Why 48 Frames Per Second Is the Future of Filmmaking (Probably, If We Let It)

by     Posted 1 year, 243 days ago

the hobbit hfr filmstrip

If you are at Collider, you probably watch a lot of movies.  Based on our demographics, most of you have seen The Hobbit.  A significant portion of you will see The Hobbit in 48 frames per second.  Virtually all of you who do will think the higher frame rate looks strange, at least at first.  And yet, Hobbit director Peter Jackson proclaims 48fps is the future of filmmaking.  Critics are far from convinced, calling the new look “a gaudy high-definition tourist attraction” and “washed out and flat, yet unforgiving in its hyper-realism.”

Jackson’s push for 48fps (also known as High Frame Rate or HFR) has sparked a surprisingly heated debate over what seems like a relatively simple technological innovation.  Although my first viewing of The Hobbit was a peculiar experience, I am a believer in 48fps.  So after the jump, I examine the arguments for and against 48fps, the neuroscience behind the negative response, and what it will take for HFR to find widespread acceptance.

 

The Most Outrageous Thing

Before we start, I recommend you listen to this excerpt from the “Musical Language” episode of Radiolab that examines the arc of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring from “being the most outrageous thing that literally maddens people, to a triumph, to kids music.”

A brief recap: Stravinsky premiered The Rite of Spring as a ballet in Paris in May 1913.  Stravinsky’s composition sounded different than the traditionally beautiful music of Wagner that this audience was used to.  In particular, Stravinsky relied on one dissonant chord, pounding it over and over throughout the entire piece.  The audience hated it.  They grew restless, started shouting and fighting each other, and this eventually escalated into a full-fledged riot.  Rioting cannot be a mere expression of disapproval for this crowd.  Something else must be going on here.

rite-of-spring ballet dancersScience writer Jonah Lehrer explains, “There are groups of neurons whose sole job it is to turn that dissonant note, dissect it, take it apart, and try to understand it.” Radiolab proposes that on that night, in the face of the repetitive dissonance of The Rite of Spring, those neurons failed to make sense of what they heard.  This failure to recognize the pattern changed the brain chemistry (specifically dopamine levels) in such a way that the audience temporarily went a bit crazy.

However, by the second run of shows in April 1914, audiences came out in droves—partly to see what this music was that caused a riot no doubt—and loved it.  They gave it a standing ovation.  The Rite of Spring became a part of the classic cannon, and just two decades later was palatable enough to feature in the Disney kids movie Fantasia.  Lehrer calls this “the perfect evidence of the brain’s astonishing plasticity.”

Our brains were presented with new information.  It was jarring at first.  We hated it.  Then, with context, we accepted the new information and learned to value it.  I believe 48fps can follow the same path, from controversy to natural innovation.  But we do have a say in this.

 

Why Increase the Frame Rate?

film stripFilm simulates fluid motion by capturing and projecting individual still frames of that motion.  Early silent films were projected at about 16-24fps until the frame rate was standardized at 24fps with the advent of sound film.  Filmmakers argued for higher frame rates to better capture motion and achieve decent sound quality.  Buyers pushed for lower frame rates, because a higher frame rate means more film, and film stock was expensive.  The result was a compromise at 24fps, which has been sufficient for the last century, but not necessarily optimal.  Heck, motion picture pioneer Thomas Edison himself reportedly recommended 46 frames per second because “anything less will strain the eye.”

Douglas Trumbull started developing Showscan, which uses 60fps, in the late 1970s.  The technology is in use at theme parks (Star Tours at Disneyland and the new King Kong attraction at Universal Studios use 60fps), but never caught on in cinemas.  James Cameron started touting the benefits of a higher frame rate as early as 2008:

“For three-fourths of a century of 2-D cinema, we have grown accustomed to the strobing effect produced by the 24 frame per second display rate.  When we see the same thing in 3-D, it stands out more, not because it is intrinsically worse, but because all other things have gotten better.  Suddenly the image looks so real it’s like you’re standing there in the room with the characters, but when the camera pans, there is this strange motion artifact.  It’s like you never saw it before, when in fact it’s been hiding in plain sight the whole time.  Some people call it judder, others strobing.  I call it annoying.  It’s also easily fixed, because the stereo renaissance is enabled by digital cinema, and digital cinema supplies the answer to the strobing problem.”

James_Cameron_Pace_Camera_G4 (1)

Cameron was especially frustrated because, even pre-Avatar, we had the technological capability to make a relatively easy switch to 48fps:

“Increasing the data-handling capacity of the projectors and servers is not a big deal, if there is demand.  I’ve run tests on 48 frame per second stereo and it is stunning.  The cameras can do it, the projectors can (with a small modification) do it.  So why aren’t we doing it, as an industry?”

