'The Hobbit' At 48 FPS: A High Frame Rate Fiasco?

The Hobbit 48 FPS

The biggest question surrounding Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, has nothing to do with its strength of story, its Oscar chances, or whether or not Tolkien fans will embrace yet another uber-ambitious adaptation of their beloved fantasy world, but rather: How does it look?

Specifically, how will Jackson's 48 frames-per-second gamble play after months of talk and one particularly disastrous Cinema Con debut? I'll tell you this: The grumblings and rumblings after my screening of The Hobbit - in bold, daring, frustrating 48 frames-per-second 3-D - were decidedly not raves. And that's a very bad sign for Jackson & Co.

One colleague couldn't believe how poor the 48 fps presentation looked, insisting - or hoping, more like it - that something must have been wrong with the projection. Jackson's big, game-changing crusade for a frame rate that would part the heavens and open humankind's hearts and minds and brains to a new way of watching film couldn't possibly look so unpleasant. Could it?

I was curious if, back in April when The Hobbit's 48 fps preview bombed at Cinema Con, the journalists and industry folk who recoiled from the hyper-clarity of the picture onscreen were just overreacting to Jackson's new cinematic order. "After a minute or two of adjusting," wrote The New York Daily News' Ethan Sacks in his embargo-skirting first review, "the higher resolution is eye-popping, similar to discovering HD television for the first time."

HD TV did look rather freaky at first, I'll give him that, and there's a shared quality of too much visual information that The Hobbit's 48 fps shares with high-def television. But it didn't take a few minutes of adjusting to get used to it; even two hours and 40 minutes later my brain was rejecting the look of it. It felt like watching daytime soaps in HD, terrible BBC broadcasts, or Faerie Tale Theater circa 1985, only in amazingly sharp clarity and with hobbits.

Part of the problem is there's too much detail in every frame that the magical filter of cinema that makes most 24 fps film so pleasing to the eye is gone; every prop on a set too clear, and even a performance by someone like the very fine Ian McKellen looks embarrassingly, unnaturally theatrical. Moving images, especially walking Hobbits and dwarves - not as much the CG creatures, for what it's worth - flit at odd speeds that just never look right.

With the exception of a handful of scenes, mostly enhanced by CG vs. shot on interior sets, the 48 fps had me imagining how gorgeous everything might look in 24fps. Those who've seen it in 24fps seem much happier with the visual presentation, even if 3-D feels superfluous. As Bilbo made his way along his adventure through Middle Earth, the look of The Hobbit and the accelerated barrage of information prompted a flurry of other films and shows to pop into mind, none of them flattering comparisons. Here, in no particular order, are some of them:

Fraggle Rock
Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood of Make-Believe
Shining Time Station
Star Trek colony planets
The opening POV shot of Dinosaurs

(On the plus side, The Hobbit also inspired me to Google "Galadriel-Gandalf fan fiction," which I guarantee will be a thing after The Hobbit comes out.)

As early reviews continue to hit the web, it appears that I'm not in the minority on the frame rate issue. 48 fps may be D.O.A. even before The Hobbit opens in wide release on December 14. Maybe that's a good thing; save your dollars and see it in regular ol' 24 fps. The future may well be 48, but it hasn't arrived yet.

READ MORE:

'The Hobbit' 3-D Early Review: Back Again, But Not Quite There

'Hobbit' First Review: 48 FPS Is 'Eye-Popping,' But Watch Out For The Jar Jar Binks Of 'LOTR'

The Hobbit 48 FPS Preview Divides Audiences at CinemaCon

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Comments

  • Mahtion says:

    It takes time like with any new technology being implemented but you will adjust to 48 fps the more you are exposed to it in different forms of media.

    • Jen Yamato says:

      I believe that, but I don't know if I really *want* to adjust to it...

      • Gina says:

        I'm sure there were the same complaints with color and with sound. In fact I know there were, I've read enough about the history of film to know that. Why wouldn't you want to adjust? What possible purpose could refusing to adjust fill?

