The big film news this week — if not of this year — was that Peter Jackson is going to shoot The Hobbit at 48 frames per second.
If other directors follow his lead, film will be irrevocably harmed.
Here’s the very brief back story on frame rate: until the advent of sync sound, there was no standard frame rate for motion pictures. 24 frames per second was adopted as the industry standard because it worked best with sync sound. (I said this was going to be a brief history).
24fps has endured since the 1920s because the choppy strobe effect is ascetically pleasing. There’s an ineffable beauty and otherworldliness to it.
Jackson seems to be ignorant to this fact. His motivations for shooting in 48fps are:
“Looking at 24 frames every second may seem ok — and we’ve all seen thousands of films like this over the last 90 years — but there is often quite a lot of blur in each frame, during fast movements, and if the camera is moving around quickly, the image can judder or strobe.”
Quite simply, shooting at 48fps is going to leave The Hobbit looking more like stuff shot on video (nearly 30fps) like the evening news, soap operas and talk shows. Just think how the motion on these programs — while smoother — is more dull than something shot at 24fps.
And what gets to me the most, is this statement: “Shooting and projecting at 48 fps does a lot to get rid of these issues [strobe]. It looks much more lifelike.”
Films purposely don’t look lifelike. All the elements of the cinematography (lighting, color, lenses, etc.) are used to create a distorted reality. Or to put it another way, when you watch a film, you’re looking into another an alternate reality that while similar to our own, its appearance has been augmented so that it looks more interesting than the reality we see with our eyes every day.
To use a really obvious example, think of The Godfather. It is purposely underexposed so it’s often dark, and there’s a sepia color scheme making it seem like the movie was shot in the 1940s and 1950s when the action takes place.
Or even more basic, think of all of the films where the colors are oversaturated, or desaturated.
No one ever praises a film’s cinematography for its realism; they praise when it look unique and different from reality.
And here’s the icing on the cake: one of the main reasons behind Jackson’s decision to shoot in 48fps is that it makes 3D movies easier to watch. I don’t think anyone is really clamoring for 3D, and I certainly don’t think it does anything to make movies more enjoyable. But studios love it because it lets them jack up ticket prices. So the whole film medium is being upended because studios needed to charge more for tickets because their business model of relying on big event films is failing.