Cameron has already stated his intention to shoot the Avatar sequels at 48fps.  In the meantime Peter Jackson—one of the few tech-minded filmmakers with nearly as much power in the industry as Cameron—took the lead on the battle for 48fps.  Here is how Jackson pitched the higher frame rate in a Facebook post he wrote while shooting The Hobbit in April 2011:

“The result looks like normal speed, but the image has hugely enhanced clarity and smoothness.  Looking at 24 frames every second may seem ok—and we’ve all seen thousands of films like this over the last 90 years—but there is often quite a lot of blur in each frame, during fast movements, and if the camera is moving around quickly, the image can judder or ‘strobe.’

Shooting and projecting at 48fps does a lot to get rid of these issues.  It looks much more lifelike, and it is much easier to watch, especially in 3-D.  We’ve been watching HOBBIT tests and dailies at 48fps now for several months, and we often sit through two hours worth of footage without getting any eye strain from the 3-D.”

Sounds like a pretty basic and natural technological advancement.  So what’s the problem?

 

What the Critics Say

Here are excerpts from a few of the critical reviews.

Todd McCarthy, THR:

the-hobbit-an-unexpected-journey-martin-freeman

“The print shown at Warner Bros. in what is being called ‘high frame rate 3D,’ while striking in some of the big spectacle scenes, predominantly looked like ultra-vivid television video, paradoxically lending the film an oddly theatrical look, especially in the cramped interior scenes in Bilbo Baggins’ home.  For its part, the 24fps 3D version had a softer, noticeably more textured image quality.”

Kenneth Turan, LA Times:

“Despite its drawbacks, The Hobbit, as noted, does have real virtues, and the best way to appreciate them is to see the movie, whether in 2-D or 3-D, in the traditional 24 frames per second format.  Though Jackson and other zealots for high frame rate would have you believe that the new system is more immersive, the truth is just the opposite.  Whatever its virtues may be from a technical point of view, audiences looking for a rich, textured, cinematic experience will be put off and disconcerted by an image that looks more like an advanced version of high definition television than a traditional movie.”

A.O.  Scott, New York Times:

peter jackson hobbit camera department

“Over all, though, the shiny hyper-reality robs Middle-earth of some of its misty, archaic atmosphere, turning it into a gaudy high-definition tourist attraction.”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

“Couple that with 3D and the movie looks so hyper-real that you see everything that’s fake about it, from painted sets to prosthetic noses.  The unpleasant effect is similar to watching a movie on a new HD home-theater monitor, shadows obliterated by blinding light like—yikes!—reality TV.”

Peter Debruge, Variety:

“More disconcerting is the introduction of the film’s 48-frames-per-second digital cinematography, which solves the inherent stuttering effect of celluloid that occurs whenever a camera pans or horizontal movement crosses the frame—but at too great a cost.  Consequently, everything takes on an overblown, artificial quality in which the phoniness of the sets and costumes becomes obvious, while well-lit areas bleed into their surroundings, like watching a high-end home movie.”

Richard Corliss, Time:

hobbit-an-unexpected-journey

“Doubling the rate keeps the image from blurring when the camera moves, which is ideal for Jackson’s action sequences but disorienting in the more static interior scenes, where the scenery upstages the characters.  The clarity of the image is sometimes magical, occasionally migraine-inducing… At first, in the Smaug battle, I thought I was watching a video game: pellucid pictures of indistinct creatures.  After a while my eyes adjusted, as to a new pair of glasses, but it was still like watching a very expensively mounted live TV show on the world’s largest home TV screen.”

Dana Stevens, Slate:

“The best way I can think to describe the quality of the 48fps image in The Hobbit is this: It looks like an ’80s-era home video shot by someone who happened to be standing around on set while The Hobbit was being filmed.  (Other visual analogues scribbled down in my screening notes include Teletubbies and daytime soap operas.) The effect is curiously washed out and flat, yet unforgiving in its hyper-realism: Any imperfection or note of artifice in the costumes or sets stands out as if illuminated with a bank of fluorescent bulbs.  This wildly expensive visual technology paradoxically conspires to make everything else in the film look cheap.”

Drew McWeeny, Hitfix:

hobbit peter jackson slate

“I’m half-convinced that there was a projection problem when I saw the film, because I have trouble believing that what I saw reflected the desires of Peter Jackson and his team.  Throughout the entire film, there was a strange Benny Hill quality to sequences, with things that appeared to be sped up.  It happened in both dialogue and action sequences, and the overall effect was like watching the most beautifully mastered Blu-ray ever played at 1.5x speed.  It doesn’t make any sense to me that this process, which is supposedly all about clarity and resolution, would create that hyper-speedy quality unless they were doing something wrong in the projection of it.  Peter Jackson would see this immediately.  The voices are off-pitch, and the pacing of scenes goes to hell when it’s played this way.”

