How often does a really new projection technology come along? And one that is coupled with a new capture technology (i.e. both the video capture, and the video playback, is in a totally new format)?
Well, the wait is almost over. Since the “controversy” over 48fps for Hollywood movies first reached critical mass last spring, when in a videotaped message at CinemaCon (the annual convention of NATO– National Association of Theater Owners) in Las Vegas in April, Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings movies, introduced a ten minute clip of raw footage from his upcoming The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The footage was shot is 3D at 48 fps (frames per second) per eye. Normal analog film/playback as well as digital as shown in commercial movie theaters today is 24 fps. After that April 24th HFR demo and taped address in Las Vegas by Jackson, a variety of bloggers and some industry press commented that the HFR images in the demo were not pleasing– too sharp, too detailed, too much like TV and less like film.
Be patient, many of us said. Wait for the theatrical release.
Fast forward to this week: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is being shown to some movie critics, and is less than two weeks away from wide release to movie theaters. According to the Los Angeles Times, the movie, which is due in theaters on Dec. 14, will play in 48fps initially on some 450 of the 4,000-or-so screens in the U.S. that will show the movie. (Warner Brothers is not releasing the movie in 48 fps 2D, only 48 fps 3D– so you’ll see it in either 48 fps 3D, or 24fps 2D.)
Would Peter Jackson roll the dice on an “unpleasant” look just to say he was the first to up the frame rate? I don’t think so. I’m betting that these critics are just not yet accustomed the increased data that 48fps affords. I saw the demos last April at CinemaCon, but I’ll wait to see the movie in the theaters (in both 24, and 48 fps) before I weigh in on this skirmish– one of many to come in a long battle as all parties jockey for position in an all-digital landscape with altered business models. Because at the end of the day, this is not about frames per second. It’s about the very survival of the greatest art form our culture has produced.
For my long article putting this debate in context, see: