News Column

Does 'Hobbit' Make People Sick?

Dec. 10, 2012

James Verniere, Boston Herald

Holy Bag End, Bilbo, my eyes! Just kidding. The Internet is abuzz with rumors, which Warner Bros. attributes to two anonymous sources, that the studio's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is making viewers sick. Not me, folks, and I just saw it yesterday. The film didn't make me feel a bit woozy or headachy, and I don't believe anyone else is going to have a real problem.

The supposed sickness has been linked to the film's "frame rate" or fps (frames per second) combined with the 3-D image. "The Hobbit" was shot in 3-D at 48 frames per second, instead of the industry standard 24, and yes, it looks unlike any film I have seen on a big screen.

All I can say for now (my review of the film will come later) is that it looks weirdly like HDTV on a big screen, like Tolkien as Monday Night Football, and it further blurs the line between cartoon animation, computer-generated images and live-action.

Film is a series of still photographs, and 24 frames per second became the standard because it was a rate at which the human eye could not detect flickering and it supported the requirements of sound. Switching to a higher rate such as 48 fps results in a much sharper, brighter image. In fact, the lighting in "The Hobbit" often looked like it was coming out of a blast furnace.

Earlier this year, a 10-minute "sizzle reel" of clips of "The Hobbit" at 48 fps shown at CinemaCon divided the audience of fans and bloggers (later, at ComicCon, footage was shown at 24 fps). According to the website The Wrap, some viewers at CinemaCon said the footage was more telenovela or TV soap opera than like "Avatar." I concur. This 48 fps "Hobbit" certainly looks more "real," even "hyper-real" as some are saying, but hyper-reality might not be what you want in a fantasy film.

According to none other than James Cameron, who intends to use a higher frame rate for the "Avatar" sequels, it delivers a "heightened sense of reality." But if it makes you notice the sets and causes you to be acutely aware of the hair and makeup, is it a good thing?

Complaints about discomfort caused by films are nothing new. Audiences who first saw Auguste and Louis Lumiere's 1895 silent film "Train Arriving at a Station" reportedly gasped and screamed, while some tried to flee for their lives, thinking it was a real train coming at 'em.

Source: (c)2012 the Boston Herald Distributed by MCT Information Services

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