        Once people adjust they won't know the difference.except at some point the old stuff will look "wow I don't remember this being so unclear". :)

        • Jen Yamato says:

          Fair enough, Gina. I see that argument. Please do tell me if you feel the same after watching Hobbit in 48 fps. (I'm not sure if you have yet?)

          • j'accuse! says:

            Nah Jen, you got it right. The, "oh you'll just get used to it," sentiments are getting a bit tired really. Not to mention condescending. 48fps is not the inevitable juggernaut that it's proponents would have us believe it to be. In fact...it's less analogous to the advent of talkies or color film, and more so to "Smell-o-Vision" or "Percepto!".

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  • Bob says:

    24fps is a choice, not a limitation, and is the very thing that separates the feel of cinema from the feel of home movies. Your average camcorder in the 90s shot at 60 frames per second. Soap operas are shot at 60 frames per second. The faster the framerate is, the more like real life it will look. At around 512 frames per second, you won't be able to separate a screen from looking through a lens at the real thing. If you want more fps, go see a broadway show in person. But people want the feel of cinema, and that feel comes from the subliminal strobe effect of 24 fps. My TV throws 240 fps at me if I choose to let it, but because it feels like I'm looking at a behind the scenes look at the movie instead of the actual motion picture, I turn it off and set my blu-ray player to display at 24 fps. Without knowing why, everyone I have asked prefers the feel of 24.

    • There's a few differences between your TV and a movie projector.

      The framerate, the shutter speed, and the refresh rate are different things.

      When the camera records, most can be set to record at 24fps, 30fps, or 60fps. Each second will hold 24, 30, or 60 frames/images. In the Hobbit's case, it's 48fps.

      Some cameras set the shutter speed to 1/60th of a second even though it is recording at 24fps or 30fps. This simply reduces motion blur; there are still 24 images per second. It is simply shortening the amount of time the camera exposes the sensor (or film) to the light to get the image, and less time means there's less motion. The cameras can even be set to 1/24th, or 1/1000th of a second, or anything in between or even higher. That is the shutter speed.

      Now your TV can refresh up to 240 times per second, (240HZ refresh rate right?) but that doesn't mean it's pulling additional images out of the film. There are only 24 or 30 to display, even though the frame may flicker on and off. Turning down the high refresh rate will make your picture look more like a projector (which actually only shows 24 frames per second). It's simply prepared to pull more frames if it's being supplied that many. This is for like monitors, video games, etc. that can output high frame rates. And changing the output on a blu ray player from 30 to 24 wouldn't change the refresh rate of the TV, but that will, yes, make it look more like "a movie" or "film."

      You are right about 24fps looking like traditional film, and people prefer that. But your TV with a high frame rate is not the same as doubling the frame rate. It's just the refresh rate--but I understand, I saw another family's big-ass flat screen and everything looked like it was flickering/moving to fast. But that's not the frame rate. Televisions shows weren't shot in high frame rate either--they were shot at 24 or 30p, with higher shutter speeds. They don't have time to edit that kind of film when they're working under deadlines; and for special effects shots done by hand, that would mean an extra 24 frames per second of hand-painting! I bet PJ made a lot of editors angry.

      Imagine if Disney movies were made at 48fps. That probably would look really realistic, but who would put the time into drawing 48 frames every second when they could only draw 24?

      I hope that cleared up some things?

    • Len says:

      I believe that the middle-ground would be to 'fix it in post' - that is to filter it a bit back closer to a traditional, softer 'filmic' look. Introduce the change slowly to avoid shock.

    • yami shogun says:

      DUDE YOUR A TECHYTARD!

  • Liam says:

    As for moving images flitting at odd speeds - it was the same for me when I got a new 400Hz TV set which adds additional frames for a 'smoother' and more natural frame rate. At first it was as if I was watching tv in fast forward mode, my brain just wasnt used to it. But after a week, and despite having another normal frame rated TV, it is not something I notice anymore, so I reckon this issue at least is something that you will easily get used to.

