Recently I was lucky enough to see an early screening of The Hobbit. I'd really enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy (but not to a fanatical degree) so the prequel caught my interest.
One of the major things that intrigued me about The Hobbit was Peter Jackson's use of 48 frames per second. Reviewers called it strange and like a TV movie; some marked it as genius.
Thanks to Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, I recently learned the term 'The Greater Fool'. That's someone who spearheads an idea against the grain, that at the time seems foolish but in the future is proved to have been avant-garde. I think I've witnessed Peter Jackson being the greater fool.
To me as a viewer, 48fps visually is somewhere between a film and a play. It seems impossibly clear and therein lays the problem. My mind is confused because the actors seem like they're in the room, but they're gigantic and in the midst of fantastical situations. The sweeping vistas and epic battles are obviously not there because I can't feel the air on my face as I fly over them; I'm in a cinema. My mind is baffled as it's simultaneously unreal and real.
This reaction has a name - the uncanny valley- when something synthetic is made to look organic, and it gets so close that our mind can't comprehend what it's seeing. It's a problem Tron Legacy suffered from with the CGI Jeff Bridges.
I think the problem is that this is the first film to use this technique, and the filming and post production are mired in the old ways. In places, the movement seems fast, and the CGI too crisp. I imagine this is because Weta and the actors are so used to the old ways that they've not compensated for the clarity. Much like makeup artists for news and television had to change techniques for digital, filmmakers need to adapt their approaches for this.
Don't get me wrong, The Hobbit is a great film. I enjoyed it immensely. A quick aside, I haven't read the book so I just view it on its own story merits, of which it has many. The performances were great and its design and landscape are amazing. Some reviewers say the clarity takes you out of the film, I'd disagree. Yes, I had an internal battle as I had to acclimatise to what I saw, but the film did draw me in. In fact, part of the confusion is that I don't feel rocks scraping against my back or the breath of a giant wolf. Much like Lord of the Rings, I was blown away by the special effects. Even at almost three hours I wasn't bored or unfulfilled.
Years ago I was the moron who was worried DVDs would remove the authenticity of VHS viewing. Then I was the prat who said the clarity of digital projection would harm cinema. I refuse to be stupid again.
48fps is the future of cinema. One day all films will be shot and shown in this way. With proper additions to technology both on screen and in the cinema itself, we will enjoy a fully immersive cinematic experience. This is only a few steps away from a holodeck. Laugh at me now, but in ten years time Peter Jackson (and I) will be proved right.
For now, go and see the film and decide for yourself.
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