A pause to ruminate on high frame rate and 3D.

Having now seen The Hobbit in both its 2D, standard frame rate and its 3D, high frame rate versions, here are my thoughts.*

On the high frame rate:

I loved it. I didn't have any of the adjustment issues that were reported in the media or that some my friends experienced. For me, the 48fps made everything in the film clearer and crisper, and most importantly, it solved the problem of blur in high action shots. I noticed details that I simply could not see in the low frame rate. I can't wait to see how other filmmakers use this technology - I think it has the potential to be one of the biggest advances in filmmaking.

Remember that color film was once considered the cheap, tacky, and fake-feeling medium. No serious filmmakers would use the medium. But fantasy and science fiction films paved the way for more mainstream acceptance. Some of those films are now among our most beloved films (ahem, Wizard of Oz). I hope that similarly the work of Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson will give the high frame rate medium the push it needs to eventually achieve widespread usage.

 

On 3D:

For a technology that has been around for decades, 3D truly has not developed much. It's not that I'm against it, exactly, but that I think it's problematic in its current form.  Part of any narrative film is the suspension of disbelief - a filmmaker strives to make the viewer forget that they are watching a film and instead convince her that she is experiencing a real, tangible story. 3D, in its current usage, breaks that suspension of disbelief, so the viewer is constantly reminded that she is watching a movie. There are a couple things that need to be remedied before 3D can become anything more than a gimmick.

1. The technology needs to be upgraded. 3D glasses have to go. For non-glasses wearers, they are an uncomfortable and obstructing tech - their thick frames a near constant reminder of the artific of film. For glasses weares, they are unweildy on top of the other issues.

The technology is out there to get rid of the glasses, but it is currently expensive. I would remind the movie theaters and television makers that such devices drop in price dramatically as they get purchased. Also, while non-glasses 3D technology may be rather expensive in a movie theater, it is a one-time cost versus glasses which need continuous cleaning and sterilizing (and repackaging, and replacement as they get lost, broken, or stolen). You can still jack up the ticket prices and make back the costs of the screen fairly quickly.

2. Filmmakers working in 3D need to stop using old filmmaking techniques to direct the viewer's gaze. In the past, tools like pulling focus have worked well. When watching a movie in 3D, however, the audience member needs to feel immersed in the action of the film. He can't be straining to get everything in focus - that, like the glasses, just takes him out of the movie. When our eyes look at images in the real world, everything is in focus. Our eyes want that same experience in the 3D movie experience. So, instead of using focus tricks, I would recommend our filmmakers turn to stage performances for ideas on how to pull the viewer's eye to the desired portion of the screen. It is time to re-learn blocking, lighting, and live performance techniques. Let the films be focused.

Those are my thoughts. What do you think of the new high frame rate and the old 3D technologies?

___

* I saw the 2D, standard frame rate version first. While an argument could be made that having seen the standard frame rate first may have eased the transition into the high frame rate, because I knew what to expect, I think that the reverse argument can also be made. Having seen the standard frame rate first also meant that I knew what I was already looking at, so any transitional weirdness (official term) should have been more apparent.