It was the artist, James Abbott McNeil Whistler, that famously said:
“An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.”
Peter Jackson’s latest vision of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, has been served up in three different formats – 3D High Frame Rate, Standard 3D, and in 2D. We have reported here that at least one other film director, James Cameron believes the new format to be a step in the right direction:
“It takes that kind of bold move to make change.”
What then is the benefit of the new format and what is it meant to do?
In an effort to render a sharper, more “realistic” image, notably when motion is involved it pays to shoot at 48 FPS. This leads to elimination of motion blur when the camera pans around, which otherwise can get especially disorientating for the viewer during an action scene. In traditional 24 FPS filming, it is left to the viewer to create the illusion of movement. At even slower frame rates then the illusion is created successfully, but the film appears annoyingly jerky. The scientific reason generally accepted in the film industry for why this might happen is usually attributed to the Persistence of Vision theory, (other theories are available, some of which counter this claim!)
We are now at a curious crossroads in film. When The Lumière Brothers, in 1895 filmed Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat many of the audience, seeing it for the first time on a big screen, shied away and some even ran for the exit doors. The experience was for them so real that they were overtaken by thoughts of imminent carnage in the cinema. These days, some particularly well judged 3D films have, for fleeting moments, induced a similar impulse, but we have now moved on much further technologically. A new level of reality, brought about by 48 FPS may actually be in danger of removing this filmic quality altogether, it is said.
Many critics have come out against the new format and it may be that, lurking in the background, (not too articulately I find), is a feeling that somehow, the magic of film is being removed at 48 FPS. Paradoxically, rather than creating more of an illusion the Higher Frame Rate might actually be removing it. This is more to do with how the old format invites us to fill in the gaps between frames where the new format does the opposite. It produces images so rapidly (er, at double speed I think…), that most of our concentration goes in trying to process what we see before us. We concentrate so much on the action that we have no time to fill in the gaps. Well, that’s the idea anyhow.
So, has Peter Jackson been paid inadequately for the vision he has set before us, or paid too much? Only time will tell, naturally, because sometimes it is only after a Turing or Van Gogh has departed that we realise just how advanced someones vision was.
There has been much critical reaction to the film, much of it before the event itself and instantaneous, so that it can be served up to a readership used to hearing how the critics react. There has been little yet about why, from a technical angle one method might work better than another. One place to find just such a review is at a blog by Vincent LaForet, which analyses several reasons why, for him at least, the film does not work in 3D, but does so otherwise as a movie in other formats. I suspect there could be more of this in days to come, as people come to grips with 48 FPS while it gravitates from the small screen to the very big.