CinemaCon: “Hobbit” 48FPS Reactions

Ten minutes from Peter Jackson’s much anticipated “The Hobbit” film adaptations screened to an industry audience in Las Vegas today and the reaction was amongst the most divisive and ultimately mixed of the day.

The problem didn’t seem to be with the content of the film itself. Said unfinished footage contained various scenes with Bilbo, the dwarves, Gandalf, and part of Orlando Bloom’s appearance as Legolas. The biggest sequence was one between Bilbo and Gollum, and those who’ve talked about the footage reacted quite favourably to Jackson’s film.

Less well received though, and what’s caused much of an online fuss over the past few hours, was the presentation. Specifically the new 48 frames-per-second technology that Jackson is employing with the film. This marked the first time footage from the film was screened in the format for a large audience outside those involved in the actual film’s making.

The online news outlets and blogs responded quickly with reaction. The most common praise was that the higher frame rate does make everything crystal clear and does eliminate the eye strain and strobing problems of current 3D.

Unfortunately that much more lifelike appearance is a little too perfect in that it makes the fakeness of the sets, costumes, make-up etc. much more obvious and gives the film a look akin to video or that vaguely disturbing ‘Smooth Motion’ effect seen on LCDs in some TV department stores. Here’s some reactions:

“Here’s what The Hobbit looked like to me: a hi-def version of the 1970s I, Claudius. It is drenched in a TV-like – specifically 70’s era BBC – video look. People on Twitter have asked if it has that soap opera look you get from badly calibrated TVs at Best Buy, and the answer is an emphatic YES.

It looked completely non-cinematic. The sets looked like sets. I’ve been on sets of movies on the scale of The Hobbit, and sets don’t even look like sets when you’re on them live… but these looked like sets. The other comparison I kept coming to, as I was watching the footage, was that it all looked like behind the scenes video. The magical illusion of cinema is stripped away completely.” — Devin Faraci, Bad Ass Digest.

“I’ll admit the footage is such a radical change from what I expected, it’s going to polarize audiences. The 3D looked great and the new 48fps drastically reduces eye strain. That’s the good news. The bad news is the 48fps is so jarring that I’m not sure casual moviegoers will enjoy it… . You no longer have motion blur. You no longer can hide stuff in the darkness… By the end of the presentation, I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch the entire movie in this new 48fps format. This is definitely not what I expected to say. Ultimately, it just didn’t look cinematic and it sort of looked like HD TV.” — Steve Weintraub, Collider.

“It was too accurate — too clear. The contrast ratio isn’t there yet — everything looked either too bright or black” — a projectionist to The L.A. Times.

“Motion blur was gone completely in fast-moving action scenes and dark environment. In general, 48fps has the ability to be at once crisp and smooth, subtle and bold. It is a maelstrom of contradictions when compared to the loads of filmed content I’ve seen in my life. Others started pronouncing it over immediately upon exiting, but I am not passing that judgment (or any for that matter) yet. I saw ten minutes of unfinished, un-graded, incomplete footage as a cross-section, not a full feature film. 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.” — Monty Cristo, AICN

The best way to show just how this has divided the online blogger community is two key reactions – Alex Billington and Jeffrey Wells.

Hollywood Elsewhere editor Jeffrey Wells is famously negative about practically every non-awards film coming out – especially genre films, fantasy films and blockbusters. He was gushing over the presentation: “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.

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. 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.”

On the flip side is First Showing editor Alex Billington who gushes orgasmic praise over 95% of releases but was in a rarely sceptical mood here:

“48FPS is a big change, a drastic change from the 80 years of 24FPS footage, that we’re used to, and it will take a while to get into it. But I noticed problems where it seemed like movement was running at double the speed as the rest of the footage, even though it was all in sync. It was odd, even awkward, and a bit weird to see, and a bit weird to get into. But was it just unfinished, raw footage? Will it look better finished by December?”