Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Innovators

FACT: Up to 10 minutes of Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY has been screened during a Warner Bros. presentation at CinemaCon, the annual theatre-owners summit in Las Vegas. What makes this screening special is that the film will be shown at its native 48 frames per second, which may be a new industry standard if Jackson, James Cameron, and Douglas Trumbull (visual effects pioneer) get their way.
Frame rate is the number of images displayed by a projector within one second. The cinema standard has long been 24 fps. The new 48 fps is believed to give audiences a crisper experience in scenes involving a lot of motion, provide more detail, and a sense of mass to CGI creations. With James Cameron planning on shooting his next two AVATAR films at 60 fps, theatres across the country are expected to be outfitted with the digital projectors capable of keeping up.

Meanwhile, at the Batcave…

It has been learned that Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Batman finale, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, will contain the most IMAX footage ever for a Hollywood feature, more than an hour’s worth. While other films this year (THE AVENGERS, DARK SHADOWS, PROMETHEUS 3D) will also be shown in IMAX theatres, Nolan’s film is the only one actually shot with IMAX cameras; the others were converted over.

IMAX increases the resolution of the image by using a much larger frame than standard film; IMAX is 65-70mm, standard film is 35mm. Nolan shot and used 40 minutes of IMAX in his last Batman film, THE DARK KNIGHT. The IMAX footage in KNIGHT stands out in the Blu-ray release; the widescreen vanishes and the picture fills the frame (no black bars).
OPINION: A long time ago, a young filmmaker by the name of George Lucas had to invent new technologies in order for his vision of STAR WARS to come to life, and the technical side of movie-making was changed forever. Now, we have Cameron, Jackson, and Nolan following in ol’ George’s footsteps.

Nolan might not be re-inventing any wheels in his usage of IMAX (the format was first introduced in 1929), but he is using the format the right way; making big things look big. The wide-shot landscapes of Gotham (actual location: Chicago) in THE DARK KNIGHT were stunning; pulling the audience in whether they liked it or not. It’s Nolan’s creative eye that seems well-suited to the giant IMAX screens, and he will seemingly continue to improve upon the format in the years to come.
Peter Jackson has a bit of a bigger sell to make with his new-found love for the 48 fps. The higher frame-rate takes some getting used to; the sharpness of the image and lack of blur in the motions is nearly unnerving for people to watch, as their eyes and brains struggle to keep up with the overflow of visual information. It is said that 48 fps loses that “cinema filter” which has always separated audiences from the movie, making the realism a little too real. Jackson and Cameron may very well spark a new war amongst audiences which will make 2D vs. 3D look like a schoolyard scuffle. But the 24 fps was likely overdue for an upgrade; it was chosen 100 years ago only because that’s what technology dictated at the time, and the industry stuck with it despite the eventual opportunities to progress forward (Roger Ebert has been pushing 48 fps for years).

The 48 fps debate has already kicked up a shitstorm of controversy, but aside from that, a lot of credit has to be given to Jackson, Nolan, and Cameron. These guys know that the industry that they love is on the cusp of a technological revolution, and have no fear in stepping over it. What they are experimenting with and creating today will undoubtedly affect the films our children will be watching as adults.

What say you?

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