Matt Goldberg, Collider:

“Billed as a technology to sharpen 3D and reduce the headaches it can cause, HFR 3D has crippled Peter Jackson‘s return to Middle-earth.  Without the atrocious visuals, Jackson’s film is still slightly repetitive and bloated, but the magic mostly remains intact.  But under HFR 3D, the journey looks like a cheap soap opera on fast forward with crappy digital effects.”

I think that’s enough for now, but you can read other HFR-centric review roundups at Vulture and Badass Digest.  We can broadly separate the criticisms into two categories: “It looks like cheap video” and “It looks too realistic.”

Head to page 2 for more on the “soap opera effect,” how fantasy can use HFR, and why we can and should get used to 48fps.

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  • INSTANT JUSTICE

    “Presentation in 24fps has treated us very well over the years, but 48fps offers something even greater”

    I love how that statement is thrown out there but the elusive “something even greater” is in no way made less vague. It’s a high frame-rate, that’s all it is; it’s been around since cinema was first invented not to mention it’s part of the process of shooting slow motion. It is not a revolution.

    • http://twitter.com/colliderbrendan Brendan Bettinger

      I hope the benefits of 48fps were explained before the last paragraph, or I failed.

      I agree that doubling the frame rate is not a new or complicated idea. That’s part of the appeal for me. It’s a simple change that produces a surprisingly noticeable difference.

      • Anonymous

        Then you absolutely failed. Spent the whole article arguing against 48, then in the last paragraph, go “no! it better! it future!”

        Why?

        “Cuz future!!!!”

        oh, very well written, now im convinced.

  • Oliver

    For me the most important consideration when judging the future of 48fps is that no one has yet watched The Hobbit in 2D HFR(!) and I never see that flagged up in blogs or articles as a stumbling block to judging the effectiveness of the technology. As a filmmaker, I fully appreciate the advance of 48fps, and loath 3D. I can absolutely see why 48fps 3D might be unwatchable and ‘too much information’. But lets not put all the blame on the singular, isolated effect of HFR. The combination could be the problem, if indeed there is one at all.

    • INSTANT JUSTICE

      The 3D doesn’t add any thing other than the illusion of 3D. 2D HFR looks like what you’d expect: a smoother version of 24/25fps that looks a bit more like interlaced video.

  • TJ

    Great article man. It boils down to teaching old dogs new tricks it sounds like. I saw The Hobbit in 3-D 24/FPS and I had a screaming headache leaving the theater. It will be an interesting evolution of film to watch.

  • Ytsejamer1

    Good point Oliver…i too despise 3D, but haven’t seen 48fps without my senses being overloaded by the 3D effects. I think I need to take another trip to see it in 2D HFR before making a solid judgement.

    I saw TDKR at Jordan’s Furniture IMAX and thought that experience was a lot more immersive than the Hobbit 3D HFR at the same venue. I really enjoy how Nolan uses IMAX cameras and think that 3D is just 3D for the sake of it. I really haven’t seen any movie in 3D where the third dimension adds anything to the story and experience of that particular film.

  • tim

    I had an urge or feeling of falling into The Hobbit while watching. Especially when going inside Erebor.Instead as some have stated the scene with Old Bilbo and Frodo was not like a soap opera but it was like me sitting there in Bilbo’s Hobbit hole listening in on their conversation. To me I felt excited and thriled to be seeing this in the HFR.My children felt the same.

  • Random Bystander

    If porn backs 48fps, it will succeed.

    • Anonymous

      Indeed my friend

  • zonver

    but do they think about that maybe some people dont want it “looking real”.. i have real looking 3D all day, when i sit down and watch a movie.. i wanna watch a movie and experience it like that..

  • justin K

    Honestly, I think some of the critics were overreacting about the 48 fps. I saw The Hobbit twice, first in the Imax 3D then I saw it in the 48 fps. IMO, I thought the 48 looked fantastic. To me the CGI was much more crisp vs the regular 24 fps. Granted there were some scenes that they could of polished up on in some of the 48 fps scenes. For example the radagast the Brown with the bunny chase scene with the wargs. And Honestly I don’t know why people where complaining about the pale Orc looking so bad. I thought they did a good job on him.

    But overall, I think people will come around to it. And I’m glad Peter Jackson took up the mantel for the 1st 48 fps film. Someone had to do it first. Now I’m deff excited to see what James Cameron can do with is next Avatar using the same technology.

  • aaron

    Fantastic article – I love reading stuff like this.

