There has been a lot of chatter over the last several days about Peter Jackson's reveal of a 10 minute clip from The Hobbit at CinemaCon in Las Vegas on Tuesday. The film was shot and will be exhibited at 48 frames per second, bucking decades of convention by doubling the frame-rate for both filming and projection. The debate has varied, with both sides getting more heated as they argue back and forth. Is this the future of film, or a slide from cinematic glory into TV-like video look for movies? To kick off the discussion, it should be noted that several filmmakers, like Peter Jackson and James Cameron have claimed that 48 frames per second is indeed the future for film and 3D and should become the new industry standard.
I'm okay with a new industry standard, because, well, I kind of hate 3D movies, and I'm just not sure this is the kind of thing that I want. Looking at the history of 3D, I can admit that Avatar was beautiful and revolutionary and like nothing I had ever seen before, but when I think about it, that is not the experience I remember. I remember a bunch of blue cat-people running around in a film with a story that I was not invested in at all. Now, whether that was the 3D or just an under-developed script, I'm not sure…but either way, nothing about it "grabbed" me and brought me in. And, when given the option, I always choose 2D. I can't remember the last time I was more excited to see a movie in 3D, and in fact, I can't remember the last time that it didn't give me a headache.
After seeing the clip, there was a general consensus that the style creates a much more crisp and "real" picture. The experience was likened to the first time someone sees HD and wonders how it looks so true to life….only with this, ten times more. In a statement about the decision to shoot in this style Jackson said, "It looks much more lifelike, and it is much easier to watch, especially in 3D. We've been watching ‘Hobbit’ tests and dailies at 48 fps now for several months, and we often sit through two hours worth of footage without getting any eye strain from the 3D. It looks great, and we've actually become used to it now, to the point that other film experiences look a little primitive". However, the many detractors claim that what they are trying to tell us is the good thing about 48fps is exactly the problem…it is too real. That is takes away the hyper-real quality of a film that we have become accustomed to and, "robs the film of any cinematic quality." Don't get me wrong, some industry professionals in attendance called the 48 frames per second "mind-blowing" and claimed that it could revolutionize cinema as we know it, however, although this is difficult for me to write without seeing it; I'm not convinced.
I'm not sure that going to see a movie is about reality. It's about escapism, taking a few hours out of your day to not live in the real world, pretending that the people you are watching on the screen are your friends, and believing that you are in a far-away place that is not your normal day-to-day life. One perspective on film theory by Roland Barthes claims that one of the things that makes seeing a film a powerful experience is the "dream-like state" that a viewer is put in to when going to a theater. The room is dark, there is an image being projected in front of you and you become a passive observer not engaging with what is happening in the world around you. It is this experience that can allow us to sit back and actually feel what is happening on the screen - cry when someone dies, cheer when someone wins, and clap when the entire experience is over. My fear is that by making film too realistic and too close to what we experience every day, much of this experience will be lost. I'm afraid that the human connections and emotions that we feel while watching a film will be gone.
Looking back on it, I believe this is one of the things that prevents me from loving 3-D. I am always aware that there is a pair of glasses on my face and I am not looking at an image like one that I have ever seen before. This proposed image of "crisp reality" also worries me with a film like "The Hobbit", which is all about suspended disbelief and attaching to characters that we all know don't exist. If Bilbo Baggins looks like he could be your best friend sitting next to you, will your mind truly allow you to feel like this made up world is real? I know that we don't get this same experience all the time when we are watching movies at home, but I would argue that is why, after technology has improved so much, we still go out to see movies at theaters.
On the other hand, while I say all of this, if I am blown away, and I am wrong about it, I will jump on the bandwagon. I won't pretend that I'm not going to go see it, and I'm not going to be fascinated by the process…I just hope that this is not a bunch of tech guys getting together and ruining the experience we have with film, without thinking about the people that are the most important…..the people like us, who just want to sit back, and have an amazing and magical experience with the stories and characters they have created.