Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Concerning HFR

What is the deal with 48 fps?

As a child, did you ever have a storytime when you listened to lots of essential but frankly quite dull background detail, and then just as things seemed to have got going and your imagination had lost itself in the world of the story, your mother told you it was bedtime. That rather represents my feelings about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I have now seen it three times, and with each viewing the fatigue at the exposition and delay of getting into the plot has increased, but so has the genuine sense that the whole trilogy kicks into life in the second half of this first film, and I cannot wait for part two.

Part two contains many exciting mysteries, but we have already had the big technological reveal of High Frame Rate (HFR). The decision to shoot these films at 48 frames per second was taken in order to improve the 3D experience. I first saw this film in IMAX which (bar a few exceptions) is projected at 24 frames per second (fps), and the usual 3D problems were there. There is often a blurring that takes place in 3D which is immensely distracting. Furthermore, the process of 3D removes a third of the colour.

What 48 fps does is give the eye more detail to take in, and this serves to cut out the blurring, and the nature of projecting the increased number of frames improves (though does not eliminate) the colour loss. Both of these were evident improvements in the HFR projection of The Hobbit.

However, as is often the case with human progress, the solution to one problem is the creation of several others. More frames means more detail, and this serves the film brilliantly when there are huge sweeping shots of actors advertising New Zealand (sorry – I mean dwarves trekking across Middle Earth). Furthermore, when there are exquisitely well-built miniatures on screen, the creation of this other world becomes all the more compelling.

It is true, though, that, on occasions, scenes have lost that glow and crispness which makes things look cinematic. This was not a problem in 2D, nor in normal 3D (when the damn thing was in focus).

The greatest problems come with some of the visual effects. Even when The Lord of the Rings was being made, the visual effects artists craved night sequences. When you have less light on screen, you can create a more effective illusion, because the audience has less opportunity to see the flaws in the effects. Thus, the Battle of Pelennor Fields in Return of King (which takes place over about 24 hours) was much harder to pull off than the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers (which takes place at night). Too much detail runs the risk of killing the illusion.

So, in the hyper-detailed HFR world there is nowhere to hide, and the illusion is often broken. An explosion which was thoroughly convincing in 2D is suddenly clearly a pyrotechnic. A character is suddenly very clearly computer generated. All of this serves to take the audience out of the experience.

Which is bizarre, because we are continually told that 3D is meant to be a more immersive experience. However, if it is in 24fps it is all blurred and in dull colour, and if it is in 48fps the image is so clear at times as to take you out of the film. Furthermore, in both formats, the image ultimately flattens out in your perception and begins to look like a 2D film anyway. This is true of every 3D film I have ever seen. It is a totally pointless endeavour.

Peter Jackson, to his credit, has not said that his film has to be seen in 3D, or even in 48 fps. He says it is a matter of choice. Others are less relaxed about this. Ang Lee recently claimed that he thought people would look back in 50 years’ time and wonder why we delayed watching films in 3D for so long because, for him, it is clearly a more immersive experience. All I can say is that I am currently rewatching The Lord of the Rings in glorious 2D. That remains the most immersive experience I have had. Immersion comes not from gimmicks, but from story-telling. It is imagination which gets us lost in tales.

No comments:

Post a Comment