For those who are not well-versed in the vocabulary of film technology: Peter Jackson's upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit (which is now, officially, a trilogy) has garnered some early controversy, due to Jackson's decision to film at 48 frames-per-second - or double the rate of standard films, which typically run at 24 fps. The higher frame rate is supposed to make a movie look more "realistic," by smoothing out motion and cleaning up images, so that events onscreen seem to look and move more in the vein of how the eye perceives real life.
With The Hobbit showing in both 48 fps and 3D, there has been much interest in Jackson potentially ushering in a new era of film tech; however, early screenings of The Hobbit received more negative press than Warner Bros. would have liked. As such, the studio is limiting the number of locations that will show the film in 48 fps.
Variety has the exclusive news that WB is going to release The Hobbit high frame rate (HFR) theatrical cuts only in select locations - and not necessarily nationwide. One might assume that this move comes under the weight of continued bad press - but to the contrary, Variety's sources claim that more recent screenings of the film in 48 fps have yielded much more positive results, now that Jackson has had a chance to add some post-production polish. The limited release is therefore rationalized as a prudent step to test the market for HFR movies, while still ensuring that viewers will be satisfied with their Hobbit experience, by offering a wide release at the safe and familiar normal frame rate.
HFR movie-making is poised to be the "next big thing" in cinema, following the IMAX, digital, and 3D advances in filmmaking that we have seen in the last decade. In fact, in film tech circles, preparation for the shift to HFR (48 fps up to 120 fps) has been going on for some time, with 3D camera and projection manufacturers already fitting their products with HFR native and conversion capabilities. The Hobbit will indeed be the guinea pig for the movement, and by early 2013, we should have a pretty good idea if HFR will become a new standard, or another failed experiment laid to rest next to Laserdiscs and Aroma Vision (safe bet is on the former).
If you've never seen HFR footage; some TV sets (like those made by rising company, Vizio) offer a "smooth-effect" that works like a bastardized version of HFR. Those who have seen the real deal report that it is a slightly unnerving experience at first, as it is somewhat like watching a stage play (especially in 3D), rather than a film. Standard film contains all the imperfections and graininess that tell the mind it's watching a filmed image - which, for some (like myself), is a main component of an enjoyable viewing experience. HFR filming is not going to be an easy sell for those types - even when crafted by a talented and ambitious director like Jackson.
We'll keep you posted on the availability of Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey HFR showings as the film edges closer to its December 14, 2012 release date.