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The Hobbit and High Frame Rate Dec 22

Legolas or just Orlando Bloom?Liked the movie. Hated the high frame rate.

In select IMAX theaters they’re showing the The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug with the higher frame rate (48 frames per second vs. the standard 24 frames per second). Having never seen a movie with this controversial format before, I was excited to experience the high frame rate (HFR), which promised more vivid and realistic images.

Within the first few moments of the film (and Peter Jackson cameo), I immediately understood why there was so much controversy over this format. The images were crisp and life-like… and didn’t look like a movie.

What was it like?

My brother said it was like watching a televised BBC production (TV has a higher frame rate than movies). Some people liken the experience to watching a play. I’d go one step further. It was like watching really clear behind the scenes footage of a movie, where you see the actor in costume rehearsing their lines — and at no time confuse them for their characters.

And that’s the problem. It looked too realistic. In many cases, I stopped seeing a character, and started seeing an actor with imperfect skin and contact lenses. I stopped seeing an Elf Forest, and started seeing fake tree props.

If you’ve ever been on a movie set, you’ll quickly notice how fake everything looks in real life. Why the hell would I want that? I want LARGER than life for my movie experience, thank you very much!

The Art Form

I’m always an early adopter of technology. I love innovation and applaud Peter Jackson for trying this new format out. You never know when something new will resonate with audiences. Believe it or not, “talkies” (i.e. modern movies where you can hear the actors’ voices as they say their lines, instead of reading their dialogue in subtitles) were controversial when they first came out.

But I can’t help but feel like HFR is a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. Movies aren’t reality. They’re heightened reality. The paradox is that making films look more “real” may actually compromise our ability to suspend our disbelief.

If the goal is to make the movie-going experience more like real life, perhaps we should get rid of the score in scenes where there wouldn’t normally be music playing. Or maybe we should shoot all of the scenes from one camera angle. All this jumping from angle to angle stuff isn’t how we view the world.

And when is that smell-o-vision gonna get here? I’m sure audiences would love that. I can think of one scene in particular from Slumdog Millionaire that would be especially… powerful.

Did you see The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug in its higher frame rate? (If you’re unsure, then you probably saw it at one of the majority of theaters where it was played in its converted and standard 24 fps.) What did you think of the format?

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5 Responses
  1. Jordan says:

    I am so confused by these modern format. They all suck.
    Let’s go back to when my Dad saw Godfather in the 70s.
    Let’s go back to when my mom saw ET…
    Let’s go back to when I first saw Superman.

  2. Sara says:

    I totally agree about the 48 frame rate being like seeing BTS footage. One of my friends has a TV in the new, higher frame rate format and it absolutely ruins watching TV for me. I am really hoping that it does not catch on because I can not imagine having to train my eyes to re-see movies in a whole new way…

  3. Trevor Mayes says:

    Hey Sara, glad you agree. Great point about having to train your eyes to re-see movies, because that’s exactly what would have to happen… and it wouldn’t be an easy process. I wonder if the HFR is more palatable to Millennials since they haven’t had the years of 24 fps conditioning.

    Jordan, I understand your confusion. Would the theater-going experience of seeing Superman have been improved by any of these new “enhancements”? Unlikely.

  4. Scott Ware says:

    I completely agree with you, Trevor. I also thought this was a stagey BBC production and would constantly get taken out of the “dream.” If that’s the price to pay for seeing it in 3D, then 2D is for me. I may see it in 2D to attempt to rejoin the mythology I’ve enjoyed in the series so far.

    But will the slower frame rate be able to erase some of the stilted dialogue and dare I say it, some poor storytelling? Is that blasphemous to put forth?

    “I am fire. I am death.” Really?

  5. Trevor Mayes says:

    Hey Scott, that’s a good way of putting it — “taken out of the ‘dream.'” Perhaps the dream-like nature of movies is what truly allows us to suspend our disbelief. And yeah, that’s the last HFR movie for me too.

    I didn’t find the dialogue too bad. I figure if you can get past the fact that a dragon is speaking at all, the rest just kinda follows.

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