Supposedly 48 frames per second, or 48p, or simply high framerate filmmaking is to be the next evolution in theatrical film. Peter Jackson is the first to embrace the technology with his Hobbit film but James Cameron is said to be following suit with the next Avatar films. Typical film is presented in 24p and always has been. What this means is the moving image of film is made up of 24 still images flashed on screen per second. 48p doubles the number of still images flashed on screen persecond thus offering crisper detail and harder lines with less grain, kind of like home video cameras which offer 30 still images per second of video.
Peter Jackson and Co. seem dedicated to this new filmmaking form so I feel required to give it a chance in order to commentate on it. It’s somewhat confusing to say this but overall the high framerate presentation still makes the film look cheap, like video. You’d think that a higher frame rate offering much cleaner and clearer detail would actually make the film appear much more expensive at it shows off the artistry down to the finest detail. So far that has not been my experience. I had hoped with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug that Jackson would get a better grasp on the high frame rate and truly show us why it’s so great. In the first film interior scenes suffer the most from the plastic fake look and the film style lighting actually enhanced the video experience making everything feel small and much less dramatic. The problems continue with the second film with interiors looking their worst throughout the film. You do eventually settle into the look of the film until there are action scenes. As much as the action is beautiful and well-choreographed it also looks like television fight scenes.
Sure the film look is lower detail and grainy but maybe it’s kind of like reading a book. When you read a book your imagination is left to build the world in your mind. When you watch a movie the mind’s eye fills in the missing frames when you’re restricted to the measly 24p of most films. I’m an advocate of advancing technology in all aspects of the arts but it needs to be for obvious betterment and so far I just don’t “see” much advantage here. The one concession I will give is to CGI special fx. I don’t believe that the fx necessarily look better in 48p but the constant hard edges given to objects both organic and inanimate better matches the hard edges common to CGI. Everything looks consistently fake, is that a good thing? That’s snarky I know but the fact is one of the toughest things to recreate in CGI are the soft edges and grainy detail representation common to real things shot on film. With 48p this is much less of an issue. Also more frames do offer a much improved 3D experience as well. The higher detail and hard edges allows objects meant to be rendered in the third dimension to truly stand out and move in that space. So did I just contradict myself? Did I say that I didn’t see any real benefit to the high frame rate and then offer up to advantages? Yes I did do that but I believe these advantages, especially the one regarding the CGI are lazy man’s filmmaking. Just because something is easier doesn’t mean it’s better. There are plenty of examples of beautifully executed CGI in the 24p space. You just need artists that can make that happen. There are some scenes in The Desolation of Smaug that are jaw dropping but they generally only happen when there’s no movement on screen at all. I believe in technological advancement but it can’t just be to make things easier to do all the while forsaking overall quality of the experience. Show me Peter Jackson and I will take the journey with you but not like Bilbo, I’ll keep my shoes on!
If we are to move to higher frame rates then why haven’t we moved all the way to 60p or 60 frames per second? The human eye is said to see at 60 frames per second. This is why so many video games attempt to run at a constant 60 frames per second in order to achieve photorealistic visuals. If we are jumping to a higher frame rate for detail and for realism why not go all the way?