    “Critics are fighting for the art they love as they know it, and I respect that. But this is not an issue we can judge solely based on our own first subjective experience.”

    When I came downstairs this morning, I walked past a Kuerig brewer, my wife’s espresso maker, and a modern coffee maker to grab a plastic funnel. I made myself a cup of pour-over coffee – an arguably archaic and outmoded method for brewing, but I did it just the same. My point is(other than the fact that I have an unhealthy amount of coffee delivery systems in my house) we’re still talking about a subjective experience. No one likes to be told what they should like. A more amenable tack could be taken by framing the discussion as “48fps is yet another color we have in our pallet.” I understand there’s an element of the “art vs. commerce” argument (in that the studios won’t want to put money into something that won’t guarantee them money), but we’ve got at least two industry heavyweights that can impose their creative will on the accountants. Let them fight at the front lines of the battle, and see how it inspires other directors. For as good of a director as Peter Jackson is, he’s not a great director. His direction can, at times, come off a little hack-y. There were moments in the Hobbit that were astounding, and there were moments that really did look like a BBC teleplay. I kept wondering, “What would Scorcese (a personal favorite of mine) do with a medium like this?” Would he embrace the high contrast? Or would the sharp lines detract from his overall visions of inky shadows that encroach upon everyday people?

    • James

      Yep. You can’t just tack on HFR. It’s like 3D- it requires changing the way you shoot a movie.

  • Pgozur

    This is the most well written article on the subject of 48FPS I have ever read. Well done.

  • Donovan McLean

    Here are the major problems with this idea:

    1. The technology has been used before and people don’t like it. It has basically failed before.

    2. The effect that audiences and those reviewers are really honing in on is a lack of motion blur. The image is sharper, but this sharpness is due to a lack of motion blur. Wave your hand in front of your face. It blurs. This effect is diminished in 48fps, but it is something we are used to seeing in BOTH film and reality. Take it away in film and something which is already an artifice becomes even more obviously artificial. We see motion blur. HFR does not. You may have seen newer TVs in the electronics department (if you don’t own one) which have a very fake look to them. These newer TVs employ either a higher refresh rate or a feature called TruMotion to create the same effect as HFR. It looks soap opera like (or as my sister says a documentary) because it is removing that motion blur. Films look better with it because it is more reminiscent of how we see in reality.

    3. The HFR seems to solve some of the issues we have with 3D. This is all well and good, but it does nothing for 2D except make what should look like cinema look like an ESPN sportscast. There’s also one other problem with the effort to “fix” 3D. It’s like being the violinists who played late into the night as the Titanic sank. 3D attendance has already begun falling sharply in the past few years. The head of Universal said right here on Collider that 3D is a fad. 48fps has been introduced to be a shot in the arm of a patient (3D) that doesn’t stand a chance of recovering. It has almost zero support in the industry from serious directors and cinematographers.

    4. As I mention above. It does nothing for the 2D experience. Film looks like films because it is shot at 24 fps. Video looks like video because it is shot at 30 (29.97). People have spent the last 15 years developing digital film cameras ( read video) that shoot at 24 frames so that the don’t look like cheap video cameras. If the film look is 24 and the video look is higher at 30, then 48 frames is a move to an ultra video look. And that is what people are responding to.

    • http://twitter.com/colliderbrendan Brendan Bettinger

      1. I believe “failed before” is a bad reason to stop trying.

      2. We are not going to see less motion blur in movies than we do in real life. Reality is presented at more than 48 frames per second. And TruMotion is a similar effect, but not the same effect, because the interpolating new frames is inferior to shooting those frames.

      3. I am curious to see what happens to 3D. Seems likely it will stick around, at least as a tool for guys like Cameron and Jackson, but not certain. But your last sentence is only true for a narrow definition of “serious directors and cinematographers.”

      4. Higher frame rate won’t always look like video. See article.

    • Dash

      Point 2. When you sit still and stare at a picture on the wall of your house, does it blurr? NO. You sit still and stare at a movie screen, you don’t sit still and stare at the screen while shaking your head from side to side. I have often thought in the past that 3d is quite blurry at times. I went to see the Hobbit with an open mind and I enjoyed the 48 FPS. Also, I’m not biased one way or the other.

    • Joel

      As others have mentioned, Point 2 is complete rubbish. When we see blur in the real world, the bluring is happening entirely internally, in our eyes and brain. The shape of your hand doesn’t change when you wave it front of your face, nor do the light rays curve. The blurring in 24 fps films is much more pronounced than the blurring you see in real life. This is needed to overcome the strobing at such a low frame rate.

