High Frame Rate – Successful Film Progression or Awkward Film Tangent

Hobbit director Peter Jackson's Facebook post about using 48 frames-per-second

Hobbit director Peter Jackson’s Facebook post about using 48 frames-per-second

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is out! I thoroughly enjoyed it. It has its issues, which are more severe for some than for others. For my full opinion about the film, check out CineGeek where I will discuss it on our weekly webcast.

This post’s purpose though is to discuss what has gotten filmmakers and filmgoers in such a tizzy – the high frame rate of the film’s video. High Frame Rate (HFR) versions of the film portray how it was originally filmed – at 48 frames per second instead of the traditional 24fps. This is the first major motion picture to be produced at the higher 48fps.

The reason for doubling the frame rate is that the higher frame rate leads to increased image clarity and depth. The perceived drawback is that the enhanced realism takes away the “cinematic look” of film, that the increased clarity removes a certain haze that lets the audience suspend disbelief in the fantasy of film.

So which side is right when it comes to this film? Both, actually.

The HFR really delivers on its stunning and crisp image quality, which is something director Peter Jackson already knows with the preceding Lord of the Rings trilogy. The scenery is beautiful, as the New Zealand landscapes Jackson loves to show off look even better with the added clarity and depth. Action scenes, of which there are plenty, come through with amazing detail and little-to-no motion blur. And the rain, as my good friend Jon Wright remarked to me, actually looks like real rain as you can see the droplets.

The CGI in the film is particularly well-done, with Gollum being the standout example of blending the computer-generated elements with the real ones when Gollum and Martin Freeman’s Bilbo have their battle of riddles. I don’t know if it’s the HFR that helps meld the elements, or if it’s simply just the decade of advancements since the Lord of the Rings trilogy hit the big screen.

In short, this film is pretty to look at.

Unfortunately, the HFR detractors do have their point about the cinematic look and lack of immersion. The added clarity and sharpness leaves the non-action scenes, notably in the early parts at Bilbo’s home of Bag End, somewhat jarring, as if they’re too quick and life-like. It’s as if you’re watching a play instead of a film, from as close as on the stage itself. The added clarity also points out the fakeness in set design. When the film is on a set as opposed to on location, it shows.

With this initial difficulty with suspension of disbelief, watching the film’s higher frame rate reminded me of my first time watching high definition television, or even to a lesser extent Blu Ray. When video technology jumps in clarity, bringing us more life-like visuals, it seems we lose a bit of our suspension of disbelief with that sudden blast of reality. It takes some adjustment to get that fantasy haze back in our minds, but it happens because we still know it’s not real. Only each time when it happens, we have even better visuals than before to go with it.

I don’t know if HFR is the future of film right now. Perhaps we movie goers will soon adjust to the vividness of the image quality, or perhaps we will be too attached to the “cinematic look” of the standard 24fps that we give up the enhanced clarity. At this point, I can’t call Peter Jackson’s experiment with this film a success just yet, but I won’t write off HFR for what may just be growing pains.

If film production follows Jackson into 48fps and beyond, it will lead to set/prop designers, make-up artists, and costumers reworking how they do things, just as those in television had to for high definition.

However way the frame rate war goes, I’m still looking forward next year’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – both to see how HFR affects filmmaking within the year, and because it’s more Hobbit!

Have YOU seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? Did you see the HFR version? What did you think of the higher frame rate or of the movie in general?

Recommended readings on the topic:

36 thoughts on “High Frame Rate – Successful Film Progression or Awkward Film Tangent

    • I don’t know about three part, but I can definitely see two part. I think that they did a wonderful job of tying The Hobbit into the Lord of the Rings by having the back story that the book did not have. I haven’t read all the appendixes of the LOTR, and there is a ton of lore here that many people would be wondering about had it not been added. Despite it being longer, I think that it’s adding more to the film than taking away. I enjoy lore, and so for me, this is perfect. I’m sure we will understand it all when the movies are all finished.

    • Narrative wise, yes. Each one being three hours long, no. The Hobbit divides itself well enough into three portions: the beginning through the Misty Mountains, getting to defeat Smaug, and then the War of the Five Armies.

      With them pulling some material and inferences from LotR and The Similarion, I think it can pad itself into three films. I thought so when they first announced it, and then again after seeing this one. They just need to tighten them up a bit. Leave the three-hour versions for the extended blu-rays.