  • Jen says:

    Couldn't agree more, it looks awful. You can't just implement a new technology without also adjusting your lighting, sets, and whole aesthetic.

  • The 24 FPS standard was set way, way back when guys like Nikola Tesla were roaming the earth. Back then the idea of Quantum Mechanics was near understood. Would you like to be the ones to argue with them or their modern Big Bang Theory descendants saying 48 fps is better? That to me sounds more like out-of-touch hipster ego talking. I was nauseous watching Jackson's King Kong. Now I know why. Maybe his focus group are color blind. =/ No excuse for anyone to act frustrated or overcompensate at the rest of the world.

    • Clive Wynne-Candy says:

      High frame rates have been around for decades and the reason why no one (until now) has used it for a major film production is because it doesn't look good...at all. You see stuff like this on TV day in day out, it's nothing special. It is cheap. Rejecting it doesn't mean one is a luddite, it means they have good sense.

      • Me says:

        The reason why no one has used HFR until now for a major film production is there was no way to mass distribute it until recently..

  • The 48 and 24fps versions are both the same price, just so you know. I honestly think that they should have released a 48fps NON-3D version, because more frames does seem like the difference between 480p and 1080p. I hope it's good, but just in case I'm disappointed, I'm seeing it in 2D too.

    The 48fps version is only being released in 5% of theaters. If you're lucky enough to have a theater that's playing it, AND you decide to see it in that format DESPITE the reviews, AND it's the same price, then you have no reason to complain. It's obviously experimental, and it's not like it's the only way to watch the film. I'm only seeing it because of the 48fps; I hate 3D!

    (not yelling here, just a super hyped and ready for this movie:)
    It doesn't affect the story or the performances, so please don't review the movie less than it deserves because you saw it in a format you've never seen before! I'm looking forward to seeing it, even if it flops!

    • Jen Yamato says:

      "It doesn't affect the story or the performances..."

      It DOES affect the performances quite negatively, when you find yourself thinking the actors look stagey and their performances look distractingly theatrical for the screen because you can see every detail of the set, and movements are amplified and accelerated. Ian McKellen looked at times like he was doing filmed theater. Not a good match.

      • Well, what I'm saying is that you can see it in 24 frames and their performances are the same as they would be in 48fps. It'll look different, sure. I'm not saying that 24fps will ENHANCE their performance, and 48fps might take away something from their performance but when you're giving them an Oscar make sure it's based on the performance regardless of the frame rate...

        I guess just see it in 24fps if you think it degrades their performance, I just meant it doesn't degrade their acting *ability*...just not take it out on the actors, you know?

      • So it's bad because it looks like live theatre?! What kind of Philistine are you? Live theatre is awesome.

  • Armando says:

    Hmmm, so I play videogames in my monitor at more than 60 fps and for me the more fps the better the image looks, why is this a problem with The Hobbit?
    let's go forward not backward.

  • juliancable says:

    48fps should just have a bit smoother motion. And there is no 24 Hz TV. Analog TV had to be locked to a submultiple of the mains frequency to avoid beat frequencies causing lines to drift down the CRT. So 25 or 30/29.97.

    • Interesting. I figured that 24HZ seemed really low for a TV, but I thought that even 30 would have been low. I just messed around on my PS3 and under the Blu-Ray settings it has a 24HZ output option...wonder what that's all about.

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  • movieguy says:

    48FPS will never look right. Here's why: Your monitor has a refresh rate which is independent of the "frame rate." That's how you can watch a film shot at 24FPS on a monitor with a refresh rate of 120 (or 240 for that matter). Even physical (non digital) film in a film projector is flashed or refreshed several times before advancing the frame - same principal in analog form. On why people are getting sick: Blurs are what create the illusion of motion when you project a bunch of still images quickly (film - nothing really moving), they exist when you look at anything moving fast past you with your eyes - the brain itself has a sample rate, that's why fast action does not appear stroboscopic to us. In film, or digital cinema blurs have to be captured with an exposure long enough to capture the blur, otherwise it no longer feels or looks natural, as we don;t perceive action that way. A series of sharp images played quickly does not create a blur, because there is no true motion - its just a bunch of still images projected quickly.

