Warner Bros. presented 10 minutes of 3D footage from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at 48 frames per second at the CinemaCon 2012 convention in Las Vegas.
Director Peter Jackson said in a videotaped message that he hopes his movie can be played in 48fps in “as many cinemas as possible” when it opens December 14.
The Hobbit, the first major motion picture to be made at the higher frame rate, closed the Warner Bros. slate presentation Tuesday at CinemaCon.
The new film has been shot at a rate of 48 frames per second, compared with the industry standard of 24 frames.
Frame rate refers to the number of images displayed by a projector within one second. The cinema standard has been 24 fps for many decades. Jackson explained that in the early days of film, silent pictures were shown at an even lower frame rate – reducing the amount of film used – but it was bumped to 24 to support the requirements of sound.
However some attendees claimed the scenes looked like low-budget TV.
In a video introduction, Peter Jackson told the audience that using 48 frames per second produced a smoother image.
“The movement feels more real – it’s much more gentle on the eyes,” he said.
Peter Jackson said the new approach would take time to adjust to and some attendees agreed, branding the footage as a failure in digital technology.
The clips ranged from action sequences to quieter moments, including a dialogue sequence between Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gollum (Andy Serkis). The CinemaCon audience also saw the return of castmembers from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, including Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel) and Orlando Bloom (Legolas).
The Los Angeles Times said the footage was “hyper-realistic”: “An opening aerial shot of dramatic rocky mountains appeared clearer than the images in most nature documentaries.
“But the effect was different when applied to scenes with actors dressed in period costume, whose every move – and pore – was crystal clear,” it added.
One projectionist told the newspaper it “looked like a made-for-TV movie”.
“It was too accurate – too clear. The contrast ratio isn’t there yet – everything looked either too bright or black,” they said.
However the Associated Press reported the footage was “vivid, with grass blades, facial lines and soaring mountains appearing luminous and pronounced. The actors looked almost touchable, as if they were performing live on stage”.
Other digital pioneers are making the same push for higher film speeds.
Avatar creator James Cameron has promised to shoot the sequel to his science-fiction blockbuster at 48 or 60 frames per second.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first chapter in Jackson’s two-part adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s fantasy classic.
The two films were shot back-to-back in 3D, with the second part, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, due in cinemas in December 2013.
On Tuesday, Sony announced that a software update for its digital cinema projection systems would support 48fps and be available in the fall. Sony expects the majority of its 13,000 installed 4K digital cinema projectors to support high frame rates by the time The Hobbit is released.
The Hobbit will also be available in 24 fps.
Peter Jackson’s Rings trilogy resulted in an estimated $2.9 billion at the global box office and a combined 17 Academy Awards.