So, I don’t know if you have heard but Peter Jackson has made a film adaptation of The Hobbit, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings prequel? Oh, you had heard that… well, did you know that he filmed it using something called Higher Frame? Oh, you knew that as well.
There is a lot of Hobbit and Higher Frame Rate (HFR) related debate flying around social media sites right now, with opinion divided between the extremes of those who think it is revolutionary and those that felt physically nauseous watching it.
Let’s try and cut through the debate at the moment and examine what is actually going on here…
What is HFR and what are its supposed benefits?
In a purely technical sense HFR means that that the footage was both recorded and will be projected at double the speed that other films are (48 frames per second rather than 24). This is much closer to the way that the human eye sees the world, so the images are meant to be much more fluid and immersive then those you would normally get in the cinema.
Most computer screens on modern PCs and laptops are already HFR so it is really not the giant leap in presentation that its proponents claim, or the unexpected attack on the eyes that its detractors are howling about.
It is worth pointing out here that the HFR version of the Hobbit only applies to certain limited 3D screenings, which all in all amount to around 5% of all the theatres showing the film. There will of course also be normal 2D screenings and non-HFR 3D ones.
So all this begs the question, why has there been such a large reaction to HFR?
Why have people reacted so negatively to HFR?
The reaction to The Hobbit and HFR began as soon as the film was released and the embargo on media reviews was lifted, and it was mostly negative. The research organisation Fizziology released data that showed that just under two thirds of social media conversations regarding HFR were negative in nature!
Even the studio Warner Bros has had to wade in to claim that there is no physiological reason why the speeded up frame rate should cause nauseous feelings or migraines, which doesn’t reflect that well on the actual content of the film itself.
Most of the criticisms seem to revolve around the fact that the film physically looked like a “documentary”, or just plain weird. Director Peter Jackson offers an interesting take on this issue in a recent interview by remarking that no one under 20 years old has said that they don’t like the filming style. Can the whole of the negative reviews be put down to older viewers and critics stubbornly refusing to accept that a motion picture can look any different from 28 frames per second?
Was Peter Jackson right to do it?
Whether or not The Hobbit in HFR is judged to be a success or not, Jackson was still right to attempt something new with a medium that can definitively be accused of sometimes flogging a dead horse. There are also some people who are so wrapped up in the idea of film as a medium that links the past and the present together they are always going to resist change, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try to push the medium forward. It was the same with music and vinyl and it will be the same with 3D and interactive TV.
When you really get past all the hysteria for a second and actually sit down to watch the film you will release two things. Firstly, that HFR isn’t really much more of a progression then IMAX ever was and secondly, that you will be much more concerned by the almost three hour length and near universal boredom of the actual film itself, than worrying about what it looks like!
Unless of course, you like films where half an hour is taken up with dwarves eating…
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