  1. I thought the HFR was excellent, and as for making it more real and taking away the cinematic look, I think its a natural progression in film making. I dont think every film genre requires it, maybe a rom com should stick with the hazey cinematic view, there is something romantic about I suppose. But don’t you want to get whisked into a fantasy world when you watch movies such as The Hobbit, it drew me in even more than usual and I thouroughly enjoyed it 🙂

  2. You seem to point out what I felt, but couldn’t put my finger on. Honestly, I was glad for the more realistic views, because I could see more. I didn’t notice much fakeness in the sets, but I did think that it was missing some sort of “feel” that the original trilogy had. Maybe this was it. In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait to rewatch it. 🙂

  3. I saw in 24 fps, and loved it! I actually don’t want to try the 48, because I heard that it was causing the “soap opera effect,” and I avoid that like the plague. I just wish there was a more subtle way to transition from 24 to 48, like 30, 36, and so on. If we didn’t really notice that the clarity was changing, it wouldn’t be so jarring. Do you know if there is such a thing as 30 fps?

    • James Cameron actually wants to jump to 60! I think it’s going to be jarring at any real point. I feel 48 is a compromise because it’s simply double the standard, and somehow that makes sense. Any significant change is still going to be jarring, at least to me at first.

      I hope to rewatch soon in 24 to compare. Being shot originally in 48fps should help keep some of the enhanced clarity. The down-conversion is probably the best bet for transitioning. Filmmakers should get used to shooting in 48fps before audiences get used to watching it.

  4. I wasn’t sure exactly how I felt about the Hobbit in this HFR. Your post expresses it perfectly! Great post. I felt a little claustrophobic, like not only was it a theater production, but they there were extremely close. At times, I also felt like I was in a video game. Very interesting experience. I enjoyed it but at times I also felt a little nauseous. I missed the usual cinematic feel of a movie, too, but gained other things. I agree the raindrops were amazing! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • Thanks! I was excited when I got the email notification.

      All of those points are valid. I got lucky without the nauseous feeling (haven’t had one in a theater since Cloverfield). They did a good idea in offering down-converted methods of seeing the film. I hope to see it again soon and compare.

  5. I’m all for shooting at higher frame rates and/or using larger film formats like IMAX and 70mm – and then downconverting to 24fps HD. That’s how I chose to watch The Hobbit, and I got the clarity and lower motion-blur benefits with none of the problems. Everything looked clear and beautiful, and the interiors weren’t fake-looking. I also avoid 3D in a film this long. I learned my lesson seeing Avatar. I have astigmatism in one eye, and “monovision” from Lasik. After about 130 minutes of today’s 3D I get MASSIVE headaches, but shorter films are ok. I don’t think 3D will really come of age until they finish a system that uses multiple projectors instead of having to rely on standardized glasses for audiences with such a diverse number of differences in their visual acuity.

    The best improved-technology viewing experiences are the ones you get in theme parks and at special IMAX screenings. Doug Trumball’s Showscan format is incredible to experience. It features 70mm shot at 60fps coupled with theater seats that move and turn during racing scenes and flight sequences.

    • For the 3D, one of my friends who actually didn’t like the film or its use of HFR did admit that the HFR probably helped mitigate headaches he normally gets from 3D films. I don’t typically get those headaches, so definitely tread with caution.

      I plan to rewatch the film soon in 24fps. If the image holds up, then downconverting after being filmed higher may be a good idea.

  6. I have not seen The Hobbit although I plan to in the 2D version as I get motion sickness and headaches in 3D movies. I have friends who a large screen HD TV in their living room and quite frankly the picture is so ‘real’ that I am taken away from the fantasy. I think I need that gauzy ‘film’ look to remind what is real and what is not.

    • That “real” feeling will be present, so it does take adjusting. As for the 3D, one of my friends who actually didn’t like the film or its use of HFR did admit that the HFR probably helped mitigate headaches he normally gets from 3D films.

  7. I went to see the Hobbit yesterday and I totally agree with you in terms of the high frame rate making things appear to realistic / not immersive enough during non action scenes. However I thought that the over all quality was truly amazing but for the first 5-10 minutes or so I found my eyes struggling to adjust (however this may be due to the high frame rate as well as viewing in 3D). I do love the idea of movies that look and feel more real than traditional films, but perhaps that is because I tend to dwell in a fantasy world of my own, however I do think it will take some getting used to. Excellent blog btw 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment and the reblog! The higher frame rate will take an adjustment period, but I believe we will get there. The crisp visuals in fantasy tales like this are completely worth continuing down this rabbit hole (or Hobbit hole as the case may be).

