The first time I watched a movie on a high-definition television, I thought I was going insane. The run time was the same, but everything seemed to be moving quicker and more unnaturally than the normal DVD and VHS speeds I was accustomed to. But when I pointed it out to a friend, he said he didn’t notice anything, leaving me alone with my conspiracy.
As it turns out, I wasn’t going blind. The pace I noticed was a result of higher frame rate, which has gained some mainstream attention now that "The Hobbit," filmed at 48 frames per second over the typical 24, has been released. Peter Jackson’s decision to up the technology for the trilogy has been controversial, inasmuch as reviews have been mixed and you can still see the regular frame rate at most theaters. (It continues to make a lot of money, though.)
What’s notable to us is that Bryan Singer, director of "X-Men: Days of Future Past," is apparently a big fan of the technique. At the "Hobbit" premiere, he Tweeted: "Just saw #Hobbit. Having some serious frame rate envy. Amazing and involving. Loved it!"
Which would seem to beg the question of whether Singer will ape the technique for when "Days of Future Past" begins filming, now that Jackson’s broken the ice for other directors.
It doesn’t seem to be a deal-breaker, because plenty of Americans have already gotten used to the higher frame rate through their increasingly advanced televisions. But it may not be the right decision for the "X-Men" movies, even if Singer may be champing at the bit to indulge his inner technical wizard. It works in "The Hobbit," sort of, because there’s so much going on screen that once you get used to the slight nausea of the effect, it becomes a trip to spread your eyes from side to side and try to pick out all of the details. (Plus, it’s nice to know exactly how many hairs are in Gandalf’s beard.) By comparison, the "X-Men" movies have never been known for their visual overload, apart from the CGI showing the mutant powers.
Of course, "Days of Future Past" is going to be bigger than what we’ve seen before. It’s set (at least partially) in the future, which we know, and judging off the comics, could involve more ambitious visuals than anything we’ve seen before. Something on the scale of "Terminator" but with mutant powers, where we see massive Sentinels clashing with multiple mutants, and a dystopian landscape stretching for miles. The idea of looking at such a vast tableau in fine detail is kind of exciting, and enough to make any comics cinephile pre-order the Blu-Ray months in advance.
But when the action is done and the future is departed, we’re left with the heart of the "X-Men" films: Conversation, characters, and lots of it. In that setting, the higher frame rate doesn’t offer nuance so much as a headache, because the pacing and rhythms seem off when we’re just watching a few characters move about too quickly in a room. "The Hobbit" was lucky enough to take place in a gorgeous landscape at all times, which meant there was always something to look at. But think about how many moments in the "X-Men" movies have taken place in quieter, mundane settings -- Wolverine and Iceman talking in the kitchen in "X2," the recruits naming themselves in "X-Men: First Class" -- and ponder how awkward it might seem to watch them zip about, with nothing much in the frame to focus on.
Obviously, this is a little reactionary, as Singer hasn’t announced anything close to a formal intention to film the movie at the higher rate. It could be a little defeatist, too, because he’s also owed the benefit of the doubt in experimenting to make something cool. Still, it feels like adhering to a fad more than a bold creative choice that could pay off with something special -- or maybe I’m just not capable of seeing how it would work. That’s why Singer gets paid to do what he does, I suppose.
This Mutant Life explores all corners of the cinematic X-verse, from the kids of "First Class" to the berserker rage of "The Wolverine." Suggest topics for future columns in the comments or on Twitter!
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