That’s the question you may be asking yourself this weekend: Should I see Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 24 fps or 48 fps?
Wait, what the heck do those numbers even mean?
Frames per second, or “fps,” refers to the number of pictures seen in one second of film. In other words, when you watch a second of film or television, you are watching a specific number of frames. The current standard number of frames per second in the film industry is 24. On television in the United States, the standard is 30.
Peter Jackson decided at the start of filming The Hobbit that the film industry should begin advancing to 48 frames per second to get a crystal-clear picture with moving images that look like they are happening live in front of you.
The reason this wasn’t attempted in the past 90 years is because film stock was quite expensive, and more frames per second meant more money that the studios would have to shell out.
The film industry found that 24 fps (with a little motion blur sprinkled in) was the sweet spot for moviegoers. The fact is, the human eye can theoretically see 100+ fps, but at a certain point it may simply be unnoticeable. Now that film is shot digitally, the cost of an increase in frame rates is negligible.
Any common filmgoer that heads into a 48 fps screening of The Hobbit will absolutely notice the difference in picture quality. Jackson has taken a lot of criticism over his 48 fps decision over the past few months because some scenes look too real.
How can a scene look too real? The answer is simple: We’ve become so accustomed to seeing a movie in 24 frames per second that this suddenly extra clear, extra animated, and extra vivid picture literally looks weird. At first.
Myself and one other Hypable writer attended 48 fps screenings of An Unexpected Journey in recent days. Our main issue with this format came in the first 15 – 30 minutes of the movie. There were moments where gestures and movements would actually look too sped up. In other words, the characters looked like they were moving inhumanly. We almost wanted to leave the theater to ask if there was something wrong with the projector.
While the visuals of Middle Earth are consistently spectacular in the format, CGI-heavy shots suffer as even the most immaculately detailed scenes have their issues. There’s no room for error in the format.
There is good news, however. You begin to grow used to the increase in frame rate and through the final 90 minutes or so, nearly all scenes look “normal.”
So, should you see The Hobbit in 24 fps or 48 fps? Despite its issues, we side with seeing 48 fps because it is what Jackson intended for the audience. It was his original vision. In addition, you get the unique opportunity to look into the future of filmmaking while traveling back to Middle Earth. It’s a very special combination.
With that said, the next time we see The Hobbit we do want to catch it in 24 fps to make sure that Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, actually move like normal human beings and aren’t some sort of super movers.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens Friday, December 14. Read our Hobbit review.