Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: Regarding The Hobbit's frame rate

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I'll never forget the day I sat down to watch my first Blu-ray on a full high definition television. It was Terminator 2: Judgement Day, one of my all-time favourite movies - a landmark film for special effects and large scale action. And suddenly it looked like somebody's home video.

The 'smoothness' inherent in the look of films on Blu-rays put me off the technology entirely, and rendered me highly skeptical regarding high resolution developments in general. None of which is more significant than Peter Jackson's much-discussed decision to shoot The Hobbit in 48 frames per second, as opposed to 24 frames per second, the industry standard for more than 75 years.

Despite my skepticism (and the technology's predominantly negative reaction at CinemaCon in April), I have a large degree of faith in Peter Jackson, and there's no filmmaker I'd more gladly follow into the medium's uncertain digital future.

So when I sat down to watch the film roll out at 48 frames per second at the media screening at Park Road Post last week, I was attempting to balance my high-rez phobia with an open minded approach.

That said, if there's anyone who'd potentially be put-off by the increased frame-rate, it would be me.

So imagine my surprise when the film began and I found myself drinking in the visuals. Make-up, props and sets are the first things to suffer with increased visual clarity, but Richard Taylor and the Weta Workshop gang have upped their game to the point where no such concerns arise in The Hobbit. The lived-in, multi-generational quality of the production design is maintained admirably.

The crystal clear, detail-enhancing 'look' of the film took a little getting used-to, but I was struck by how much the action scenes benefited.

One of Jackson's main arguments for 48fps has been that it allows you to perceive more of what is occurring on screen - I finally saw what he meant when the first of The Hobbit's many large-scale battles unfurled.

My eyes were able to take in all the background action and it greatly added to the richness of the scenes. My fears that the CGI would stick out like a sore thumb were unfounded.

For the first time, I could relate to the arguments for 48 fps, and even celebrate the technology. I was pleasantly surprised to say the least. And it's nice to report that these kinds of reactions aren't the only ones the film is receiving.

But I can't help but feel this is a unique circumstance for the technology, and I'm still not sure that 48 fps should become an industry standard. While I loved how it was extolled in The Hobbit, I remain unconvinced that any subsequent films could live up to the level of craftsmanship and filmmaking prowess that Jackson and company display here, which is integral to the technology succeeding.

It's like using Avatar as an argument for 3D - it worked spectacularly in James Cameron's film for sure, but has any subsequent 3D film been as lovingly and meticulously crafted? I recently saw Ang Lee's Life of Pi (AMAZING!), and that's the only film I can think of that lived up to Avatar's promise, 3D-wise.

So I hope that the 48 fps technology is rolled out judiciously, and not simply applied to every big film that comes down the pipe. It's far from a flawless technique, and if The Hobbit proves nothing else, it's that the a serious degree of filmmaking craft must be applied so that the technology doesn't overwhelm the story.

Nobody is obligated to The Hobbit at the increased frame-rate of course, as it will also be showing in many cinemas projected in the traditional 24 fps. Thirteen Auckland cinemas are showing it at 48 fps, four in Wellington, and innumerable screens in smaller centres also have the 48 fps option. So it's up to the individual really.

My heart will always lie with the the grainy look of the films I grew up on, but The Hobbit has shown me that with the right amount of care and attention, 48 frames per second can be a glorious thing.

Will you be seeing The Hobbit in 48 fps? Do you think Peter Jackson is pushing the industry forward? Comment below!

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