Movies as we know them roll through a projector at 24 frames per second. 24 frames make up 1 second of film on the screen.
24 FPS, as it is known, has been the standard since the 1930’s. It’s what makes movies larger than life and gives them their dream like quality. If you stripped away story and character and mise-en-scène, it is the movement of the images (at 24 FPS) that gives the movies their magic. Without movement, we’d just have slides.
Peter Jackson is currently filming The Hobbit in New Zealand. Jackson, who directed the previous Lord of the Rings trilogy, is the right man for the job. His passion for Tolkien is nearly unmatched (though surprisingly, he wasn’t The Hobbit’s original director).
The fact that they are filming The Hobbit, a classic loved by millions, is news enough. But the fact that Jackson is filming the movie at 48 frames per second rather than the standard 24 is monumental and could drastically change movies as we know them.
48 FPS is uncharted territory. Jackson is filming at this rate because the story and images are so expansive that he wants audiences, and their minds, to process everything that is coming at them from the screen. Basically, he wants to give our brains more material to visualize.
This is all well and good, except for one thing. 48 frames per second looks completely different than the 24 FPS to which we are accustomed.
48 FPS looks like a soap opera on television. Like a home video. Or a YouTube clip. It lacks the cinematic qualities we are used to in a darkened theatre.
Advance word is that some people will absolutely hate how it looks and the change will be so distracting that it detracts from movie going experience.
But really, no one quite knows what to expect.
But we do know how Hollywood works. If The Hobbit and its 48 FPS rakes in gobs of money (which is expected), there will be countless copycats.
Look at how many 3D movies there are these days.
You can thank James Cameron and his billion dollar Avatar for that. Movie studios will render anything in 3D now just to make a fraction of what Avatar made at the box office. There’s even a 3D version of The Great Gatsby hitting theatres this Christmas starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Hobbit, also a Christmas release, will try to alter the movie landscape at 48 frames per second.
This dramatic change is inevitably coming soon to movie theatres. We’ll see if audiences embrace it.