In a word, no. I’ve read a lot recently about how terrible The Hobbit’s 48 frame per second – “High Frame Rate” looks. Criticisms range from it looks too clean, it looks too much like video, it looks nothing like “real” cinema and so on.
But in truth, it’s just an exciting evolutionary step on the journey to create art.
As you may know, there is no such thing as actual moving pictures. The pictures don’t really move. Instead, a series of still images are “projected” in rapid succession to create the illusion of movement. The number of still frames which are “projected” per second is the frame rate.
Prior to 1927, the frame rates of films varied by film-title and whether it was a comedy or a drama, sometimes 16 frames-per-second, 18 fps, 20 fps or more. Sometimes for creative effect films were shot at one frame rate but projected at another. Often, greedy theater owners would project the films at a faster (incorrect) frame rate (making the film running time shorter) to get in more shows per day – thus making more money.
Anyway, around the end of the 1920s the frame rate of film was standardized at 24 frames per second. This was to allow for the addition of synchronous sound, that is, Talking Pictures. Sound required film to run at a steady speed.
The advent of talkies was greeted with similar criticism as 48fps currently is. It was vulgar and it was the end of cinema as we knew it. Well, it wasn’t the end of cinema, many great films have been made since 1927 and many great films will be made using the higher framer rate of 48 frames per second.
48 frames per second, marketed as “high frame rate” simply takes advantage of the abilities of newly installed digital projectors in the movie theaters, doing something that the film projectors could not do as easily. It’s exciting! (Not that I instantly liked “the look” of 48fps initially, but after twenty minutes, I was fine with it ).
Without getting too technical, it’s worth noting that for decades, with traditional 35mm film projection, the movie projector mechanism, showed/shows 24 original images (or frames) each second, but it also projects each of those individual frames, TWICE – before moving to the next frame. Meaning that, there have always been, for as long as most of you have been seeing movies, 48 images per second on the theatrical screen, it’s just that those 48 were created from 24 actual original images. This doubling-up of the 24fps to create 48fps was done to reduce the flicker effect and create a smoother viewing experience.
The difference here, with The Hobbit, is that there are 48 original images projected on the screen, from 48 original images, (or frames) that were acquired (shot) on the set. And herein lies the big difference in the look, which is easiest to think about this way; when filming at 24 frames per second on set, each frame the camera “shoots” captures a moment in time that is (in very broad concept, for the issues herein) approximately 1/24th of a second long.
If you think of still pictures YOU take of your friends, sometimes your friend is moving slightly and there is a slight blur. That blur is called motion-blur. The motion-blur of 24 fps image capture has a very distinctive look – which we are VERY accustomed to.
With 48 frames per second, the image capture time is (in very broad concept) approximately 1/48 of a second, meaning it is a FASTER capture (or shutter), and therefore, there is less motion-blur PER FRAME. Thus, it is largely this reduced motion-blur that is responsible for the different look of 48fps. Also, because at 48fps there are twice as many original frames as at 24fps, the resolution (or the amount of detail) in the image is approximately twice as much. This means that details like make-up and sets are more clear to the viewer, than at 24fps.
Is this bad? I don’t think so. It is just a different and exciting new way to tell stories. Remember, people were upset when sync sound arrived in movies in 1927, and upset when stereo came to movies in the 1980s, and they are upset that the era of film projection is quickly ending.
It’s just evolutionary. And I think it’s exciting.
I’d love to hear what you think of 48fps, “high frame rate” movies. And thank you, as always, for reading.