whoop-de-doo

I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey this past weekend and let me just get this out of the way first: I enjoyed the movie. It was a little long in parts, a little indulgent, but I’m pretty sure the same magic that was present in the Lord of the Rings films was there and I enjoyed my trip back to Middle Earth a great deal.

Why only “pretty sure?”

Because of the friggin’ 48fps. Because of HFR 3D. I hated it. If you saw it this past weekend in HFR and you liked it, turn away now. I’m probably gonna make you mad.

For those of you that don’t know, since the 1920′s movies have been filmed at 24 frames per second. That’s part of why movies look like movies in the first place. Even with the recent change to digital cinema, the standard is still 24fps. What once was a technical limitation has become an aesthetic that, until now, filmmakers have always strived for. The advantage of 24fps? A slightly dreamlike quality that does not mimic reality, but looks real to us all the same. The disadvantage? Fast motions are blurred and pans have what’s called a “jutter” effect–the stuttering that happens when a camera is moving through a scene.

48fps takes care of blurring (sort 0f) and jutter but–I would argue–destroys the particular reality of cinema. A movie ceases to be a movie.

You’ve all seen higher frame rate motion pictures. Video games run at speeds well above 48fps. Soap Operas and old BBC shows run just under. If you have a TV that can see it by turning on the TruMotion or “Smoothing” feature. Maybe you like that.┬áMaybe you’re delusional.

The problem with 48fps is that it looks like something that’s trying desperately to be real and yet undoes it’s own reality in the attempt. Don’t believe people who say watching The Hobbit in HFR is like looking at it through a window. HFR is real in the same way the characters in The Polar Express look real–you know it really should look more real than it actually does, but you can’t put your finger on what it’s missing. It’s the Uncanny Valley of film presentation. Ever seen a Behind The Scenes video? Wanna see a whole movie that looks like that? I wish I hadn’t.

Personally, I can’t understand anyone looking at the HFR and actually preferring it. It was that off-putting to me. It’s the opposite of cinema. I expect scope and cinema when I go to the┬ámovies and HFR just makes everything look small and poorly cobbled together. Nothing in the images looks like they’re part of the same world–not the people, not the props, not the CGI. Nothing. Elements of the image are simply at odds with each other.

Nothing interacts properly. When movement doesn’t look sped up it looks stretched or out of focus. Reality is broken, constantly. Cinema tries to create its own reality and you buy into it because it sets its own rules. HFR tries to ape reality but fails because reality doesn’t look or move that way. If it did, I wouldn’t want to stab my eyes with rusty keys while watching it.

“But,” I hear those of you in need of glasses and therapy saying, “You’re getting more. More frames means more information–you’re getting more movie with greater clarity!” Sort of. The problem is your eyes truly do not know where to go because you’re getting so much information from the screen. Yes, for a minute, it’s kind of cool. Landscapes are beautiful. The detail can be incredible. But then, somebody moves. Who cares about clarity when all that information renders the image awful?

They say HFR is the future. James Cameron has already stated his intent to up the ante to 60fps for Avatar 2 & 3. I may be an old curmudgeon who will one day look as ridiculous as those who once declared the introduction of sound to be the death of cinema, but, darn it, this feels like the death of cinema. These are not images I want to see. 48fps took the magic right out of Middle Earth. Think about that. This is a movie with no less than three wizards in it and there was no magic. Magic can’t survive the transition to 48fps. Not for me, anyway.

I take it back. Go see The Hobbit in HFR 3D if you want to see for yourself. Make up your own mind about it. But, if you want to just see the movie and be transported back to Middle Earth? Skip HFR. I’m telling you. Just forget all about it. Unless you want to be on the edge of your seat waiting for the moment when Bilbo reveals he has a twin brother whose been sleeping with his wife (who needs a heart transplant), just go see the movie the only way it can be justifiably called “a movie”–in 24fps.