Preview Screeners Balk At 'Hobbit' Frame Rate

Last week at a trade show, film director Peter Jackson previewed 10 minutes from his upcoming fantasy epic, The Hobbit. The response wasn't exactly glowing. Jackson filmed the movie at 48 frames per second, instead of the standard 24 frames per second and viewers said the film looked too glossy. Audie Cornish speaks with Carolyn Giardina about why Jackson shot the film at a different speed.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Peter Jackson, the Academy Award winning filmmaker behind "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, found himself in an uncomfortable spot last week. At an annual convention for movie theater owners, he debuted 10 minutes of his highly anticipated return to Middle Earth, "The Hobbit," and the response was anxiety.

The good news for Jackson is that the crowd wasn't unhappy with the movie itself, but with how he shot it. Now, most movies are filmed at 24 frames per second, but "The Hobbit" is the first big film out of Hollywood filmed at 48 frames per second. To explain what that means and why folks who run America's theaters weren't wild about it, I'm joined by Carolyn Giardina. She covers technology for the Hollywood Reporter.

Hi there, Carolyn.

CAROLYN GIARDINA: Hi. Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So let's start with the basics. What exactly does it mean, 48 frames per second, and how would it really look all that different from 24 frames per second, which is how, you know, movies have been going for ages?

GIARDINA: Well, a frame rate is effectively the number of images that are projected in a second. Proponents believe that it is basically a smoother image. Where I think it's probably the most evident is in action because, at 24 frames per second, if you see the camera moving quickly, then sometimes you might see a sort of jutter or something maybe breaking up a little bit when there's motion and the higher frame rate does make it a smoother image, so for proponents, that's one of the advantages to going to a higher frame rate.

Where the mixed reaction did come from was people who observed that the clips were ultra-sharp and maybe didn't give the look and feel that they were looking for. I mean, keep in mind that it's really an aesthetic look. It's an artistic choice.

CORNISH: But one criticism I saw - I think it was a tweet - sort of likened it to looking like a daytime soap opera.

GIARDINA: Sure. Well, it is sharper. I mean, the short answer is it's sharper, but what I would say is that what they showed was unfinished work. What we saw were clips that haven't been color-graded yet, that the visual effects hadn't, in all cases, been put in yet. So you know, it's not a final project and that should be kept in mind.

CORNISH: Now, I imagine this isn't the only innovation that came out of this conference and it seems as though that theater owners - in trying to get us back to the theaters, pull us away from our iPads in our living rooms - are trying to come up with more ways, more reasons for us to pay for a higher ticket. What are some of the other innovations that you saw?

GIARDINA: One thing that's already happening is we're seeing a move toward higher resolution. Today, the majority of the theaters are showing movies at 2K - and 2K refers to the number of horizontal pixels in a frame. And, already, theater projectors are installed that support 4K, which is four times that amount.

Another thing to consider is the sound. Dolby introduced a new sound format that they're working on. Effectively, what you'd see in the theater is more speakers going all around the auditorium and you'd even see them going across the ceiling of the auditorium to create a more immersive sound.

You know, across the board, we're seeing a lot of innovation in the area of what's possible to create a more immersive theatrical experience.

CORNISH: Carolyn Giardina, thank you so much for talking with us.

GIARDINA: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: Carolyn Giardina is a contributing editor for the Hollywood Reporter, where she covers technology.

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