  • Vader

    Fantastic article that sums up much of the necessary points surrounding this discussion. That said, there’s a large percentage of individuals who’s brains literally won’t be able to adjust to hfr without continued and prolonged exposure to that format, which is a slightly significant barrier. I would argue that is even a much larger one than some people getting headaches with 3D, simply because with hfr, if you don’t ‘get’ it, it looks nearly absurd. Personally, I adjusted quickly overall but found some dialogue scenes to look strange, which seems to be amongst the ‘best’ experiences available with the format. I’ve heard very few, on the internet or amongst my companions at the theater, that had a smooth experience even after getting ‘used’ to it, even if we want to. It’s a pretty significant problem.

  • Jones

    Nice read. I have to say, i still haven’t seen The Hobbit. Couldn’t find any time for it, live in Denmark with mostly crap-cinemas, so i have to drive 2 hours before i get to a DECENT theater (the closest Imax i got is in London, so if i want to see Imax i have to fly there). So i am thinking, maybe just this one movie, i should wait for it to come on bluray 3d, and watch at home.
    But does anyone know, if the bluray 3d version is 48fps as well? Cause if it isn’t, i have to go see it right now. Thank you. :)

    • Anonymous

      There will not be a 48fps 3D Blu-ray

    • http://twitter.com/colliderbrendan Brendan Bettinger

      Yeah, sorry, no Blu-ray. But London is a great city, so you should fly there anyway and make a stop at the theater. Held og lykke!

      • Jones

        Thank you for your answer :)
        What a shame… really hoped for it…
        And have been to London Imax 2 times allready this year (last year) for Avengers (and watched Wrath of the Titans as well, just for the sake of it), and The Dark Knight Rises. But after Christmas, the money doesnt last.. guess i gotta go see it in Danish cinema’s after all then.
        And thank you, good luck to you too ;)

  • Josh Kaye

    Absolutely loved the article. I remember hearing about the HFR and I was so excited for it. I saw The Hobbit twice, IMAX 3D and HFR 3D. If I had to choose, I would see it again in HFR. There was just something so…magnificent about it. Every flaw that was said about it…it just didn’t…exist to me. I had no issues with the fake scenery or the makeup showing or any of that. Instead I was just thrown into this world that I had experienced once before but felt closer than ever. All I’ve been saying to my friends is that HFR is the future, and it’s a future I want to witness.

  • Lance

    Interesting, thoughtful article. I’ve seen The Hobbit in both 48 fps 3D and 24 fps. I will admit 3D, which I generally dislike, is somewhat improved at 48 fps.

    Maybe 48 fps will catch on. But for me, I was struck by how it got in the way of full immersion, not enhance it. First off, the visual effect it creates is not entirely new — we’ve seen the soap opera look for decades and it’s not like people who grew up watching soap operas wound up clambering for the same look on film. Even before 48 fps was widely known, cinephiles have always lauded movies’ dreamlike quality. Would the original Star Wars have been better at 48 fps? I suspect it would have looked like Tom Baker Doctor Who, which The Hobbit at 48 fps reminded me of at times.

    To date, I haven’t heard of anyone who doesn’t work on a film set tout how they got some superior subjective advantage out of 48 fps once they went through an adjustment period, whether that period was 10 minutes or 5 movies. At best they just “got used to it.”

    As a counterpoint to Brendan’s well-written article, let me point out in the history of art in any technologically dependent medium, any time a new technological innovation has come along, artists initially over-used and abused that technology, because it was the “new” thing. Examples include the cheap use of 3D when originally developed, reliance on overly bright and garish colors when color film and TV first came along, and more recently the over-reliance on CGI for everything — an unfortunate phenomenon we’re still working our way out of.

    There may be a place for 48 fps, but universally applying it without thought is probably a bad idea. I think using it for a film like The Hobbit was one of the worst possible showcases for what the technology can do. I seriously hope filmmakers do not decide to bulldoze over everyone who has criticized 48 fps and decide to use it everywhere unthinkingly, but use the criticism as an opportunity to think further about what the benefits and drawbacks of 48 fps really are, and what can be done to enhance the former and make up for the latter.

    • http://twitter.com/colliderbrendan Brendan Bettinger

      Good point about the abuse of new technology. I hope that 48fps will be harder to misuse because it is a simple technology. Quality of CGI effects and 3D (especially post-conversion) are dependent on how much time you put into it. Think that’s less true of higher frame rate which is more “point and shoot” (not to discount production design or technical considerations I don’t know much about like shutter angle).

  • chanandeler bong

    We need more articles like this in collider. Not childish shit written by Dave and Allison, and obnoxious posts by Matt.

