2D in 24 frames per second. 2D in 48 frames per second. 3D in 24 frames per second. 3D in 48 frames per second. IMAX 3D in 24 frames per second. IMAX 3D in 48 frames per second.

These are the six different formats — that’s right, six — Peter Jackson’s first adaptation of The Hobbit (a two-parter) will reportedly be available in when it arrives in cinemas worldwide December 14. One ring to rule them all, and six different ways to see it.

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When obsessive filmmakers of a certain breed of technological aspiration hit a “king of the world” level of popularity — think James Cameron, think George Lucas — making great looking blockbusters sometimes isn’t enough. The challenge becomes to climb the movie mount and descend a cinephille messiah, to part the red seas of convention and pave the way for game-changing formats and technological innovations.

Lucas set a benchmark with Star Wars and the formation of Industrial Light and Magic. Cameron built his own cameras and introduced the world to 3D as we (now) know it via Avatar. Jackson is hard at work prepping his own ludicrously expensive pet project: to shoot and project The Hobbit at 48 frames per second, double the conventional rate, with the hope that the process will catch on. In case it doesn’t, the film will also be available in plain ol’ 24 fps.

His argument is that 24 is not a god-given number and that movie viewing can be improved with a higher rate. According to Jackson, 48 fps enhances colour and clarity and creates more “lifelike” images.

The entrepeneuring auteur, however, would have been less than encouraged by the responses of a small number of test viewers who saw a 10 minute preview of The Hobbit at this year’s CinemaCon convention, held last week in Las Vegas.

“Saw ten minutes of Hobbit in 48fps 3D. Very exciting, but I’m now very unsure about higher framerates. 48fps feature films will likely divide moviegoers — I expect to see stronger hate, more so than 3D,” tweeted Slashfilm.com’s Peter Sciretta (for a good list of other reactions, head over to this story published at Inside Movies).

Now is a particularly inauspicious time for Jackson to be trying his hand at launching game-changing technology, with or without Middle Earth’s magical assistance.

3D remains a highly contentious format in critical and popular senses. Consensus amongst reviewers is skeptical at best and box office figures suggest the honey moon period was short, audiences having cottoned on to the knowledge that they are shelling out more of hard-earned for a darker and blurrier experience. If exhibitors decide to ask for more again for optional 3D 48 fps screenings, expect tumbleweeds to roll through cinemas. There are also issues associated with projectors capable of displaying the higher rate.

On the other hand, Jackson’s idea was probably a much better one than Cameron’s. If it doesn’t pick up this time around, a higher frame rate is inevitable at some stage. The technology in fact isn’t new; a 60 fps process was developed decades ago, though used almost exclusively in theme parks.

But six formats for The Hobbit? Six?? Some Lord of the Rings obsessive, somewhere out there, will surely figure out a way to watch them all back-to-back.

 

 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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