When Peter Jackson screened 10-minutes of footage from "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" to salivating exhibitors and journalists at CinemaCon in Las Vegas last week, expectations went from "through the roof" to "sub-basement" due to it being projected in the still-experimental 48-frames-per-second format.
While the film itself received praise, watching it at twice the usual framerate of 24fps had experts likening it to "that soap opera look you get from badly calibrated TVs at Best Buy" or "Middle Earth looked like it was captured as part of a filmed stage play."
In other words it seemed fake as hell, but the big kahuna, Jackson himself, has gone on record with The Hollywood Reporter to explain this seemingly eye-soiling new process of his.
"A lot of the critical response I was reading was people saying it’s different. Well, yes, it certainly is," Jackson told THR. "But I think, ultimately, it is different in a positive way, especially for 3D, especially for epic films and films that are trying to immerse the viewer in the experience of a story."
Jackson is trying to play the blame game now, pinning the uncomfortable viewing experience on the relatively short length of the presentation, the unfinished digital effects and color timing, as well as the audience being pre-conditioned by 80-years of motion blur, strobing, artifacts, and lack of image clarity that is eliminated at 48fps. All in all those are not unreasonable excuses (we also would have accepted a "voodoo curse"), but will audiences be able to stomach it when released at full-length, all buffed and shiny, on December 12?
"We have obviously seen cuts of our movie at 48 and in a relatively short amount of time you have forgotten (the frame rate change)," argues Jackson. "It is a more immersive, and in 3D a gentler way, to see the film. We are certainly going to experiment with different finishing techniques to give the 48 frames a look that is more organic. But that work isn’t due to start until we wrap photography in July."
The article claims 48fps has its champions in the industry as well, with some theater chains like Regal committed to it as the next big thing to get people away from their HD TVs. After all, it was only a decade ago that another blockbuster franchise, "Star Wars," used its "Episode II" as a launchpad for digital filming and projection, and after an initial skewering by the press it's now standard.
Ultimately, Jackson puts his big hairy Hobbit foot down and proclaims, "People haven’t experienced it yet in the way it should be experienced."