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Immersed in Movies: Peter Jackson Talks 'The Hobbit' and Controversial 48 fps

by Bill Desowitz
December 5, 2012 2:43 PM
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"But at the same time, I wanted it to feel like we were the same filmmakers returning to Middle-earth again. I didn't want to change my directing style. The advantage of doing the prequel the other way around was echoing 'Lord of the Rings'. You see the genesis of threads, which I like because that'll make the unity all the more resonant when viewing the two trilogies sequentially on Blu-ray."

For instance, one of Jackson's favorite moments in "Fellowship of the Ring" occurs in the Mines of Moria when Gandalf sits on the rock with Frodo and says, "The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many." Thus, in "The Hobbit," Jackson finally shot the scene when Bilbo spares Gollum's life and liked how he was able to complete an unfinished story arc. Likewise, we understand what Gandalf meant earlier when he told Bilbo, "True courage is knowing not when to take a life but when to spare one."

Indeed, one of the dramatic highlights of "The Hobbit" is the chance encounter between Bilbo and our old friend Gollum in a cave and a change of possession of the precious ring. It's where the HFR 3-D really shines and reveals just how far the wizards of Weta have advanced technologically in the decade since "Lord of the Rings." It's really a touchstone: Gollum no longer looks like a CG creature but another character. The eyes, skin, hair, and movement are totally believable. And the smoothness of the higher frame rate only enhances the look. Plus it's so well acted by Andy Serkis.

In fact, they shot the Gollum scene first for an entire week, which Jackson says was like being at the bottom of a mountain looking up into the clouds -- the beginning of a long journey. "It was a great way for Martin [Freeman] to find the character of Bilbo right at the outset in this Riddles in the Dark scene," Jackson explains. "And he had Andy Serkis coming at him with full energy. I felt sorry for Martin -- he had to stand his own against Andy. But I'll tell you what: it was good. And what I did to help Martin is that I staged the scene, which is around nine minutes long -- the longest scene I've ever done--as one continuous performance. Fortunately, with the Red Epic cameras we had 20-minute capacity on the cards, so I was able to run the whole scene continuously from different angles, which allowed us to cut them together. I just let Andy and Martin go for it and Martin spent that whole week exploring. By the end of that scene, Martin knew who Bilbo was."

Having already shot and edited part two, "The Desolation of Smaug" (December 13, 2013), Jackson likens it to "The Two Towers," which is his favorite "Lord of the Rings" movie. "It's strange because it doesn't have a middle or an end, and I like it that way. I'm getting the same impression of the second 'Hobbit' movie."

The finale, "There and Back Again" (July 18, 2014), meanwhile, draws on appendices Tolkien added to the end of "Lord of the Rings." "Emotional connection is important," Jackson underscores. "The danger with these sorts of stories, especially when you're doing three of them, is the structure becomes more about the geography. You can't tie a climax around a place. It must be tied to the emotion. We wanted to take Bilbo on a journey with Thorin [the dwarf warrior played by Richard Armitage].Their relationship provides the emotional climax."

By then, of course, we will have had two more experiences with 48 fps before James Cameron raises the bar at 60 fps with his two "Avatar" sequels.


  • Kill 3D Please, Keep 48fps | December 6, 2012 3:37 PMReply

    Why aren't there nearly as many articles about the divide 3D has created as there are about 48fps? 48fps is a good step forward. It is for motion quality what imax is for single frame quality. 3D is a gimmick. A gimmick that is poorly used in most cases and entirely unnecessary in more cases. You need 3D to interact with an environment. That something you do with a VR game experience but not a theatrical movie experience. 3D reduces movie image quality, induces viewing discomfort, and empties wallets when you should be charged less for a diminished experience than being charged more for it. There's a place for 3D, just as there is for B&W and silent movies. But not everyone movie needs to be 3D, not most of them.

    On the other hand, every movie can benefit from better frame rates. Every time a camera pans in 24fps you get a sickening strobe effect. As soon as you point it out to people, they are equally annoyed by it. There are motion artifacts in 24fps that are reduced with faster frame rates.

    Keep faster frame rates, keep larger frame sizes, kill 3D overall.

  • John Brune | December 6, 2012 3:04 PMReply

    Gag. 60 fps for Avatar sequels? Isn't that simply called VIDEO? And they're all trying to market this like it's something new. Guess what--kids are watching movies on iPads because they can. Simple. Movies will always rule as the best way to watch a film because the screen is so big. As long as that never changes then everything else is a gimmick--Cinemascope, Todd-AO, Vista Vision, MGM Camera 65, Cinerama, 3D, 1.85, 2.35, Digital, and now VIDEO are all gimmicks. 24 frame film and 24 frame anything is my preferred gimmick.

  • Pete | December 5, 2012 7:43 PMReply

    Tim, you're taking the word 'realism' out of context here and it becomes a red herring, especially after Jackson specifically names the two prime visual artifacts he's always had a problem with: motion blur and strobing. I love film from every era, and have less of a problem with motion blur - but even I can admit that strobing is an awful and distracting problem that I would like to see eliminated for good.

    This series of videos is quite informative - a panel with Douglas Trumbull, Larry Thorpe and Mark Schubin, where they explain the technical details behind the many, many frame-rates employed by film makers over the past century, as well as the history of how our current frame rates were settled upon as standards.

    I'll come right out and paraphrase their main point which is that 24 fps is not sacred, and it was 'settled' upon by people who (my take) couldn't give the first shit about artistic intent or emotional expression. I'd urge you, great quotes or otherwise, to not attribute too much sanctity to a technical parameter that is so obviously arbitrary.

  • Tim | December 6, 2012 5:48 PM

    thanks again for the video link - I especially enjoyed part 6, where they talk about how ironically, George Lucas was at the forefront of making 24p a reality!

  • Tim | December 6, 2012 2:57 PM

    You make a very good point about the arbitrariness of the current 24 fps standard. I wasn't trying to claim that 24 fps is inherently better or more natural or whatever, just that "realism" is a contested term with a lot of very different meanings, and so presenting 48 fps as inherently more realistic, or as part of some sort of teleological march of progress, is wrong-headed. I personally think that 48 fps makes motion look awkward and too sharp for my preference, but I don't think that makes it less "realistic." Nor do I think that eliminating strobing makes it more realistic (or that eliminating motion blur - something that we experience in real life - makes it less realistic). I think Jackson, Cameron and Lucas toss around that word more for marketing purposes than in an attempt to accurately describe how the different frame rates effect us, and I think the conversation would benefit a lot from dropping the word completely and trying to find different, more precise words instead. Anyway, thanks a bunch for the link. I'm looking forward to watching the video series.

  • Tim | December 5, 2012 3:26 PMReply

    It seems ridiculous to me to flatly call a technical parameter like a certain frame rate "realistic" as if that label didn't need any further elaboration or articulation. David Bordwell said it best:

    "It’s hard to believe that Lucas and Cameron [and Jackson] don’t know the long tradition of debate in the arts about realism. Realism can be considered a question of subject matter, plot plausibility, random detail, psychological revelation, and many other things; it isn’t just about trompe l’oeil illusion. Moreover, documentary and experimental filmmakers have suggested that cinema can capture moments of unplanned truth. And André Bazin and others have argued that even when presenting fictional tales, photographic cinema gives us unique access to some essential qualities of phenomenal reality. For Bazin, even an awkwardly shot scene could preserve the sensuous surface of things with a conviction that no painterly manipulation can equal—not perfection but brute facticity. Instead, Lucas and Cameron offer a Frank Frazetta notion of realism: glistening, overripe, academically correct rendering of things we’ve seen many times before."

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