  • Joel Gujjarlapudi

    Outstanding Article COLLIDER, Completely agree to the peter\’s perspective , I watched it in IMAX 3D HFR and it is spell-bounding , at-first it took time to adjust and it is like watching true motion blu-ray movie which is often done in most of the homes in todays world. The C G Work is outstanding in many scenes especially the last 45 mins is superb. Did experienced the Out of Focus when u tilt your head towards the sides (L or R ). Overall it may get more enhanced in coming years where cinema always mesmerized people with its unprecedented imagination in its so far journey.

  • Kaluha

    I agree with the observation that in static expositional scenes, the film is somehow transformed into a live stage. The actors look like they are standing on a physical real stage rather than on a 2D screen. The HFR shows its magic during the action sequences: moth literally flying to your face, the repulsive Goblin King is peering into the audience, the cavernous vastness of the goblin lair – all these make HOBBITS the best 3D movie since AVATAR, and probably along with the James Cameron movie the only pair of 3D movies worth raving about. These 2 movies are deliberately designed & shot to showcase the new limit of 3D entertainment

  • wes

    This is one of the best articles you guys have put out..Well ever. Good job.

    BTW I support HFR

  • Henry

    Really amazing article. Thank you for sharing this, really opened my eyes to aspects of filmmaking I had never thought of before.

  • M.C. Weeny (Weeny Time)

    McWeeny’s criticisms shows how much perception plays into this. He says, “the voices are off-pitch”, which is just demonstrably untrue. The soundtrack doesn’t speed up just because you perceive the visuals that way, Drew! The 48fps version is exactly the same length, at the same speed. Yet he swears the sound has been altered!

  • Lance

    Another thought on why movie distributors, at least, might not like 48 fps. Up until now it’s usually been very easy to tell the difference between what’s a movie and what’s a tv show — flipping channels I can usually spot the difference visually, even if I’ve never seen the product in question before.

    But if 48 fps makes everything look like live tv, don’t the movies lose a bit more of that “special” quality that brings people out of their homes into the theaters? The erosion in movie-going audiences is already a big enough problem, and innovations like 3D were meant to counter it. But if going to the movies just reminds people of watching a live tv event, won’t they become even more likely to stay at home and wait for the Blu-Ray release?

  • godot18

    Personally, I’m not entirely sure what the exact cinematic reason 48fps brought to the viewing experience for me. I’ve seen the film in both formats. I first saw the film in 48, and thought the experience was dreadful. I sided with everyone who thought the frame rate made the costumes and CGI look fake.

    After viewing the film in 24, I now believe the problem is not in the frame rate, but in the actual production. Radagast’s rabbits look ridiculous no matter what frame rate you see it in, the Goblin King still looks cartoonish, and I still laughed at some of the costumes in the opening scene. On the flip side, Gollum looked amazing, Rivendell was breathtaking, and the natural scenery was astounding. This was true in either format. I fear that many reviewers are seeing the film only in 48fps, and are instantly blaming the format for the poor presentation, not the craftsmanship.

    While I did notice a difference between the two presentations, I’m still not sold on the need for 48fps, as presented in The Hobbit. I don’t see how it was used to enhance the storytelling. Technicolor, Cinescope, sound… These were clear cinematic advances in presenting a story to an audience. 3-D can enhance a story when used inventively (Hugo, Life of Pi, Cave of Forgotten Dreams). Once I got used to 48fps, I couldn’t say it enhanced or detracted from my experience. Yes, it was more clear, but Jackson did not seem to use that clarity to any particular narrative effect.

    Cinematographers use various forms of techniques to augment the visual experience for an audience (lenses, filters, lighting, etc), all in service of the story. Seeing the desert in Lawrence of Arabia with as much clarity as possible is vital to the storytelling. I don’t see how Jackson and 48fps did that. Instead of an artistic choice, it seemed more like a technological one. High frame rates work in news and sports broadcasts because we want to view actual reality happening in real time. It’s an artistic need. I’m not saying realism and clarity cannot work for a story like the Hobbit, I would love to see a good use of it. But realism and clarity for their own sake should not be enough. If it was, every film would look like the news and cinematographers would not be artists. In this instance, 48fps only enhanced the problems inherent in the choices of the filmmakers. The frame rate was not allowed a real “This is Cinerama” moment to prove itself as vital to storytelling.

  • Ricster

    I personally found the 2D presentation more enjoyable overall than the HFR 3D presentation, but not because I’m against HFR or 3D. I just found the HFR 3D presentation too bright and garish looking in many scenes. It’s the shiny, plastic look I didn’t care for, as if I was watching a soap opera video. I’ve never cared the soap opera look on television, so I don’t see why I’d be excited about seeing this look in the theater. I suspect the brightness was intended to compensate for the gray 3D glasses we had to wear. If the brightness of the HFR 3D was toned down a bit I would happily pay to see it’s presentation again in the theater.