  • I can't wrap my head around the phrase "there's a shared quality of too much visual information." Isn't that the point of film? To show as much information and exposition visually? If anything, this poorly supported opinion makes me more excited for the HFR.

    • northisland says:

      Showing as much visual information as possible is definitely not the point of film. That's why a film will focus on an actor's face and crop everything else out. That's why a film will have shallow depth of field and blur all the detail in the background. Film should not show everything but instead give selective visual information to best tell the story.

  • max says:

    I don't believe it's a matter of "getting used to it". It just doesn't look right for the movies. The suspension of disbelief is lost.

  • Eli says:

    I studied film in college, but by no means do I claim to be an expert in technical filmmaking. However, seeing as I do know a bit, I will offer my two cents on the 48fps matter and if anyone cares to consider it they can. What I really dislike is the growing number of people who have this attitude: "If you resist 48fps, then you are as bad as the people who resisted color or sound being introduced to film." In my opinion this is an entirely unsound analogy. What separates film-that-is-art from video (i.e. stuff that has been filmed via security cams, home video without directorial craftsmanship, etc.) is the intentional aesthetics that contribute to the message that the film is attempting to convey to the audience. This message can be anything from a visual message to an ideological message, or even a statement on the nature of the universe or mankind. All of the elements that go into film (lighting, makeup, color palate, performance, etc.) contribute to the conveyance of this message; they are the building blocks. Framerate is just another building block. Like color or sound, the director has a CHOICE as to whether or not to include these elements in any given scene. Some scenes benefit from an absence of sound or color, but often sound and color are better choices because as humans we only have so many senses to perceive stimuli. I think the same can be said for higher or lower framerate. I would love for directors to have as many tools at their disposal to play with as possible when they create film-that-is-art, so I whole-heartedly approve of the industry being given the OPTION of shooting/projecting movies/scenes at 48fps. What I whole-heartedly reject is the notion that every movie going forward that isn't shot at 48fps is shunning the de facto superior option. 48fps isn't universally superior to 24fps or 30fps. A lack of motion blur is often something that a director doesn't want, and I think we are beginning to see why with The Hobbit. We can get into uncanny valley territory; sure 48fps looks CLOSER to what our eyes actually see every day, but it still isn't an exact matchup; this is the same reason why ultra-photorealistic computer animation (especially of humans) can be so unsettling, because it's ALMOST real, but not quite (this is why many video games are now opting for a more stylized artistic presentation than for photorealism). Motion blur has positives as well as negatives. The positive for me (that every film critic seems to want to skirt over) relates to oneiric film theory. Films as dreams. Nothing we ever see on screen is going to quite match the physical reality of the world outside the screen. Many film theorists have posited that the immersion derives from the visual aesthetics of film, specifically framerate, as much as from engaging stories and characters. Film is a shadow on a wall, an illusory trick of light that we consciously know is false. Therefore, film does not assault the mind on the conscious level on the false premise that it is "real,"; it instead goes for the limbic system, directly to our emotional center. So in a medium that chiefly operates as a circumvention of realism, is attempting to approach hyper-realism the "superior way to craft a film?" In my opinion, the answer of "yes" to this question would be quite rare.

    • sterling says:

      well in a way you are right I don't equate you to those that fought color or sound, you guys are more like the people who said our hearts would stop if we went over 50 miles a hour.

  • John Wright says:

    I feel this 48 frames a second may be a way of getting around the problems associated with motion blur in post production. After veiwing the Dinosaur chase sequences in King Kong it doesn't surprise me, they had real issues in that. Knowing Peter has a passion for the use of roto work allowing him more freedom from the confines of the green screen. There would be less over lap of motion blur combing live action footage with digital character at a 48 FPS rate. Have not seen the Hobbit but would imagine they have solved some of those problems but lost that dream like quality that is all part of the built in effect of quality motion blur. Swings and roundabouts I'm afraid.

