The Hobbit’s Frame-Rate Experiment Is the Way of the Future. Get Used to It.

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Dec. 13 2012 6:44 PM

You and Your Precious 24 fps

In defense of The Hobbit’s increased frame rate.

(Continued from Page 1)

Seen this way, a higher frame rate doesn’t have to be a liability. It’s a chance to build a more substantive illusion. Visual-effects guru Dennis Muren points out that actors can do more subtle work at 48 fps. "The performances are better at a high frame rate," he said at a recent panel discussion. "You can see more clearly the intent of the actors." That’s true for The Hobbit, where the better players in the cast—the flexi-faced Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis—are at such an advantage that it seems unfair to everybody else. If this extra resolution makes an actor struggle, let’s not describe him as a victim of technology. Let’s say that he’s a victim of his meager talent.

Any innovation of this type will take some getting used to. In the past few years, we’ve had to train ourselves to read on Kindle screens, to watch sitcoms in HD, to see movies in stereoscopic depth. If the frame rate of The Hobbit demands a little more investment—an hour of adjustment, let’s say, instead of several minutes—that’s just because at first it doesn’t seem so new at all. It reminds us of the cheap, old-fashioned video that was shot at 60 fps. In the last 10 or 15 years, TV productions have made a point of shooting at a slower speed. They’ve forced their frame rates down from 60 to 24, adding motion blur and softening up the spatial resolution, so as to mimic what we’re used to seeing at the movie theater.

But it’s wrong to see the move to higher frame rates as a throwback to this early video, or a retro fashion shift. It does not mark the imposition from on high of a newer, better standard—one frame rate to rule them all (and in the darkness bind them). It’s more like a shift away from standards altogether. With the digital projection systems now in place, filmmakers can choose the frame rate that makes most sense for them, from one project to the next. Douglas Trumbull, who started playing around with 60 fps in the 1970s, says this variable can be applied at the level of the scene, or even the character. What looks good at 24 fps can stay at 24 fps, he says. What looks good at 48 fps can be at 48 fps.

Advertisement

Trumbull’s hybrid approach has played out already in the jump from celluloid to digital video and animation. Pixar likes to draw in the shimmering hexagons of a camera lens flare, even though its cameras are only virtual. Some live-action filmmakers add in lens flares for nostalgia, or to distract the viewer from a wonky CG effect. Peter Jackson uses them in The Hobbit as well. For all his future-proofing, he’s just like his colleagues: Directors like to keep some antiques around for show.

Earlier this year, Entertainment Weekly asked Jackson what he thought of the people who hate the 48 fps format. "I can’t say anything," he answered, "just like I can’t say anything to someone who doesn’t like fish. You can’t explain why fish tastes great and why they should enjoy it." I think he’s right. The fish may taste a little odd at first, and you may never grow to love it. But we should all be glad it’s on the menu.

Correction, Dec. 13, 2012: In the original, the character was identified as Golem.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Politico Wonders Why Gabby Giffords Is So “Ruthless” on Gun Control

Behold
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?