Will Peter Jackson's speeded-up filming technique catch on in Hollywood in 2013?

Peter Jackson's film is dividing audiences with its high frame-rate. Memphis Barker wonders if we are ready for the future just yet

J RR Tolkien had about as much interest in speeding things up as you'd expect of an old English don. He wrote long books about ancient worlds, added longer back-stories to them, and privately longed for the march of technology to slow down a bit (“I wish,” he once remarked, “that the 'infernal' combustion engine had never been invented”). So it's ironic that the latest adaptation of The Hobbit should be pioneering the speediest frame-rate in cinema history. More fitting, perhaps, is the response – lots of turned up noses, and occasional vomiting from motion-sick punters.

The technicalities behind High Frame Rate (HFR) aren't complicated: in Peter Jackson's new film, Gandalf's not only 3D, he's being projected at 48 frames per second (FPS) – double what has been convention since the late 1920s.

Such speed is closer to what the eye sees naturally, and it brings a silken quality to motion on Middle-earth; swords now slice rather than waft through the air. Bryan Singer, director of The Usual Suspects (1995) and X-Men: First Class (2011), tweeted about his “serious frame rate envy” after a premiere. However, he's one of few top directors to publicise their admiration, and for ordinary movie-goers awe at a visual advance can turn pretty sharply to a kind of strain – or at least it did from my seat at a close-to empty showing last week.

The Hobbit is, as many have already pointed out, arresting to watch in as many bad ways as good. Gone is the dreamy, grained quality that cineastes pant over, replaced with a kind of hyper-reality; you can spend whole scenes fixated by the white frizz in a dwarf's hairdo, or Gandalf's tinted contact lenses. Most unsettling of all, when the heroes first club together at a round table in Bilbo's house, the actors look self-conscious and over-lit, so what's supposed to be an atmosphere of brooding conviviality ends up with about looking like a snapshot from the green room on Jonathan Ross's show – with more make-up and botched nose jobs. This does the film's story-telling story no favours.

In defence of his upgrade, Jackson can rightly call on the force of progress as an ally, saying things like: “Why should we celebrate artefacts that were foisted on us in 1927?” He's probably right too that young people will on the whole be thrilled (though I still have a valid 16-25 railcard, and wasn't). And he may take comfort in this storm of criticism from the support of Avatar director James Cameron, who told an interviewer last year that the question of whether frame rates will increase in the Hobbit's wake is really no question at all.

“We gotta get off 24”, said Cameron – the only choice being between stopping at 48FPS or jumping straight ahead to 60FPS (already in use at Disneyland's Star Tours Attraction, HFR's birthplace). Avatar 2's scheduled 2015 release will showcase a faster rate.

Betting against the likes of Jackson and Cameron, men whose combined lifetime takings stand at £6bn worldwide, doesn't take you very far in Hollywood. But this experiment in speeding things up is no foregone conclusion. In fact, as doyens of film criticism raise a collectively sceptical eyebrow it feels like the argument over HFR is turning into a proxy battle for larger forces – the champions of technological change on one hand versus the slower purists on the other. It's digital vs film. MP3s vs records. Hares against tortoises. And this time it might not be the fastest medium that triumphs. Ultimately, of course, any shift to HFR won't be fought out between critics and studios, but by how audiences react and how much cash studios can take from them. So it's intriguing that accountants lack Jackson's bullish spirit. After poor reviews of the technology at this year's CinemaCon, Odeon switched projectors at a mere 100 of its European cinemas to prepare for The Hobbit, and Warner Bros showed similar caution in America, gearing up just 10 per cent of theatres. Despite all the fuss, only 461 of the 4,045 venues showing The Hobbit can do so as Jackson intended, in 3D at 48FPS: wholesale change will require a lot more satisfied moviegoers (and rich ones, too: my ticket for HFR 3D came in at £22.50).

Perhaps a victory for the tortoises here won't be with the failure of the HFR experiment, but a state of coexistence. As more aficionados return to high-fidelity, older forms of technology, there's growing acceptance that what looks retrograde or technophobic on the face of things might have more to it than just fear of change. A taste for movies at 24FPS won't go up in smoke; and while the newer, speedier format is a clear match for some genres (thrillers and teen movies), from what we've seen of it so far it may be less suited to others (atmospheric dramas like Rust and Bone, or Amour, say).

In the long-term, the odds are with the hares. But the debate reminds me of a scene from The Hobbit where Gandalf is asked why he left Thorin's band. I was “looking ahead”, the wizard answers. So why did he come back? “I was looking behind”. For the moment, The Hobbit hasn't done enough to stop us all from looking over our shoulder.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future