The new movie technology that has critics in a flap

Perhaps it’s appropriate that a fantastical movie based on a fantasy novel should be the one to start a “new wave” of cinema. But lots of critics think not.

Director Peter Jackson has made The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey using 48 frames per second (FPS) technology. Usually films are shot at 24 frames per second, a standard the industry settled on because, at one time, soundtracks meant 35mm film had to be run through projectors at a standard speed.

Television in Europe is broadcast at 25 FPS and, in America, it is around 30 FPS. It means we’ve all become used to the unique look these speeds result in.

Jackson believes 48 FPS will bring the iPad generation back to cinemas. “It’s the younger audience who kind of think it’s cool,” he said. “The technology exists, so why should we, as an industry, say that we achieved perfection in 1927?”

The new look brings an air of ultra-realism to the movie, which has polarised opinion with some critics complaining it makes the special effects look fake, meaning you can’t lose yourself in the story line.

It is certainly true to say it has polarised opinion, although it will only be shown at 48 FPS in cinemas which can cope with the technology with others showing at 24 FPS. So, depending on where you see The Hobbit, you may get a different effect.

Those who have seen The Hobbit in 48 FPS complain that, while the landscapes look amazing, the problem comes because the fibreglass sets, rubber noses and even Gandalf’s contact lenses (did they really have those in Middle Earth?) are very obvious, with the effect causing cinema-goers to stare at these peculiarities rather than becoming immersed in the cinematic experience.

The Independent says: “The problem is that, at least in the initial sequences set in Bilbo’s home of Bag End, the effect is kitsch and alienating. Watching these super clear but super bland images, you yearn for the contrast and graininess in old-fashioned 2D film.”

But others couldn’t disagree more. Hugh Hart of tech magazine Wired, says: “In the 48 FPS version of The Hobbit, Middle Earth in 3D looks so crisp it’s like stepping into the foreground of an insanely gorgeous diorama. The film will also be released at the standard 24 FPS but Jackson sees the high-speed format as the ‘premium version’ of his vision because it essentially doubles the amount of visual data projected onto the screen. At 48 FPS, images appear more precise and 3D action becomes smoother, without the blur that can occur when the camera pans too quickly or objects move rapidly across the frame.”

And Jackson remains defiant. “Twenty-four frames is jarring to me now,” he said. “It looks primitive”

He said it would take people time to get used to the new format, and added: “Ultimately, it’s not critics who are going to decide if this is going to be adopted or not, it’s the audience. There will always be people who have a particular strong feeling that film should be unchanged and that we got it right in 1927, just like there are people who play vinyl records still, whereas most of the world has moved to CDs and we got used to that.”

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