There were a handful of recurring complaints about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey throughout the first wave of reviews that hit the 'Net. One that was repeated ad nauseum concerned co-writer and director Peter Jackson's decision to shoot the movie so it can be projected in 3D at 48 frames per second (fps), which is twice the normal frame-rate for regular theatrical showings.
Of course, only a select number of theaters will show An Unexpected Journey in 48 fps 3D (at no extra charge, either); thus, this aspect of the film won't even be brought to the attention of the average Hobbit ticket-buyer. Nonetheless, Jackson addressed the controversy while attending a NY press conference for the eagerly-anticipated first installment in his new Middle-earth trilogy.
Such adjectives as "blurry," "plastic-y" and "weirdly sped-up" were thrown around a lot, in response to the 48 fps element from an early Hobbit screening. Similarly, the reactions to An Unexpected Journey footage shown in 48 fps at CinemaCon earlier this year were also decidedly negative, when it concerned the crystal-clear perspective afforded by the ultra-HD format.
Here's what Jackson had to say, about the general response so far:
"I'm fascinated by reactions. I'm tending to see that anyone under the age of 20 or so doesn't really care and thinks it looks cool, not that they understand it but they often just say that 3D looks really cool. I think 3D at 24 frames is interesting, but it's the 48 that actually allows 3D to almost achieve the potential that it can achieve because it's less eye strain and you have a sharper picture which creates more of the 3-dimensional world."
Indeed, the higher frame rate should (in theory) befit 3D more than 2D, by offering a better imitation of the human eye - which perceives its surroundings at a higher frame rate - and thus, lend the stereoscopic format a heightened sense of realism. However, as we're seeing with these Hobbit reactions, the 48 fps raises similar issues as HD televisions with the “smooth motion” function - as the removal of graininess is often jarring and uncomfortable for first-time viewers.
That's not to say complaints about the 48 fps screening of An Unexpected Journey are "wrong"; rather, they might be indicative of a new division among cinephiles, similar to that between the proponents/opponents of 3D, be it native and/or post-converted. In other words: it might be both a matter of preference and due to the 48 fps format being in the early stages of refinement (a la 3D pre-Avatar).
Jackson doesn't seem too worried about getting bloody as the first man through the wall, when it comes to 48 fps. As he told the press conference crowd:
"Warner Bros. were very supportive.They just wanted us to prove that the 24 frame version would look normal, which it does, but once they were happy with that, on first day, when we had to press that button that said '48 frames' even though on that first day we started shooting at 48 FPS, you could probably say there wasn't a single cinema in the world that would project the movie in that format. It was a big leap of faith.
"The big thing to realize is that it's not an attempt to change the film industry. It's another choice. The projectors that can run at 48 frames can run at 24 frames - it doesn't have to be one thing or another. You can shoot a movie at 24 frames and have sequences at 48 or 60 frames within the body of the film. You can still do all the shutter-angle and strobing effects. It doesn't necessarily change how films are going to be made. It's just another choice that filmmakers have got and for me, it gives that sense of reality that I love in cinema."
Overall, the sheer consistency of criticisms aimed at the 48 fps format for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey implies there is indeed room for improvement; not to mention, changes when it comes to how film personnel go about designing sets, costumes and props - much like shooting in 3D requires (check out Jackson's fourth Hobbit production video, for more information about that).
Moreover, it's not just movies projected at twice the normal frame rate that need to evolve. Any filmmaker who relies on ultra-HD technology has to adjust, as that likewise reduces the ability to mask flaws or weaknesses in the production design or CGI (see: the less-than-convicing practical/digital effects in the trailer for Jack the Giant Slayer, which Bryan Singer shot with cutting-edge HD cameras).
Here is the official trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens in theaters on December 14th, 2012.
Source: Peter Jackson [via Coming Soon]