‘Hobbit’ doubles rate of frames

Los Angeles Times


Wendy Aylsworth fixed her eyes on a screen at the Landmark theater in West Los Angeles, carefully studying a scene of hobbits preparing a lavish feast.

“We’re seeing good detail and a richness in the characters,” Aylsworth said. “It’s right on.”

The Warner Bros. senior vice president of technology was reviewing a test reel for the “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and a new projection technique that will show the highly anticipated Peter Jackson movie at 48 frames a second.

The controversial new technology could revolutionize traditional movies, which have been projected at a standard 24 frames per second for almost 90 years. Warner Bros. will become the first studio to release a major Hollywood movie in 48 frames a second when its “Hobbit” premieres in the U.S. on Dec. 14.

The studio has been running the test reel in hundreds of theaters from Los Angeles to Tokyo to Madrid to ensure that the theaters are ready for the rollout of the new technology.

Warner is also hedging its bet: The high-frame-rate version of “The Hobbit” will be shown on only about 450 of the estimated 4,000 screens in the U.S. and Canada that will show the movie.

“When you have something new, you want to make sure it works,” said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner. “This is unique, it’s different, and we’ll have to see how people adjust to it.”

Industry reaction in advance has been a mix of apprehension and excitement.

“We had some theater owners that were disappointed they didn’t get more runs,” John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners. “The difference is obvious and dramatic. The question is whether or not it’s a difference that drives patrons to the theater.”

Jackson and fellow director James Cameron — who plans to release upcoming “Avatar” sequels at the even higher rate of 60 frames a second — have no doubt that it will. They contend that seeing more images each second is more natural because it’s closer to what the human eye actually sees, giving a sharper, more lifelike picture and reducing eyestrain for 3-D movies.

But patrons accustomed to the softer look of traditional film may have to adjust.

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