This past weekend I finally had a chance to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for the second time and this time I saw it in the shiny new HFR format. You’ve probably heard, at least in passing, some of the hullabaloo about this because not only is The Hobbit the first film to be shot and projected this way, but many critics really do not like it.
For those of you living under a rock, HFR is short for High Frame Rate. Film for my entire life and many years before has been projected at 24 frame per second (FPS). This wasn’t always the case but suffice to say that if you’re alive now chances are you’ve only ever seen 24 FPS projection (except maybe at a museum or something).
Why is in this important? Mainly because 24 FPS isn’t really that high, and the reason a lot of things in movies work is that your brain has to fill in so much information between the frames that many effects (practical or digital) only work well because of what isn’t on-screen.
HFR filming and projecting now doubles that frame rate to 48 FPS and the result is that, basically, your brain doesn’t have to work as hard and everything looks much, much, much clearer.
So what does this mean to me? Quite a bit as it turns out because it turns out that I like it. I actually like it quite a bit.
Apparently this means I disagree with the majority of the critics but from what I’ve read most of the critics are just saying “it doesn’t look like a movie” which simply isn’t true. It does look like a movie, it just doesn’t look like movies always have.
There are two noticeable side effects of HFR. The first is that things seem to move faster. This is because your brain isn’t filling in so many gaps like I talked about above but honestly this one goes away quick. It took me maybe 10 minutes to get used to how things appeared in HFR but once I was I felt like I was seeing a movie for the first time.
The other, larger problem is that because there’s so much more information on-screen and because there are so many effects in this movie a lot of them are a lot easier to see and that can sometimes kick you out of the dream, as it were. Some people have complained about being able to see make up effects and props (hello rubber swords!) more easily but this didn’t so much bother me as the digital effects. Green screened shots are obvious and CGI looks… well not cheap, but certainly easier to spot.
But these are quibbles that will go away as effects get better and as more films start shooting this way they’ll have to get better.
I’m not going to lie to you, the technology is new and interesting and not quite there yet but I, for one, can’t wait until HFR is the norm because all our movies are going to look a hell of a lot better once it is.