Sunday, October 28, 2012

A thing I'm starting to understand about The Hobbit, and my TV

I've been aware that Peter Jackson was shooting the (formerly two, now three) Hobbit movies at the higher rate of 48 frames per second (twice the normal 24).

Whenever I've heard that mentioned, I've kind of nodded along and thought "I guess I'll see what that looks like when the time comes."

On Wednesday night over at a friend's house, I learned what that looks like in the course of us talking about it. And now I worry I've been seeing what it looks like ever since we got our new TV.

You know how I've had such a hard time (in this post and in this post) discussing what I meant when I said that the picture looks "shitty" on many of our picture settings? I described it as "the Masterpiece Theatre effect." Essentially, this setting on my TV makes things look like they had been shot on home video with poor lighting. Other places I've heard it described as a "1970s soap opera" or "cheap reality TV." It's a picture setting on my TV that I avoid at all costs.

Yeah, that's what 48 FPS looks like.

Uh oh.

There's a reason Jackson's "great new innovation" has been controversial, and so far, poorly received. I didn't know that reason was that it made The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey look like one of the least expensive productions of all time, rather than one of the most. 

The increased frame rate -- which abandons the 24-frame paradigm we have known all our lives -- is supposed to be easier on your eyes, especially in the case of 3D. Less blurring, more clarity. But that also makes it look significantly less like a movie.

The weird thing about this frame rate is that it's a complicated sort of unpleasantness. At the same time that certain aspects of the picture look really crappy -- especially the lighting -- others are undeniably clearer and have higher definition. In fact, sometimes you feel like you are right there in the same room as the actors on the screen.

But that's not what most of us want out of a movie. We don't want to feel like we can reach through our TV screens and touch the actors. We want them to have an incredible sense of realism, sure, but we want that to be filtered through the pleasant sheen of 24 frames per second. It's probably the reason people tend to be so happy with BluRay, as opposed to certain kinds of HD. BluRay takes what you're intended to see it and promotes it to its greatest possible clarity, within the limitations of the way it was shot. That's a good thing. HD takes beautiful people and shows you the blemishes that keep their skin from being as beautiful as you have always perceived it to be. And that is not a good thing -- unless your only desire is to heckle them and take them down a peg.

I don't want my movies taken down a peg. I want them on that pedestal that confers them a certain beauty, even if the story elements they're depicting may be ugly.

I was asked recently in a discussion group on Facebook whether I would see The Hobbit in 48 FPS if given the opportunity.

I now know that the answer is no, and that I'm even worried whether it will look okay when projected at 24 FPS.

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