Back in 2009, James Cameron revolutionized the movie theater experience with his release of “Avatar” in 3D. Whether this revolution was beneficial or detrimental to the moviegoer’s experience is debatable, but the landscape of big budget filmmaking was altered nonetheless.
It is now nigh impossible to find a movie theater that isn’t showing at least one film in 3D (and of course, sticking audiences with a surcharge for it). This could be attributed to Cameron’s smart use of his 3D technology; instead of using 3D as a cheap gimmick to attract more moviegoers, Cameron used his 3D technology to immerse audiences in a gorgeously crafted alien world.
Today’s innovator, though, is none other than the director of the “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Peter Jackson. With his release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” last December, Jackson has no doubt caused a divide within the cinematic community by choosing to film in 48p.
This essentially means that “The Hobbit” was filmed at double the frame rate of nearly every film released since the 1920s. To many moviegoers, this shift in frame rates could be jarring, to say the least. High frame rate (HFR) results in much higher image clarity, but to anyone who’s accustomed to the standard 24p frame rate, the higher frame rates can make films seem like they’re almost being played at double speed.
I personally believe that 48p should be the future of filmmaking. The image clarity certainly helps with audience immersion, but studios are going to need to maintain a certain standard for special effects and costume/set design due to the striking clarity that a higher frame rate provides. Digital effects also look fantastic in higher frame rates, allowing the movie to really showcase all the tiny nuances of facial animation.
Unfortunately, many theaters have yet to jump onto the HFR bandwagon, opting instead to show the 24p version of “The Hobbit.” This is because many theater owners are reluctant to purchase and install the projectors required to show films at 48p. When “Avatar” was released, theaters all over the country opted to install 3D projectors because it would allow them to add a surcharge to movie tickets for 3D glasses. Since HFR projectors do not require a surcharge, theaters see little profit increase from installing them.
At the end of the day, the future of 48p films is really left in the hands of the audience. Without further demand for 48p, theaters have no incentive to install better projectors, and movie studios have no incentive to film in 48p.
The industry standard of 24p was reached through compromise in the early 1920s because of the high cost of physical film and difficulties with syncing sound with images, but now that everything can be filmed and synced digitally, there is really no reason to continue filming in 24p. It’s just what we’re used to now. But Jackson has two more “Hobbit” films in the works to truly sell higher frame rates to audiences, and I strongly suggest going out of your way to view a HFR showing whenever possible.