Special Features – 48 FPS: The Frame Rate that Broke the Internet

Anghus Houvouras on why the online film sites got it wrong, again…

Last week Peter Jackson screened ten minutes of footage from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at CinemaCon. This is the kind of story that has ‘online traction’ written all over it. The previous trilogy was a multi-billion dollar endeavor that created a new legion of Tolkien fans and won every conceivable award. There have been few films that have been so universally successful both creatively and financially. It’s hard to think back to the time when Peter Jackson was a controversial choice to helm The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

And to be honest, he wasn’t a controversial choice: not to cinephiles and hardcore film fans who had seen the genius of his earlier films. So many online film sites were vital in those early days at rallying support for what many saw as a potential train wreck. When mainstream industry film writers were wondering what the hell New Line Cinema was thinking, it was the fan-fuelled online sites that stood up and had Peter Jackson’s back. Maybe that’s why I get a kick out of the same fan sites turning on Jackson over the choice to shoot the movie at 48 frames per second.

By now, you’ve probably read the story. If not, read this.

The online response has been baffling. Those who have seen it have been troubled by the clarity of the images. They have openly and publicly decried that Jackson has made a mistake, while others are using this footage as a rallying cry against the new technology so many filmmakers seem to be embracing.

It’s funny coming from a group of passionate film writers who were once on the fringe. The outsiders rallying against the establishment and embracing new cinematic voices. Fifteen years later these guys have become the old men pounding their fist on the podium and speaking fearfully about change. Supposedly intelligent film critics like Devin Faraci declaring it “the ultimate battle of art versus technology” using Rupert Murdoch-style tabloid tactics to try and rile up the masses.

For some reason there are those in the online media who believe the cinematic experience is dying and the fault lies with a focus on technological advancement rather than creating more engaging films. But those are the kind of cries you hear from voices uncomfortable with change and desperate for things to remain within the confines of which they are comfortable. These are cries for safety and comfort. These are the same people who balked at the idea of talkies and who predicted the death of television as a viable entertainment medium. These are the same people who cry that video games aren’t art. The online version of the old man with a clenched fist screaming at the kids to get off his lawn.

It seems almost ironic that all these online fan film sites like Ain’t It Cool News and Badass Digest declaring war on technology since these are the kind of places that obsess over Star Wars, a movie whose existence was predicated on advancements in film technology. Advancements that paved the way for an improved cinematic experience. Advancements that changed the way stories could be told. Technical achievements that created Industrial Light & Magic and Pixar. When did technology become the enemy? When did experimentation and creative strides become something to protest? And how can you declare war on something based on a ten minute clip?

I find it depressing that so many of my peers have grabbed their torch and joined the mob on some perceived war against technological advancements. I don’t know if 48 frames per second is the future of cinema. I don’t know if The Hobbit will be the start of something new or a failed experiment. But given the option between an obsessive, narrow minded view of what defines the cinematic experience or the promise of what the future holds, I’ll take the future.

The writers that try to tear down Peter Jackson and the filmmakers attempting to bring something new to the silver screen are the voices of conformity. When we start to dismiss anything new and unconventional, we do nothing more than stifle the medium. As writers, our job is to get people interested in film. To excite them. To engage them and share in the experience. When did it become fashionable for these websites to try and define what is and what isn’t cinema? It’s nothing more than armchair quarterbacking of the worst kind.

The future is coming gentlemen (and women). If it makes you uncomfortable, so be it. But to dismiss it with so little forethought, to take such obsessive compulsive ownership over what film should be based on your narrow definition… you’re not contributing to the enjoyment of cinema, you are detracting from it.

Anghus Houvouras

  • http://twitter.com/Berzurcher Matt Zurcher

    This is a marvelous essay. Indeed, we need to preserve judgment for when there is a greater sample size of material. Ten minutes is not enough to "declare war" as you and so many others have said. If I am troubled by this experiment, my worries stem from the notion that this is the first time mega-powerful filmmakers are working to evolve technology. You're right in saying that the

  • Riley

    Indeed, great article. I was absolutely taken aback at the negative feedback leveled at Jackson for taking a creative risk. Do these people imagine that when colour was first used in film, there wasn&#39;t the same backlash from terrified conformists? Even now, some fifty years after colour become the standard, there are still many people who consider black and white to be more artfully pure.<br

  • aa

    &quot; But those are the kind of cries you hear from voices uncomfortable with change and desperate for things to remain within the confines of which they are comfortable. These are cries for safety and comfort. These are the same people who balked at the idea of talkies and who predicted the death of television as a viable entertainment medium.&quot;<br /><br />there&#39;s so much wrong with

  • Anghus

    Yes aa. No good films are being made at 24fps. Zero. Zilch. Its a wasteland… a cultural void…..<br /><br />Can you hear the sound of my eyes rolling into the back of their sockets?

  • Clayton

    Now I have not seen the small portion of this film that people are so worked up about. I have never seen 48 fps and how it looks either. Now I am a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy just like the millions of other people around the globe. So hey, If we really love these films then we also love the director. So if we love the director, then why don&#39;t we trust the man behind these

  • Miles

    I agree that the advancement of technology is very important, and that 48fps will probably become the standard eventually.<br />However, having said that: I truly wish The Hobbit was shot 24fps on film and in 2D. Why? To match the aesthetic and look of LOTR. 48fps makes things look unbelievably like real-life, but Middle-Earth isn&#39;t real-life, it&#39;s a wonderful land of fantasy! I