Cinema & New Media Arts | On Dec 14, 2012
The failure of The Hobbit‘s HFR / 48 fps, therefore, isn’t so much a failure of design as it is a failure of imagination. Imperfect technology can produce striking results (see: early color processes, the clattery sound design of early talkies, ghostly video), but only in the hands of filmmakers who can appreciate (and stylize) its shortcomings. Every technology has its limits (24 fps is no exception), and film style operates by either smoothing over these flaws (as classical Hollywood did) or exploiting them (as a lot of key avant-garde filmmakers have).
The Hobbit’s problem is that it does neither. Instead, it attempts to fit 48 fps motion into a 24 fps visual grammar; the result is a visually-dissonant film that serves mostly as a showcase for the technology’s flaws, and which probably plays better at a halved frame-rate—which is how it is being shown in most theaters—than in its intended format. Without 24 fps’ motion blur, action and editing rhythm are largely out-of-sync, quick camera movement looks jittery, and make-up looks like, well, make-up—which is a problem for a film where every single character is wearing a false nose, a false beard, or at least false ears.