The Ninjabot

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY – should you see it at High Frame Rate?

Posted on December 14, 2012 at 10:27 pm by David "Snackbar" Edmundson


This quetion plagued me from the moment I knew it would be available in both formats.  On one hand you have a new cutting edge format that promises clarity and depth not seen on the screen before, and on the other hand you have the nay-sayers who claim it makes the film look like a bad BBC drama or even worse a soap opera.  I fancy myself a film maker first and foremost so I decided to venture into the world of Millde Earth at 48 frames per second (fps).  Thirty second in, I regretted my decision.

Randy has written a great review of the film already, and I agree with most everything in it, so I won’t bore you with another review.  I want to focus on the technology of the higher frame rate.   I will keep this spoiler free, only using examples of footage seen in the trailer or that appear at the very beginning of the film.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey begins with a great battle, much the way Fellowship of the Rings started, this time detailing the rise and fall of Erebor the last great Dwarf city.   The high frame rate can best be described as… inconsistent.  Daytime exteriors are where 48 fps looks it’s worst.  When it comes to clarity, I have never seen a film look so magnificent while showing off a sweeping vista in an establishing shot, but when it comes to The-Hobbit-An-Unexpected-Journey_07action or just a normal shot featuring characters it looks like TV.  Which is to say it looks very digital and loses all the pretenses of “looking” like film, basically it looks cheap when the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth.  This is what hardcore cinephiles have been worried about since Lucas decided to go digital with Attack of the Clones.  Now let me quickly interject that digital cinema has seen no bigger advocate than myself.  I believe, and have seen that with the right cinematographer and lighting team, any film shot on a decent digital camera can look like it was shot on film.  Most film snobs can’t tell the difference, mistaking digital effects and the overuse of green screen with digital film making.  Another big thing that stands out in 48 fps is the absence of motion blur.  Plainly stated; at 24 fps a camera can’t capture the full motion of an object so there is a blurring effect we have grown accustomed to, but at 48fps there is little to no motion blur.  This causes an effect where things look sped up when they are simply going at the normal speed, but the camera is now filming at a speed where it can capture the motion without blurring it.  This is extremely distracting at times.  This is especially apparent in the opening sequences with Frodo and Bilbo.

the-hobbitOn to the good news though.  Traditional 24 fps cinema has trouble capturing frenetic motion.  Sometimes making it hard to tell what is happening when there is a ton of motion or moving parts.  The Transformer films are big culprits of this, there is a lot of hot Robot on Robot action, but at times I have no idea what is going on.   The action in fight scenes at 48 fps are captured amazingly, and look great if the scene takes place at night.  Which leads to the second feather in 48 fps’ cap, night.  Nighttime, underground, or normally dark places look awesome in 48 fps.  The scenes that take place in the Goblin stronghold, and the final battle with the Pale Orc and his horde look stunning.  The biggest plus in my book though has to be that Hollywood has decided not to charge more for the higher frame rate… yet.  I am sure if it catches on though we will see a $2-$3 surcharge for the higher frame rate in the future.

In conclusion, I think that 48 fps could be the future, but it is not there yet.  With James Cameron announcing that he is going to shoot the Avatar sequels at a higher frames rate, and rumors that X-Men: Days of Future Past might go the same way this may be the new flavor of the month for film makers.   For now though, do yourself a favor and see it at 24 fps.  On a side note, the Star Trek: Into Darkness footage was amazing and after  it screened I was actually sad that I wasn’t in the theater for that film.

You can follow Snackbar on Twitter @Snackie_Cakes
    • I had the exact opposite reaction! I never want to see a movie in non-HFR again!

    • Snackbar

      Can't wait to hear all about it tonight.

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