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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea