By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood December 5, 2012 at 2:43PM
Peter Jackson's return to Middle-earth with "The Hobbit" at the higher frame rate of 48 is certainly a bold experiment. It's new; it's different; it's smoother; it's more heightened. But there's no question that HFR 3-D is already causing an aesthetic divide. For some, it's jarring; for others, it's jaw-dropping. For me, it was an unexpected delight. I'm as passionate about film as anyone, but from the moment we first entered Bilbo's Hobbit Hole, I surrendered to the clarity and opulence of the journey. It was like opening a window into a familiar world yet truly seeing it for the first time.
Yes, it was strange at first, as though I was on the set with the characters (and the motion was sometimes awkward in the way it was sped up or slowed down), but the intimacy greatly enhanced the experience. There was no displeasing soap opera-like video look: Andrew Lesnie's lighting and subsequent color grading were remarkably diverse, ranging from the naturalistic to the impressionistic and much of it breathtaking.
"Is it better or worse? I didn't quite know myself at first," Jackson admits. "It's different -- it's more real. Is that a good thing? It's like saying your favorite color is blue or red and arguing in favor of that color. Then as we started shooting it and we watched dailies for hours on end, there's a length of time that you relax into it. I don't even think about it now.
"The real question is: Do we basically sit back and continue to watch audiences dwindle and surrender to kids watching movies on iPads or do we see what we can do with the technology today to enhance the cinema going experience? To me, it's a very fundamental decision, whether it's high frame rate or 3-D (which is more immersive) or 4K or 8K. But at the same time, it's also interesting that there's a fear of change. As humans, we seem to have a fear of the new. I remember hearing CDs for the first and there are still people today who insist that vinyl's better and will buy all the albums that they can if they're available on vinyl and that's what they'll play. And I remember the hysterical headlines about the Beatles never being available on CD because you were never going to get the same clarity as you did on vinyl. And I can see that with 48 we're going to go down the same road."
Yet despite the additional rendering cost (which is quadrupled in 3-D), which Jackson is covering himself through his vast resources at Weta, he definitely has no regrets. "I find it a much more gentle experience because the 3-D at 24 frames is forcing your brain to process all this blur and strobing and I find that a lot more assaultive. Forty-eight to me is a lot smoother and more genuine. It's not just the movement but the clarity, which is why filmmakers chose to shoot in 65 mm or continue to shoot sequences in IMAX. Fortunately, the Red Epics were designed alongside 'The Hobbit' so they gave us everything we needed."
It's all about delivering a new kind of spectacle in keeping with the looser and more whimsical tone of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." "We embraced the fact that this was not 'Lord of the Rings' and wanted to be faithful to the way the story originated," he explains. "Of course, we're in a strange situation because the book that Tolkien wrote 20 years before 'Lord of the Rings' is the second story that we're telling. It's the wrong way around but the genesis of the project, which was written as a children's story, is what we wanted to be faithful to. It has a fast pace and a much younger feeling than the more apocalyptic sequel.