Footage of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit was recently shown at 48 frames per second instead of the standard 24.
Initial reaction to this from fans and critics was mixed. Some were saying it looked too much like video tape (the term "Mexican soap opera" came up more than once), while others said just give it time, you’ll get used to it, and it’s the wave of the future.
Of course, The Hobbit be will play in a number of formats, including 24 frames, 48 frames, and more, when it finally hits theaters on December 14, 2012.
Now The Hollywood Reporter tells us there was a cinema conference in Europe where industry heavyweights discussed the new format, which will apparently cost exhibitors and distributors more to run than 24 FPS. As one conference participant confirmed,"Movie costs will be higher. And films will cost more to distribute, and it will cost the exhibitors."
Nevertheless, an undaunted James Cameron threw down the gauntlet at the conference and pledged to shoot Avatar 2 at a staggering 60 frames a second. But at what cost?
As David Monk, the CEO of European Digital Cinema Forum, told the Reporter, it takes time to get the new technology configured, tested, and up and running in the theaters. However, if a movie’s a big hit at 48 frames a second, it will help accelerate mainstream adoption of the technology.
So far, there’s close to 4,000 movie theaters ready and willing to play The Hobbit, and any other movie, at 48 frames per second, with the hope that other theaters will follow suit. Peter Jackson said he hopes that The Hobbit will play at 48 frames per second in as many theaters as possible, and of course if his return to Middle Earth makes big bucks, there’s plenty of theaters that will get that software in a hurry. But if audiences don’t take to the new technology, it could end up being the digital version of Sensurround, which was used in a few movies and that was that.
The real test will be when the 24 and 48 versions are compared back to back, and which version audiences like better. At least we’re being given a choice at the theaters, and we’ll find out how well it all works out this December.