  • RomanM

    Great article. Would love to see more stuff like this on Collider.

    I just don’t see the need for higher frame rates if you’re not shooting in 3D. It makes logical sense for 3D presentations because with 3D you lose clarity. It solves that issue. It doesn’t fix the light loss or the washed out look of the colors, but it definitely aids the clarity bit.

    In 24 fps presentations however, I’ve never had a clarity issue. Look at something like the native IMAX format, or even SONY’s new F65. Images have never looked sharper and more bustling with life. We have more information than we ever had. I have never heard of someone who has an issue with motion blur in 2D/24 presentations, so why change something that’s been put into place for 70+ years now?

    This is the work of salesmen, mainly Cameron, who I believe is searching for something to fill in the narrative creative gaps in his work. This is a tremendous effort to build window dressing around these films and promote it as some integral part of the narrative or experience. I don’t buy it at all. Story is king. I don’t need this 3D nonsense or this higher frame rate stuff. It calls attention to itself at worst and is just there at it’s best.

    I’ll end my diatribe with a great quote from the great Mark Kermode of the BBC Radio 5 Live Film Reviews Podcast.
    “We turned our living rooms into cinemas and our cinemas into living rooms, and now there’s no one left to ask, ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’”

  • Person

    Prometheus is really the only film where I thought the 3D was absolutely immersive, to the point where I even forgot I was wearing glasses (even Avatar didn’t do that for me). But having said that, the film doesn’t really lose anything when seen in 2D, so I wouldn’t go so far as to call the 3D indispensable. It’ll always be a fun little toy for filmmakers and a money-making gimmick for studios. Haven’t seen Hobbit in HFR (saw it in 2D and wasn’t a huge fan, so I doubt I’ll make another trip), but based on everything I’ve read/heard, I’m not convinced. Maybe it’ll take Cameron to do that.

  • Alan

    Why is Richard Corliss the only critic whose interested in providing some insight into the technology? He talks about camera moves whilst everyone else is trying to out-smarm one another with lame references to soap operas? Corliss is attempting to understand why Jackson used the technology and its strengths/weaknesses, whilst all the others simply show how ignorant and dull most modern criticism is nowadays.

  • Middenway

    Critics are being ridiculous. 48 fps looks fantastic.

  • Afilmguy

    This is a fantastic article. Thank you, Brendan, for doing such a great job investigating such a hot topic right now. I was thinking of writing my own article like this for my blog, but I might as well just post the link to this article because you have covered quite a bit about it. I think I might focus more on the philosophy of it, though. You also pointed out one very crucial, very missed notion: “I believe the notion that 24fps is intrinsically cinematic is a fallacy. The look of 24fps is “cinematic” because it was used in feature films for the last century, but we should not assume 24fps was used because it defines the cinematic ideal.” Excellent. This is the stuff that makes Collider all the more expansive.

  • Tim

    What is so wrong with 24 fps? It look beautiful.

    Why try and improve on something that looks so good?

    So what if that has been the standard for so long. They just happened to get it right the first time. Nothing to improve on.

    P.S. As mentioned above, a higher frame is used for slow motion. This is nothing new.

  • Brian

    I saw “The Hobbit” at 48 fps, and honestly have to say that I noticed virtually no difference between that and a 24 fps film, though perhaps my eye is not discriminating enough.

    In terms of detail, I recall Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion” looking like it had a higher degree of detail (Laurence Fishburne is a brilliant actor, but I could literally see his pores. Not cool).

  • Famous Filmaker

    Okay this is as much BS as 4k and Ultra High Definition. This is the same bs that brainwashes people into buying more megapixel cameras that use the same old sensor, sony anyone?

    Movies are not suppose to look real, they are suppose to look dreamy, like movies. People are not going to go watch Superman expecting it to be a look in a real world. They want to be amazed and dazzled by Hollywood. Why try to make it real when you can easily see on your periphery you are sitting in a dark tilted room with another 200 folks starring into a wall….

    I go see a movie, not real life. If i want to go watch the himalayas I travel there. If i I can’t afford it I dont go watch Superman expecting to see a bit of the himalayas I expect to see what superman’s himalayas are, not the real ones.

    it’s all about making money by trying to add crap people do not need. the cost increases this would bring to film production are enormous and these are the people who want to bring in 48fps and brainwash jackson and cameron. They are the same ones who are making big buck with 3D, more useless crap that should stay at Disneyland.

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  • Nomis1700

    You’re so deep man. Very good read.

    I was looking forward seeing The Hobbit in HFR at my local IMAX theater (digital) and I really enjoyed it. But it took me a lot longer to adjust the HFR rather than in 10 minutes. I think at the time they left the Shire and were a but further on their journey, that I was getting used to it. Though, no idea how many minutes that were..

