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

Photo of Bill Desowitz 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 realistic. 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.

"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.


This article is related to: Immersed In Movies, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Lord of the Rings/Hobbit, Interviews , Features, Peter Jackson, Peter Jackson

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.