Why does The Hobbit have to look like real life?

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th April 2011.

Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the 2005 King Kong remake has announced that his adaption of The Hobbit, due in cinemas in 2012, will be filmed at 48 frames per second. This is double the industry standard of 24 frames per second. Jackson claims that the increased frame rate will give the film “enhanced clarity and smoothness”, however, similar to 3D movies and digital projection, expensive upgrades to cinemas will be required.

Since the 1920s, with the invention of talking pictures, movies have been filmed and projected at 24 frames per second. It is believed that this standard was set because it was the lowest frame rate to produce acceptable sound quality at the time. Due to the sheer cost of film, along with the associated expenses to develop and print it, the industry chose this minimum rate and this has remained standard for the past ninety years.

Technology has advanced over this time. We now have movies in colour, Dolby Digital sound, huge Vmax screens, CGI, stadium seating, cup holders and frozen Coke, but the frame rate hasn’t changed. There are image quality issues with the current standard such as blurring during fast action scenes or quick camera movements. There is also the tendency for viewers to get eye strain when watching 3D movies at 24 frames per second.

The main benefits for the rate upgrade, according to Jackson, will be the resolution of the blurring and eye strain issues, plus “a much more lifelike and comfortable viewing experience.” Of course, most film projectors currently operating in cinemas cannot just be made to run at double their current speed so will need to be replaced. Digital projectors may only need a software upgrade.

There is some debate online about whether this new frame rate should be permanent. Film purists argue that 24 frames per second give movies their ethereal, dream-like quality, and there is no need for cinema to look the same as real life.

I agree with this notion. Despite the fact that I leave most 3D movies feeling like I have spent two hours having someone poking me in the eyeballs with a blunt stick, I don’t believe it is necessary to upgrade the frame rate for all future movies. I view cinema as an art form. Art, by nature, does not have to look real. Is music recorded on vinyl less worthy than on a digital CD? Many would argue that vinyl sounds best. Should we replace all paintings with photographs because they aren’t real enough?

There are many methods used by film makers to alter the images that you see on the screen. Filters, film stock, lenses, depth of field, lighting and special effects are all widely utilised to make movies not look like real life.

It all boils down to a matter of choice. Do you prefer vinyl or CD, VHS or beta, blu-ray or HD DVD, Jacob or Edward? The proof will be in the pudding and personally I can’t wait to see Smaug the Dragon, Elrond the Sage and Bard the Bowman in stunning lifelike 48 frames per second in The Hobbit Part 1 when it hits our screens next year. I’m just not insisting that all future films be upgraded…yet. If I want all of my entertainment to be look like real life, I’ll just look out the window.

Published in: on May 9, 2011 at 13:46  Leave a Comment  
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