    I am a supporter of higher resolution and The Hobbit being shot in a 5K resolution, I couldn’t be happier. I just love the most possible detail there is to be seen in the image of the film, makes it more real, like you’re really there. But I did have one problem with The Hobbit in HFR: apart from the fact that I liked the elimination of motion-blur and that the 3D felt much better, a lot of times the sets looked really really fake. And that’s just because they were fake indeed and the higher resolution/HFR catches that. I can look thru it, just as I can look thru older films, accepting them in the time they were made you know. But if there is one thing they have yet to overcome, it’s that.

    Apart from the developing of digital filmmaking and the HFR in itself I find myself still a supporter of IMAX I just love that format so intensely much I can’t wait to see them develop that tech further so that one day, an entire film can be shot with IMAX.
    IMAX doesn’t fit every film and I know it hard to nearly impossible to make a dialogue scene work once shot in IMAX but for those spectacle moments… It’s truly fantastic.

  • fluxCAPS

    After having seen the hobbit at 48 fps (HFR), I will never again watch a standard movie (24 fps) if there is a option to watch it at a higher frame-rate (48-60 fps).
    The detail HFR picks up is amazing, anyone who says otherwise needs glasses, it is equivalent to the difference between dvd and bluray.
    The action scenes involve no motion blur, while the panning shots move smoothly without the painful stuttering high-speed slidshow effect you get with 24 fps.
    48-60 fps is the future of cinematic presentation in my opinion.

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  • Muh

    People were always rioting back then. They rioted over Dali, etc. I wonder if the so-called rioting is exaggerated. I’m sure they didn’t burn the house down or anything.

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  • Monotreme

    What frustrates me in this whole HFR debate is that the focus has almost exclusively been placed on the technology and the experience, but no mention is made – not by Peter Jackson, not by critics, and not by supporters – of exactly how HFR contributes artistically and creatively to the language of cinema. Arguments for the introduction of color could include “real life is in color, so movies should be in color.’” But in my opinion, this is absolutely NOT the reason movies should be in color. Movies should use color as an artistic and creative tool. And the best ones truly do. From the technicolor canvasses of An American in Paris, The Red Shoes and Amelie to the monochromatic sepia of The Godfather series to the symbolic use of colors in The Last Emperor or In the Mood for Love, the best movies almost unanimously do NOT use color in order to properly represent or re-create reality – they use it for strictly artistic and creative purposes. The same arguments could be made for widescreen (opening up opportunities for unique compositions), surround sound (creating more subjective soundscapes), CGI (rendering imagery that could never be done practically and creating things that have never been seen before), Digital Intermediates (using color grades to further accent the artistic decisions made in terms of color balance, etc – and doing things that couldn’t have been done on set). But for the life of me, I have yet to see a TRULY artistic, creative use of 3D (and so far, HFR falls into this category as well) that creates an experience or adds something new to a film that is not there in 2D.

    Moreover, I am surprised that more people do not discuss the severe technical limitations that stem from HFR, from huge inhibitions on CGI (CG artists rely heavily on motion blur in order to properly integrate CG creations into film environments – this is why many people complain that the CGI in The Hobbit HFR looked fake), and cinematography (I am surprised that more people have not pointed out how ridiculously overlit The Hobbit was – night scenes would have looked like they were in the middle of the day had they not been tinted blue, and daytime exteriors were so ridiculously flat and overlit that there was noticeable clipping in the highlights).

    People say “we will adjust to it, filmmakers will find a way to use it, the technology isn’t ready yet”. But this isn’t really that big a technological process. It’s a camera setting, and one that has been available on digital cameras for a few years now. There is no fine-tuning it; it is what it is. And what it is… does not improve the artistic merit of cinema in any way I can discern.

  • bubba

    bip bip bip

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  • Alex

    The article lacks intelligent analysis. Cinema is a dreamy experience precisely because it uses slightly hypnotic lower frame rates, while TV is a realistic experience precisely because its motion is crisp and sharp. The question isn’t whether we should use this or that frame rate…the question is, do we want movies to feel dreamy or realistic? It’s an aesthetical, not technological debate. Those who automatically equate “more realistic” with “better” are either bigoted or ignorant of what the debate is all about. The author needs to re-read the critics, he completely missed the point of their criticism.

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  • htfru

    24fps was a fluke that worked. When I moved to Europe from North America I found it more comfortable watching television there at 50hz 25-50fps. Too much information isn’t always a good thing.

  • htfru

    selective posting????

  • psotthis

    24fps was a fluke that worked. Doesn’t assault the senses. Easy on the eyes.

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