By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)
It’s called the Soap Opera Effect. It’s that plastic, highly detailed, yet false looking image you see when watching a movie on an HDTV at 120hz or higher. Engineers call it motion interpolation, the inserting of frames via algorithm, which provides great detail, but also minimizes motion blur. It’s great for sports, but not so much for watching movies. And it seems that it’s bitten Peter Jackson and his production of The Hobbit, which was shot in 3D on the RED Epic at 48 frames a second. And the word is, it’s in danger of being The Hobbit’s downfall.
“The 48fps footage I saw looked terrible. It looked completely non-cinematic. The sets looked like sets,” – Devin Faraci, Badass Digest.
Warner Brothers had invited several “bloggerati” and other journalists to view the first 10 minutes of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at a screening during CinemaCon. Jackson has been shooting The Hobbit in 3D on the RED Epic and many thought the sweeping helicopter shots were stunningly beautiful, saying that the future of documentaries can easily be seen. But for a dramatic film, many complained that shooting digitally in 48 frames per second simply stripped the film of it’s cinematic nature. One reporter lamented on their blog … “Oh Peter Jackson, what have you done?!’
It was as if the film looked “too realistic,” like a behind the scenes video you’d watch on the Blu-ray after seeing the film itself. Others have mentioned that it looks like a PBS Video production from the 70s, or an episode of the original video production of Doctor Who. One journalist even mentioned the ill dated decision by Rod Serling and CBS brass to switch from Film to Video for one season of the Twilight Zone, making it look like live television. And that can’t be good.
Now to be fair, it wasn’t all negative. Some felt that 48fps brought 3D into greater relief, improving the effect. Some felt that there will be a hard learning curve for lighting this new technique, but were excited by what they saw. And some felt that 48fps may be the ticket for nature documentaries. But for the cinematic nature of a major motion picture? What are they thinking?
The idea behind Jackson’s decision to shoot The Hobbit at 48 fps may have been to give the viewer a more immersive experience, like they were there amongst the action. But from the reactions after the screening, it may have actually achieved the exact opposite effect:
This undeniable “reality” kept pulling me out of the movie rather than immersing me fully into its world as the Lord of the Rings films did; the very fantasy element, the artifice of it all (whether it’s the wigs, fake beards or CG monsters) was plainly, at times painfully, evident. – Jim Vejvoda, Editor IGN Movies.
It’s obvious that digital filmmaking is a juggernaut that’s powering the industry right now. The economics demand it, the science of technological advancement makes it thrilling to see it evolve. And in the right hands, that technology can be an effective tool. But the art of the film story, it seems, is being sacrificed for the science of it. And I’m not really sure that’s what most movie goers want. They don’t want to see the makeup caked on the actor’s face or see a piece of set footage held up with gaffers tape (as one reviewer put it). They want to be told a story and get lost in it, like the epic Lord the Rings trilogy did so effectively.
Some also postulate that if The Hobbit tanks due to this new 48 fps format, that RED will actually take the most hit, since the Epic was used to film it and RED has a lot invested in it’s success. I don’t know about that. Sure, they’ll take a black eye, but that’s like blaming paratroopers in Operation Market Garden for it’s defeat during World War II and not General Montgomery who pushed for it’s action.
“There are going to be endless debates about 48FPS and how good/bad it looks. I just think we need to get used to change after 80yr of 24FPS.” - Alex Billington, First Showing on Twitter
I think Billington is right. But in the end, the means to tell a story should disappear while the story is told, subtly moving it along while we’re lost in the tale. But it seems that Peter Jackson may not let us forget it with The Hobbit. Here’s hoping they see the response from this screening and realize their folly before it’s too late. But if, like Gollum, they consider this process too precious … well, we know how that ended up.