Peter Jackson may be a brilliant director, but he has no sales skills. There’s a sense that he likes to remain tucked away in New Zealand, press “play,” and without having the mind to face and connect with his audience, expect that they’ll appreciate his latest work. Unfortunately for Mr. Jackson, his blind spot led him to explaining himself in the press. Certainly not the best way to sell one’s creative decisions.
It goes without saying that the 10 minute preview of Hobbit in 48 fps per eye 3-D at CinemaCon didn’t go as well as planned. Unfortunately, the audience and the press connected every flaw seen as if caused by the higher frame rate of the clips. However, what they mostly saw was the lack of color timing and contrast adjustment, due to the unpolished nature of the footage. 3-D also has the effect of bringing sharpness to edges, which added to the “video” look. The overall reaction was a deserved response, but it should be tempered with understanding.
Interestingly, not all people saw it the same way. One Warner executive hinted ahead of time that everyone over 40 would struggle with it, eager to add motion blur or film grain. Your author squirmed while watching it, as those same thoughts bantered around in my head. The same Warner executive thought her boys would love it. Which is the final blow, that we’re too ingrained in our ways to get it.
But before writing off age, a reality check was in order. The 10 minutes of Hobbit was not the only higher frame rate clip shown at the trade show. Dolby presented the final version of its “carousel” shots at both 48 and 60fps per eye, produced by Loren Neilson. Dolby’s clips were not intended for release in a movie, but clearly were post produced and color timed, emphasizing only the reduction of motion blur in HFR in an interesting and cinematic fashion. In terms of personal esthetics, Dolby’s clips were in stark contrast to those of Hobbit. Similarly, Christie Digital ran Jim Cameron’s polished HFR clip shown the year before. (Notably, Mr. Cameron introduces his clip as “available for anyone to use,” failing to note that he has agreed to only allow Christie to use it.) But Mr. Cameron is not only a first class director, but also a first class salesman. He judiciously employed a smoke machine in his scenes to soften the effect that 3-D has on edges. The result is that the Cameron clip effectively tells the story of improved clarity and reduced motion blur as the camera pans quickly, while delivering a strong “filmic” look. Again, no objections were running through this viewer’s mind when watching Cameron’s HFR.
One of the skills of a good director is to know how to pull the best out of a shot. If one is accustomed to taking a raw shot from a quality camera and running it through Photoshop, “pulling the best out of a shot” has meaning. But for an audience whose experience with computers is largely limited to word processing and email, those words simply have no experience upon which to rest. Peter Jackson is clearly excited about his movie, and he has time and budget in which to make it spectacular. No doubt his movie will look different than had it been shot at 24 fps per eye. It’s equally unlikely that they’ll look the same as seen at the conference. Better that Peter Jackson introduce HFR to the world, than a filmmaker with a low budget.