CinemaCon: Footage of 'The Hobbit' draws mixed reaction
Last year at the theater owners' CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas, James Cameron put together a lengthy presentation touting the virtues of faster frame rates. This year, exhibitors were able actually to see the new technology put to the test in a feature film with 10 minutes of footage from Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
Jackson has shot the new film, due out in December, at 48 frames per second. For roughly 80 years, the standard industry frame rate -- the frequency at which images are projected -- has been 24 frames per second (Hence the name of this blog). Cameron, incidentally, has vowed to shoot the sequel to "Avatar" at an even quicker rate of 60.
In a filmed video message from New Zealand shown to exhibitors Tuesday, Jackson implored theater owners to project his new film at 48 frames per second. The new speed, he said, gives the "illusion of real life, where movement feels smoother, and you're not dealing with strobing."
Indeed, the footage shown did seem 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. Such realism put off some trade show attendees, who complained the footage didn't feel enough like a traditional film.
"It looked like a made-for-TV movie," said one projectionist, who requested anonymity because of his affiliation with a competing studio. "It was too accurate -- too clear. The contrast ratio isn't there yet -- everything looked either too bright or black."
One Los Angeles-based film buyer was more enthusiastic, saying that, though he felt like the footage looked live, he still found the technology intriguing.
"The question is if people want to watch movies that really look real or not. I was expecting a subtle difference, but this was dramatic," he said. "Might that work against a narrative? I don't know. But I'm not going to judge it based on 10 minutes."
"The Hobbit" footage was part of a Warner Bros. presentation that also included glimpses of highly anticipated projects like "The Great Gatsby" and "The Dark Knight Rises." Baz Lurhmann sent in a video message from Australia to introduce his 3-D adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, which seems to focus heavily on the romantic relationship between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan. Christopher Nolan was on hand to present some brief snippets of the new Batman movie, while Tim Burton brought out surprise guest Johnny Depp to drum up interest in their "Dark Shadows."
While Depp's appearance didn't generate as much excitement in the audience as did Sacha Baron Cohen's on Monday night, many in the crowd still seemed pleased by the arrival of the A-lister. Not that he hung around for long. Dressed in his typical funky garb -- a long scarf hanging from his pants pocket and a pair of dangly earrings lost in his hair -- Depp walked on stage for about a minute, said "have fun," and immediately retreated.
— Amy Kaufman in Las Vegas
Photo: Martin Freeman stars in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." Credit: James Fisher/New Line Cinema.