One of my most anticipated films of 2012 is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I only read The Hobbit two years ago, but it quickly made me a dedicated fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. While I appreciate his more dense narratives in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, the tale of Bilbo and the dwarves will always be my favourite work from him, for its humour and whimsy. So, naturally, a cinematic adaptation of The Hobbit from the same director who brought Middle-earth to life in the The Lord of the Rings film trilogy would excite me like no other movie could. However, in the past few days, some negativity online has dimmed my anticipation.
Last year, Peter Jackson announced that he would be filming both parts of The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey and There and Back Again, at 48 frames per second. For those who don’t know, most movies play at only 24 frames per second. The slower speed looks less like real life, but plays a big role in making a movie feel cinematic. Compare any big Hollywood film to a soap opera: the soap opera is shot at a higher frame rate, which gives it a look that people associate with cheaper quality.
Needless to say, Jackson’s decision was a gamble. The higher frame rate could create a better sense of immersion into the world of the story, but only if the viewers were willing to give the new look a chance. However, Jackson premiered ten minutes of Hobbit footage earlier this week at CinemaCon 2012, and if the response is any indication, audiences are not going to be kind to the new technique.
The complaints vary: some say that the frame rate makes the sets look fake, while others draw comparisons between the film and low-budget productions, such as soap operas, student films, and behind-the-scenes videos. All of it seems to boil down to one problem: association. Audiences associate the higher frame rate with certain lower kinds of entertainment, so The Hobbit seems worse for it. Perhaps the reason the sets look fake is because the frame rate invokes the memory of behind-the-scenes footage, which openly reveals the artifice of film sets.
Of course, I cannot completely disregard what the audience saw, because I wasn’t there myself, but humans do have a habit of resisting change. At this point, I think Peter Jackson has earned our trust, especially when it comes to films set in Middle-earth. Although, some theatres are sure to be showing a 24-frames-per-second version, so if it turns out I’m wrong, at least we can still see Bilbo’s journey to the Lonely Mountain in a watchable format.
What do you think? Would you see the version with the higher frame rate, or do you believe the traditional film look should be maintained?