot of the “movie magic”.
But like any sort of change, those on the progressive side (e.g. Peter Jackson) are of the belief that we only are so resistant to new technology because we’ve been viewing films one way for so long. In an interview with The Huffington Post’s Mike Ryan, Peter Jackson stated “You talk to anyone under the age of 20, they don't give a s**t. They don't care about 24 frames. They don't care about the look of cinema.” And maybe that’s the truth. Perhaps we’re all just holding on to what we know because change is scary.
I don’t think I’m being irrational or overreacting when I state that the reception the new frame rate has this weekend is going to be of historic significance. Most likely Twitter and Facebook will be flooded with mixed reviews and it’ll take a few more years of Peter Jackson and James Cameron, a man always on the forefront of technology, pushing it on us.
But like all things you’re going to want to, and should see for yourself, and us lucky Louisvillians (that doesn’t seem right) will be able to. In all of North America only about 450 theaters will be projecting The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 48fps, and in Kentucky just three, and in Louisville just Cinemark Tinseltown USA. So luckily for us, in the words of those notoriously impartial children from The Reading Rainbow, you don’t have to take my word for it.