While growing up I had a bizarre fondness for those old BBC productions of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia novels. They’re awful. The production value is abysmal. The kid actors are just the worst. Lucy has this buck-toothed face that even the most mild-mannered of folks couldn’t resist slappin’ around. Nevertheless, I watched them again and again. I even revisited them on occasion over the years. There’s something warm about them, though most of it has to do with nostalgia.
In related news, I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 48fps 3D yesterday.
I’m absolutely not having a laugh when I say my favorite thing about The Hobbit was the fact that it looked like a BBC TV mini-series with a billion dollar budget. Everything is incredibly crisp, but also unavoidably raw. The high frame rate causes inelegant makeup and conspicuous beards to appear even more so. Sets are just that, as if you’re standing on them before an audience along with the rest of the cast and crew. On the opposite end of the spectrum, wide landscape shots are mind-blowing. Most of the effects come off as either hyper-real or blatantly computer-generated, though it ends up working more often than not. Gollum in particular looks terrific and Andy Serkis should get whatever award is considered the most legitimate for what he did to bring him to life.
It looks unbelievably surreal, it highlights glaring flaws, it’s both maddening and eye-opening, and I loved every minute of it.
I should point out that I generally hate the whole high frame-rate thing. You know how new TV sets come with “flowmotion” or whatever that particular brand is calling it automatically on? I’m the guy who turns it off at other people’s houses whether they asked me to or not. I’m the one who will argue about why it’s good for them that I handle this now, even if they promise they’re used to it and actually prefer it at this point. “No way,” I say, as I grab the remote and perform my heroic duty.
With that said, The Hobbit didn’t change my mind, but it did open another tiny, nearly impenetrable avenue, and that’s mostly because this is how it was intended to be seen. Frankly, anyone who says or thinks 48fps is the future of cinema scares the shit out of me. There’s a reason movies look the way the do—a reason they’re shot the way they’re shot—and try as folks might, this argument isn’t on the same level as folks in the past being stubborn about sound, or color, or whatever you want to throw in there.
Or maybe it is, but either way I can tell you I don’t want even a fraction of films to be shot this way, and that’s because none of those films have the power or money of one of the biggest media franchises of all time behind them. The Hobbit works because it was designed to work that way. Peter Jackson pulled it off because he’s Peter Jackson and he’s insane. And even with all that money, it still looks like an old BBC Narnia production.
But I could have watched it all day.