The state of cinema as most of us know it changed radically today when 10 minutes of footage from Peter Jackson‘s 48 frames-per-second 3D The Hobbit were shown on the huge Collisseum screen inside Caeser’s Palace today. 48 fps 3D is such a startling and game-changing thing that it’s like the introduction of sound in 1927, CinemaScope in 1953, and high-end 3D with Avatar. I was knocked back in my seat…open-mouthed. This is the most startlingly “real” form of cinema I’ve ever seen, so much so that it isn’t “cinema.” And there’s the rub.
It’s like watching super high-def video, or without that filtered, painterly, brushstroke-y, looking-through-a-window feeling that feature films have delivered since forever. On one level what I saw this morning was fucking fantastic, and on another it removed the artistic scrim or membrane that separates the audience from the performers. Which gave a little feeling of “hmmm.”
The effect is that you’re not really watching a “film.” You’re watching, it seems, high-def video footage that, in an earlier time, might have been shot simultaneously along with the traditionally captured, more cinematic version that would be shown in theatres…or so you would have told yourself as you watched it in 1998 or 2005 or whenever. Except this is now and the high-def, 48 fps footage we saw this morning is it — this is how the movie will actually look.
Forget the windowpane. You’re right there and it’s breathtaking — no strobing, no flickering, pure fluidity and much more density of information. This makes the action scenes seem more realistic because it looks too real to be tricked up, and the CG stuff looks astonishing for the same reason.
Believe it or not but I, Jeffrey Wells, a Peter Jackson and Rings trilogy hater from way back, am looking forward big-time to The Hobbit now. I really am. This is going to be amazing. Shallow Hal that I am, I’m now into it big-time.
In a manner of speaking I was creaming in my pants this morning. This is almost too good, I was half-telling myself. It’s the best 3D I’ve ever seen and probably ever will see in my life. 48 fps 3D is so much easier on your eyes than 24 fps 3D. It was like being on a strange new planet, watching this process. It looks a lot like 60 fps Showscan did way back when. But it’s not “cinema” — it’s the new world. You definitely can’t see this at home. Or at least you won’t be able to for a while yet.
Younger audiences and persons like myself will, I suspect, completely flip over this when The Hobbit opens in December. And I can’t wait to see 48 fps in 2D. In fact, I agree with a statement posted this morning by About.com’s Rebecca Murray that “once audiences get to see The Hobbit screened at the 48 frames per second rate, I can guarantee moviegoers are going to demand all films be presented at 48 fps.”
But because 48 fps 3D is not “cinema” in the pre-4.28-12 sense of the term, some have reacted very negatively to what we saw this morning. Older viewers especially. Guys of a certain age are going to dig in their heels and say “nope, not me, no way…this isn’t a movie …this is live video.” Grain monks are going to have screaming fits. I can hear the rants already: “It’s too CNN! Like a local newcast report with high-def cameras. It’s not dreamy or compositional enough. The worst technical thing that has ever happened to motion pictures! It’s the new Smellovision,” etc.
I disagree. 48 fps is too jolting and breathtaking. I believe that henceforth 48 fps will not just become the norm but we’re going to hear calls for up-rezzing classic 24 fps films to 48 fps. Douglas Trumbull has allegedly done such conversions, and I for one would be highly in favor if they caught on. And yet 48 fps kills that classic filtered, strobing effect that we’ve known all our lives. It’s a shocker, all right, and I’m not sure if the industry as a whole is going to be on my side of this.
But any action or spectacle director henceforth is going to have to use 48 fps, 3D or not. It’s just too astonishing to dismiss.
From AICN’s Moises Chiullan: “I have major reservations, but at the same time am beyond awed at many elements of what hit my visual cortex. Recalling the sweeping landscape shots they opened with now, I almost feel tears welling, and I can’t explain why. It was overwhelming in the most literal sense. It directly assaults your synapses with twice as much information through your retinas as you have become conditioned to expect from traditional cinema. I did not see the digital seams around creatures like Gollum and the trolls, a major benefit over 24fps. The creatures had a sense of mass in the environment, which was disconcerting in a good way.”