Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Hobbit at 48FPS Get Limited Release

Variety is reporting that a cut of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey running at 48 frames per second (or HFR for high frame rate) may only get a limited release when the movie comes out this December. It was assumed it would get as wide a release as possible, at least for the theatres that were upgraded to handle the frame rate.

For the last 90 or so years movies have played at 24fps but Peter Jackson believes that doubling the frame rate will add a new level of immersion and detail to movies. However, a screening of footage at CinemaCon this April was completely trashed by movie blogs and critics as being too realistic by making everything look like a movie set. It seems WB was scared off by the criticism and decided that a gradually release of the format was needed with each Hobbit movie enjoying a more widespread release of the 48fps format then the movie before it.

The decision might be driven by technical limitations of the marketplace as many theaters don't have the digital equipment required to play the format. On top of that, right now no theatre can play a movie at 48fps as the software update is not due until September. It seems WB's plan is hope that the limited release proves so successful that theaters basically have no choice but to update either through the software or updating their current equipment with the much more expensive (and error prone) digital equipment.

I see the move mostly driven by fear where WB doesn't want to saturate the market with a format that may turn their audience off, resulting in The Hobbit getting negative reviews and bad word of mouth due not to the execution of the story but of the technology. This isn't to say the 48fps is dead. Far from it. With the advent of cheap large HDTVs and Blu-ray, it is very easy and cheap to re-create the movie experience at home. The 48fps format provide that "movie theater only" experience that the studios and theater chains are hoping can be used to drive box office sales much like IMAX and 3D has been (over)used for that purpose. A limited release probably isn't a bad idea, I just hope that WB doesn't overdo it to the point that people who want to experience the movie as Peter Jackson intended (in 3D at 48fps) are not able to.

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