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What Filming The Hobbit in 48fps Could Mean For Cinema

Peter Jackson has famously opted to film the new Middle Earth trilogy using HFR - we look at what filming The Hobbit in 48fps could mean for cinema.

If you haven’t heard about Peter Jackson‘s return to Middle Earth then we’re worried you may well be stuck in alternate reality. As the movie world gears itself for The Hobbit, split, somehow, into three whole movies, we must also prepare for the advent of a new age. As well as screening to audiences in glorious IMAX and 3D, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has also been filmed at 48fps. Whilst this has set many tongues wagging, there’s still some people, many of our farmers included, who feel left in the dark as to what this exactly means for the world of movies…

Films are usually shot at 24 frames per second, with television being filmed at slightly higher rates. Peter Jackson’s decision to film the new Hobbit trilogy using 48fps means that the three films will utilise HFR, or high frame rate. Though many are keen to emphasise that this in itself is not a format but a way of filming, the result nevertheless divides opinion, with some believing it to provide an improved, more life-like image, whilst others criticise it for creating a alienating colder feel to the resulting film.

There are viable arguments both for and against the use of this higher frame rate. One of the main arguments for its use is that it helps prevent the eye strain caused by 24fps 3D screenings. Another, perhaps more crucial argument, is that it reduces the judder inherent in using 24fps during filming. In using 48fps detail appears clearer, allowing for fast action shots to be crisper. Though this works toward creating a more realistic effect to the resulting film it also lends itself to the primary critisism of using 48fps; people have blasted An Unexpected Journey for being too clear, such clarity allowed by the decision to use 48fps reducing the humanity (or Hobbitery, if you will) seen on screen.

Some believe 48fps haters to simply be averse to change, likening them to those against the change to colour filming. Though incredibly petty, could this argument hold any merit? Probably not. Change is an ever-present element of cinema and so to suggest those critical of 48fps being simply against change is a little childish. Peter Jackson himself discusses the evolution of cinema;

“We live in a rapidly advancing digital age. Technology is being continually developed that can enhance and enrich the cinema-going experience… I started shooting The Hobbit films in HFR because I wanted film audiences to experience just how remarkably immersive the theatrical cinema experience can be. “

He goes on to speak of the advantages inherent in filming in 48fps. Speaking of 24fps, he states that it was initially chosen as, in the 1920’s, it was the “cheapest speed to provide basic quality — but it produces movement artifacts, like strobing, flicker and motion blur”. With 48fps he believes he is able to create “much more of an illusion of real life.”

Whilst the argument surrounding the use of 48fps rages on we must not forget the divide already created by the use of 3D. Skeptics attack the format for being another way of getting more money from movie-goers with the third dimension often hiking up ticket prices. Whilst it is true that 3D has caused there to be a recent glut of gimmicky shots that would otherwise be deemed unnecessary (look to any number of shots that see objects come hurtling toward the audience), it has also produced some amazing visual effects. It may have been criticised for its story but Avatar is the best-selling film of all time for a reason; people flocked to watch James Carmeron’s immersive visuals.

Released in the UK just a week after An Unexpected Journey, Life of Pi takes the 3D medium to a new level, receiving gushing praise for its visual effects and use of 3D. Could the use of HFR be something that, though not always entirely necessary, provides cinema with some of its most visually stunning products too?

Not all cinemas will screen the film in 48fps, but 48fps viewers are sure to see the difference. Crucially, Jackson states “HFR 3D is “different””, and only time will tell just how well people will adjust to the new look. What’s certain is that it’s added another talking point to an already much-anticipated set of movies.

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