In the past week "The Hobbit" director Peter Jackson has had to explain his choice of new technology for filming the two latest "Lord of the Rings" prequels: his choice being to shoot the movies at double the usual 24-frames-per-second filming speed to “improve” audiences’ cinema-going experience.
Personally, I love the innocent, heightened experience of unreality that comes from the feel of watching a film at 24 frames per second. I’m preaching to the converted mostly here, I think, as we all know 24 fps oozes magic because it’s visually different from the blaring starkness of how we view our normal day-to- day reality.
The look of film – as well as the characters, story, script, action, special effects, dialogue, music, cinematography, lighting and scenery – ensures that we, the audience, are transported away on a fictional journey of make-believe. And that is what we all pay to go to the theater for, right?
So, why then this overwhelming urge to break this established method of providing audiences with movie magic (especially when so many digital cameras mimic the look of film so well)?
James Cameron says he’ll be shooting the next two "Avatar" movies at 60 frames per second. And Peter Jackson is adamant his 48 fps will enhance the 3D quality and be “easier on the eye.” This, of course, may be true. But let’s slow down a little here, shall we?
It seems to me that many of us are still fighting with the following question every time we enter a movie theater: do we choose a 3D or 2D movie this time? The decision we make is usually based on cost, type of film and whether we really believe the 3D will enhance our experience. And if we’re keen cinema-goers, whether we know the director has added four 3D scenes as a gimmick or used 3D as a tool to tell the story in a more multi-layered, fuller fashion.
So, with this current and topical quandary happening, is it really time to play with an 80-year-old format at the moment? Can our eyes take the strain?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for embracing new technologies, shooting digitally and using multi-platforms for telling intricate stories. All those things make being a filmmaker more personal, immediate and accessible these days.
But if you’re going to make a drastic change to the base-line of what an audience expects — i.e. to go see a movie that looks like a movie instead of a more “real-life” video report on a news channel — then I think the best approach to take, without sounding too boring, is to make that change slowly.
Yawn, Anthony, you may be saying.
But just consider this for a moment: humans desire change but, let’s be honest, we hate it when it happens too fast. So, directors, please ease us into the change gently. Otherwise I can see many of us are likely to balk at such a sharp altering of visual style and on-screen production values because our eyes, quite literally, can’t grasp what we’re watching.
I’ve seen the 48-frames-per-second "Hobbit" preview and, actually, I didn’t mind
the way it looked too much. There were a couple of scenes that did seem to be extra striking, almost too real for comfort, but that could have been my mind subconsciously looking for this or, indeed, because some aspects of post-production haven’t been tweaked and finished in the film yet.
However, as a scriptwriter, film writer and avid audience member, my agreement with the Jackson 48 fps stretching of the visual comfort zone is as far as I’m going to go at the moment.