  8. Is HFR the future? Hopefully more so than 3D, which seems to annoy more people than it pleases, at least in my experience.

    I think it’s good that film makers take advantage of technology changes, but with HFR (as with HD when it came in) I wonder if the downside is not the tech itself so much as the fact that older films tend to suffer by comparison.

    That being said, I’d prefer to see more risks being taken with story and content than technology – films like Prometheus and Avatar were visually all there, and the cast was there in the former at least, but the stories/scripts were easily the weakest link in both.

    Some of the scenes in Prometheus didn’t appear to have been even slightly rewritten from the aborted Alien prequel it started out life as, and Avatar had unobtainium.

    I rest my case…

    Obv that’s not applicable to The Hobbit because there is an enormous wealth of material to draw from. A roughly 9 hr trilogy, however, is possibly a touch on the doughy side as you suggested.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      3D is always going to be hampered by the glasses until it can be done without them.

      I never thought of Prometheus being a risk taker with technology. While it is a nice film to look at, I didn’t see it bring anything particularly new to the table. Plus, like you said, the story is weak.

    • For puppetry? I think it would depend. HFR will show more imperfections with the added clarity, so puppets will look more fake. But they’re puppets, so they are fake anyway. You’ll just have to make extra sure things like seam lines are well hidden.

  9. Thank you for this post. It really clarified for me what the advantages and disadvantages to HFR are. It seems like the ending of 2012 is consciously and actively looking into moving film as a medium forward. I say this, because of the slightly earlier release of Cloud Atlas. That one is also really pushing against boundaries (which also resulted in mixed reactions). I find this development very interesting 🙂

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  11. There were similar outcries when movies brought in close-ups, when they brought in sound, when they brought in colour. It’s true, of course, that the clarity of double-frame-rate gives what by normal standards is a sense of hyper-reality. But I think we’ll get used to it.

    I actually live in Wellington, NZ, where Jackson filmed a good deal of this movie (in a lot, screened by trees, near the airport) – he’s showcased a fair amount of real NZ scenery but he’s also used CGI to create other settings that don’t exist here…but it would be nice if they did.

  12. I rather liked the 48 fps quality. I never found it jarring, nor did I have any problems with suspension of disbelief. I liked how real everything felt, and how I was really there. I would like to point out that there was a shift that occurred when films went form silent to “talkies.” The differences were more significant then than they are now, and it took time for the movie makers themselves to properly adjust. I don’t really feel that kind of issue here so much, though there will no doubt need to be adjustments in the perceived fakeness of sets and props (not an issue for me personally), but that’s relatively minor. Frames per second weren’t at all standardized, and even got as low as 12 fps. Then of course there was the dramatic shift to color. It took awhile to get into place with any permanency (The Wizard of Oz, for example, came out in 1939), but not doubt seeing things in color made them seem perhaps “too real” and lost that suspension of disbelief for some. Black & White film does help cover up some flaws, and has a feel to it that cannot be replicated by color. Just think of how people felt when the world of Mayberry and Andy Griffith went from B&W to color. Personally, I like the change. I don’t think it’s going to become a popular thing over night, but I think it will become increasingly common as people become more and more used to it.

  13. I’ve seen the Hobbit 5 times now and in every format including HFR-3d three times. I am totally, totally sold on HFR. In fact, my most recent viewing was 3d IMAX on the worlds 3rd largest screen. I used to love IMAX but watching the Hobbit at IMAX in standard frame rate (now that I am totally used to HRF) looked TERRIBLE! The strobing and motion blur was really, really horrible.
    Standard (24FPS) is not a magical number, it is simply the lowest frame rate that is close to acceptable. This was chosen in the early days of cinema due to the very high cost of film. The “cinematic” experience that people talk about is actually just flicker and blur. People have become very used to these horrible artifacts and people dont like change, even if it for the better.
    Every argument that I have heard in favor of standard frame rate is simply the result of people being used to it.
    HFR is MUCH MUCH better when your eyes and brain catch up.
    As M.J Fox said- “your kids are going to love it”

    • I still haven’t made it out to see in standard 24fps yet, but I’m looking forward to the comparison. Ultimately, I think the Back to the Future quote fits it perfectly.

      Which IMAX is the world’s 3rd largest screen?

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