Has Peter Jackson Lost it Shooting The Hobbit at 48fps?

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

It’s called the Soap Opera Effect.  It’s that plastic, highly detailed, yet false looking image you see when watching a movie on an HDTV at 120hz or higher.  Engineers call it motion interpolation, the inserting of frames via algorithm, which provides great detail, but also minimizes motion blur.  It’s great for sports, but not so much for watching movies.  And it seems that it’s bitten Peter Jackson and his production of The Hobbit, which was shot in 3D on the RED Epic at 48 frames a second.  And the word is, it’s in danger of being The Hobbit’s downfall.

“The 48fps footage I saw looked terrible. It looked completely non-cinematic. The sets looked like sets,” –  Devin Faraci, Badass Digest.

Warner Brothers had invited several “bloggerati” and other journalists to view the first 10 minutes of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at a screening during CinemaCon.  Jackson has been shooting The Hobbit in 3D on the RED Epic and many thought the sweeping helicopter shots were stunningly beautiful, saying that the future of documentaries can easily be seen.  But for a dramatic film, many complained that shooting digitally in 48 frames per second simply stripped the film of it’s cinematic nature.  One reporter lamented on their blog … “Oh Peter Jackson, what have you done?!’

It was as if the film looked “too realistic,” like a behind the scenes video you’d watch on the Blu-ray after seeing the film itself. Others have mentioned that it looks like a PBS Video production from the 70s, or an episode of the original video production of Doctor Who.  One journalist even mentioned the ill dated decision by Rod Serling and CBS brass to switch from Film to Video for one season of the Twilight Zone, making it look like live television.    And that can’t be good.

Now to be fair, it wasn’t all negative.  Some felt that 48fps brought 3D into greater relief, improving the effect.  Some felt that there will be a hard learning curve for lighting this new technique, but were excited by what they saw.  And some felt that 48fps may be the ticket for nature documentaries.  But for the cinematic nature of a major motion picture?  What are they thinking?

The idea behind Jackson’s decision to shoot The Hobbit at 48 fps may have been to give the viewer a more immersive experience, like they were there amongst the action. But from the reactions after the screening, it may have actually achieved the exact opposite effect:

This undeniable “reality” kept pulling me out of the movie rather than immersing me fully into its world as the Lord of the Rings films did; the very fantasy element, the artifice of it all (whether it’s the wigs, fake beards or CG monsters) was plainly, at times painfully, evident. – Jim Vejvoda, Editor IGN Movies.

It’s obvious that digital filmmaking is a juggernaut that’s powering the industry right now.  The economics demand it, the science of technological advancement makes it thrilling to see it evolve.  And in the right hands, that technology can be an effective tool.  But the art of the film story, it seems, is being sacrificed for the science of it.  And I’m not really sure that’s what most movie goers want.  They don’t want to see the makeup caked on the actor’s face or see a piece of set footage held up with gaffers tape (as one reviewer put it).  They want to be told a story and get lost in it, like the epic Lord the Rings trilogy did so effectively.

Some also postulate that if The Hobbit tanks due to this new 48 fps format, that RED will actually take the most hit, since the Epic was used to film it and RED has a lot invested in it’s success.  I don’t know about that.  Sure, they’ll take a black eye, but that’s like blaming paratroopers in Operation Market Garden for it’s defeat during World War II and not General Montgomery who pushed for it’s action.

“There are going to be endless debates about 48FPS and how good/bad it looks. I just think we need to get used to change after 80yr of 24FPS.” –  Alex Billington, First Showing on Twitter

I think Billington is right.  But in the end, the means to tell a story should disappear while the story is told, subtly moving it along while we’re lost in the tale.  But it seems that Peter Jackson may not let us forget it with The Hobbit.  Here’s hoping they see the response from this screening and realize their folly before it’s too late.  But if, like Gollum, they consider this process too  precious … well, we know how that ended up.




About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.


  1. The same sort of “But it’s Not Cinema!” comments were made when Sound was added, when color was added, so let it be when we reach the point where the technical limitations of the medium are reduced. There may be stories that benefit from “a view through the glass darkly” as there are stories that benefit from black & white. However most of the viewers will enjoy the experience of seeing Peter’s new world through a “clean Window”. Remember, “The Wizard of Oz” ran the first 20 minutes in B&W from the same sort of fears.

  2. Alex Atkin UK says:

    I seem the be the only person who prefer the soap opera effect over the judder-vision that is 24fps.

    I utterly HATE 24fps, I like the be able to appreciate the detail in a scene and 24fps just doesn’t give you the chance. It also gets worse as the screen get bigger (so larger sections change more dramatically from frame to frame) so 48fps is an awesome idea for cinema.

    People need to get over the strange delusion than 24fps is cinematic and anything higher is not. I’m sure there was the same complaint when photography went to colour, then when TV went to colour. People will get over it and realise it IS better.

    I know people who still say HD is a gimmick, because they have only seen poor implementations. Its just a matter of time.

  3. Richard Lund says:

    We have little to fear here. Between now and December Peter and company can figure out what to do with the extra frames- keep them, throw them away, or use them when needed. Most theatres around the world will likely not project the film in 48fps anyway. We expect the final film to be cropped from the Epic sensor, have a lot of compression, be filtered by projection lens dirt and less than perfect screens, and for our senses to be grabbed by imaginative sound design.
    John DeCuir told me about Edison’s notes, as he was fond to do. He said that at 60fps that we humans start to see 3D without help from shutters, glasses, or Polaroid®. So whatever Peter Jackson has found, let him have his head here, I say. He did well before and has enough budget to fix the problems. We used to dupe the scenes before and after the “trick shots” in the old days and not stay on them very long. I say let us trust the man in the driver’s seat for the price of our movie tickets, at least.

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