Today is Wednesday, December twelfth, two thousand and twelve, and I am going to tell you, two days before its release, why The Hobbit will be misinterpreted by millions of people.
I’m not blaming those people. They have every right to be confused by what is happening to them. It’s a weird time for movies, a weird time for technology, and a hugely weird time for filmmakers like Peter Jackson (and James Cameron:, and Ridley Scott, and Sam Raimi), who are expected to make populist masterpieces every time they go out, even though all of them started out making weird, low-budget horror movies that took anti-mainstream risks.
It’s a weird time because audiences don’t need movie theaters to have fun, and studios are doing everything in their power to change the medium and make things exciting for audiences again.
This means more 3-D, obviously, as 3-D televisions just aren’t there yet, and 3-D is way cooler on a giant wall of light and sound. It just is. But now people are getting tired of 3-D. Too many movies retroactively added the extra dimension, making the images dimmer and unimpressively shallow.
The viewing public (unlike me) has lives, and they don’t have time to study the myriad reasons that 3-D has been mistreated like a cow at a Coburg farm (full disclosure, I’ve never been to a Coburg farm).
They don’t realize that 3-D, when used correctly, can be pure magic. Hugo and Life of Pi are amazing examples of 3-D done right, and they stand nobly against the Piranha 3DD‘s of this world.
But, also, who cares?
You should care because your arguably justified exhaustion by the third dimension is about to get blown away by your disdain for 48 FPS (frames per second) technology.
In the 1920s, films were shot at 24 frames to protect the film in the camera while also giving us the illusion of moving pictures. This was the smallest amount of moving frames possible in order to maintain that illusion, so it stuck.
Now, with digital everything, it matters very little what our frame rate is, because nothing is moving through anything. So Peter Jackson has decided to go ahead and break all the rules of filmmaking and make a movie at twice the frame rate we’re used to.
This is what many people are calling the “Soap Opera Effect.” It’s called this because soap operas often shoot on video at thirty frames, and it looks too “real” for audiences. It looks real because the things onscreen are being captured by more images, and their motions are more fluid. It’s acting like a window instead of a lens. Now add eighteen frames to that already-heightened reality, computer effects that have never been tested on such a high rate of speed, and an audience expecting exactly what they got ten years ago and nothing more, and you’ve got a recipe for “outrage” and “raped childhood[s].”
The reaction will be bad, not because the frame rate change isn’t doing its job, but because nobody is ready for what’s about to happen.
They’re going to see the spectacularly fluid motions of the people on screen and think, “God, that’s exactly what my TV looked like when I got it from Best Buy.* Why does everything look like so fake?”
It doesn’t look fake. In fact, it’s the reality of the images that shock you. It doesn’t look fake enough. It doesn’t look cinematic. How can it? It’s shot in a way that we’re not used to. We’ve seen 24FPS images for ninety years. It’ll take some adjusting.
After six hundred words, I should mention The Hobbit, which was shot in 48FPS, will be released in 3-D, and is, without question, one of the most anticipated movies of the last few years.
The fact that Peter Jackson decided to shoot on an untested medium on such a hyped-up piece of populist cinema amazes me. What a bold decision. He had to have known that people were going to detest the visual style. That nine-tenths of the audience wouldn’t understand at all why the movie looked so “unnatural.”
He must have heard them in his head the entire time, blaming HD** for the way it looked and not the frame rate. Blaming computer effects for being overused when it’s really the same amount as before. Everything is now heightened, and Jackson knew that the only way to break the glass ceiling of 24FPS was to do it in a huge, ridiculously risky way.
He had to make the biggest movie of the year (i.e. the safest movie of the year) in order to make the biggest risk of his entire risky filmography.
Will it pay off? I don’t know. Probably not. Audiences will reject the frame rate (and everything that goes with it), and the world will just have to wait around until James Cameron:’s Avatar sequels legitimize it with the knowledge gained from The Hobbit‘s mistakes.
Or maybe everything will be fine. I’m no soothsayer.
*Televisions are usually defaulted to their Demo Setting when you purchase them, which is a form of Motionflow, or Auto Flow, that digitally inserts extra frames per second into the content on your television, which gives it a heightened reality, or, “soap opera effect.”
**The motion flow setting can be turned off, but most people just think that’s what HD means, and they hate it. HD just means a clearer picture, higher frame rate means more fluid motion.
[NOTE: The Hobbit will also be screened in 24FPS 3-D and 2-D, giving audiences 4 WAYS to watch the film. Too many choices? Also, as you can tell, I didn’t talk about the movie. That’s because nobody cares. It’s three movies because Jackson knew people would see all three. Plain and simple. It’ll be long and tedious, include loads of fan-service, and will send devotees home to defend an inferior film to its predecessors. Or not. I don’t know. I haven’t seen it.]