  • Jason Lloren says:

    Just saw "The Hobbit" in 24FPS 3-D in San Francisco. Looked great and the story was wonderful.

  • Jay says:

    I don't understand all this negative feedback about 48FPS. I saw the film last night and it looked stunningly gorgeous - and I hate hi-def television! I was immersed in the Middle Earth environment from the first frame. Admittedly, during some shot transitions, especially those with subtitles, I noticed a bit of ghosting between frames, but it was so negligible as to be forgivable. Otherwise, I felt transported for three hours to that wonderful, magical land of Middle Earth.

    I suppose I must be in the minority - and, considering today's general moviegoing audiences, that's a comfortable situation for me.

  • yami shogun says:

    ONLY TECHYTARDS are going to complain about 48FPS they are so stuck on 24P hahaha

  • Now, I am so glad that there is no 48 fps within 1 hour driving range. But I am still looking forward to the midnight movie premiere of the regular 24 fps version - the perfect reward for the last of the final exams this year!

  • eastpointvet says:

    i enjoyed watching the movie in 48 FPS i think it added an element to the movie. it made the world pop in a similar way that 3d made avatar pop and was not the same 2D viewing experience. it did seem funny in the first 5 min or so but after that i was sold.

  • skwirrl says:

    Sorry to inform you of this. You're a dinosaur. 48 FpS is the future. I spent the first minute of the film absolutely jaw dropped. Yes it looks sped up at times because your brain is so used to 24 FPS but the action sequences... I'll never go back. EVER. Unless the movie isn't offered that way.

  • Matt says:

    Saw the 48 fps version of The Hobbit earlier this evening. I don't know if 48 fps is going to become the new standard. But in reference to this particular film, I thought it was visually stunning. I know some say they needed a few minutes to get used to it, but I experienced no such issues even in the beginning. Scenery was beautiful, action was more discernable. Not once did it take away from my viewing experience. The comments from the Sacks review are spot on. This was like going from SD to HD on the home TV, and it worked spectacularly well in this film.

    I honestly can't even fathom the complaints that I saw from some of the critics who saw the advanced screenings.

  • deucengine says:

    I saw The Hobbit at 48fps and I will admit at times some of the running or movement seemed like it was on fast forward. However everything else about the movie looked amazing. The way I've been describing it to people is if felt more like watching a stage play than a movie. It felt like it was happening all in front of me. Things looked very real. The action scenes were less blurry as well.

  • JBJ says:

    One thing I rarely notice anyone saying with regard to HD looking too much like soaps & BBC television, is that the problem with those media isn't the video rate, it's the low production values (bad lighting, cheap sets, etc). When the quality is good, the effect is very sumptuous. I used to watch a TV show called The Game, which went from being filmed with multi-cameras for the CW to videotaped in single camera for BET. Due to budget cuts, they switched from fabricated sets to real ones that were very well designed for the medium. I think it was the first case of a show's visual design improving with less money. The more realistic sets also had a positive impact on the acting, because the scenes came off more real and less staged. So when the acting and the technical quality of the material matches the media, the effect works.

  • junkrawk says:

    Just an opinion, but I thought it was stunningly beautiful. I didn't like the slight fast forward feel, but that shouldn't be an unavoidable side effect.

  • Two thumbs down for the wannabe cristc says:

    "my screening of The Hobbit - in bold, daring, frustrating 48 frames-per-second 3-D - were decidedly not raves. And that's a very bad sign for Jackson & Co."

    Sorry, never heard of ya to give anything a "good or bad" sign in the movie business that has any impact, don't worry, comment all ya want, wont be back to hear a no-namer diss something new and orginal looking to go backwards in time, while striving to go forward in a career

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