2012-12-10

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Insights From Peter Jackson

by Yo Snyder

The Hobbit has been a long time coming. It’s been over a decade since The Lord of the Rings
trilogy wrapped up, and it was thought that a prequel Hobbit film will
naturally follow quite quickly. However, that didn’t happen. There were
directors who came and went, different attempts at putting the script
together, and not a few financial issues as well. Eventually, however,
progress was made and even Peter Jackson himself came on board to guide
things, which is really what fans wanted all along. Now that the film is
almost here, most people aren’t buzzing about the whole short book
being made into a trilogy thing (although there is a lot of talk about
that), or whether or not the film is worthy of the Lord of the Rings
legacy (with Jackson at the helm, that seems like it would be a given).
No, the thing most people are talking about is the fact that it’s filmed
in 48 frames per second. Now, if you’re reaction to hear that is,
“Huh?”, here’s a quick rundown of what it is and some insights from
Peter Jackson on why The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was filmed that way.

Think
of 48fps as hi-def for the movie screen. Traditionally, most movies are
filmed at 24fps, which gives them a distinct look from something that
you might see on TV. Indeed, the higher frame rate does give The Hobbit
more of a “broadcast, high-quality made-for-TV”. At moments, it looks
like the best-looking TV miniseries you’ve ever seen. At other times, it
looks like watching a blu-ray on a huge movie screen. It’s definitely
different, and personally, I didn’t love it but I also didn’t hate it.
And just in case you’re curious, there’s no guarantee that you’ll even
get to see it in 48fps as most theaters can’t even show it that way.
Only the more modern digital projectors can be set to show the film at
that speed. Indeed, Peter Jackson even said that when they started
filming, there weren’t any theaters that would be able to show it at
48fps, but they went ahead any way trusting that would change by the
time the film released.

Speaking of Jackson, how did he even come by the idea of filming The Hobbit
at this higher speed? Interestingly enough, it was partly due to Star
Wars. “I remember going to Disneyland and seeing the Star Tours ride,
you know the George Lucas thing at Disneyland which is a high frame rate
film where, you know, you’re speeding in the Star Wars spaceship. And
then I had a direct experience with it three for four years ago, I
directed a King Kong attraction for Universal Studios in California
which was a sixty frames per second, 3D, like a seven or eight minute
film playing during the tram ride there, and I just thought, Wow, this
is so cool. I wish we could do a feature film like this.” Well, Mr.
Jackson, apparently wishes can come true.

So that’s how the whole
48 frames per second came about, but what affect has it had on the
movie? Well, as Peter Jackson recently pointed out, opinions on it kind
of depends on how old someone is. “I’m tending to see that anyone under
the age of twenty or so doesn’t really care, and thinks it looks cool,
and doesn’t even really understand it, they just think the 3D looks
cool. I think 3D at 24 frames is interesting, but it’s the 48 that
actually to almost attain the potential it can achieve because its less
eye-strain and you have a sharper picture which creates more of a
three-dimensional world. It’s interesting how the frame rate actually
changes the perception of the 3D as well as making it more comfortable
to watch.”

Now as to those last couple statements, I can attest
that it does make a difference in the 3D experience. We got see the film
in 3D at the higher frame rate, and interestingly enough, my head
didn’t hurt nearly as bad as it usually does by the end of a three-hour,
3D movie. Also, the sharper, crisper picture does make the 3D
experience more immersive. Screenwriter Philippa Boyens even mentioned
that she’s noticed people who forget to take their 3D glasses off after
the movie’s over because they’ve forgotten they even had them on. That’s
a direct result of the higher frame rate in 3D.

Most people have
experienced some eye strain and headaches associated with 3D
experiences, and Peter Jackson helped us understand why that happens and
why the higher frame rate actually helps with that issue. “With 3D,
your left and right eye, both of your eyes are seeing a different
picture because the two cameras are filming two different pictures from
different angles and with 24 frames you’re getting strobing and motion
blur and the artifacts of 24 four frames and those are being shot
separately with two cameras being fed into separate eyes and your brain
is trying, sort of, to put this stuff together and the more artifacts in
the capture, like when you’re panning or your moving and strobing, your
brain is trying, sort of, to resolve these two pictures. 48 reduces all
of the artifacts, so it does make for a smoother experience.”

Mr.
Jackson went on to say that by using 48 frames per second, he wasn’t
out to change the movie industry or anything like that, but rather just
wanted to add another tool to the film making tool box.  However, the
influence of this choice may already having an impact as it’s now
rumored that Bryan Singer, after seeing The Hobbit in the higher frame
rate, may film the next X-Men: First Class film in a similar
fashion. We’ll see whether or not this becomes a trend for films in the
future, and what it portends for home releases, but hopefully that helps
clear up a little of the mystery of the whole 48 frames per second
debate when it comes to The Hobbit films. It’s definitely
different, and when the film releases on December 14th, if you happen to
see it in the higher frame rate presentation, be sure to share with us
what you think about it.