24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Peter Jackson

CinemaCon: Footage of 'The Hobbit' draws mixed reaction

April 24, 2012 |  3:14 pm

Preview of "The Hobbit" shown at CinemaCon
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.

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Sony Pictures Classics nabs documentary 'West of Memphis'

February 29, 2012 |  5:49 pm

Sony Pictures Classics has acquired "West of Memphis," the Peter Jackson-produced documentary about three men in Arkansas who were imprisoned for 18 years for murdering three boys and released last August after questions were raised about their prosecution and the evidence against them. 

The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, follows the plight of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. They were never fully exonerated in the 1993 murders of the three boys in 1993. To attain freedom, they were forced to enter Alford pleas -- a unique situation in which defendants do not admit guilt, but admit that the prosecution could likely prove the charges. It's regarded in court as a guilty plea. 

Directed by Amy Berg, "West of Memphis" garnered attention at the Sundance Film Festival in January because it included interviews with three new witnesses further implicating a longtime suspect in the case. Many believe it is possible the footage may prompt the Arkansas justice system to take a further look at that suspect -- Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of Stevie Branch, one of the children who was slain. 

Of course, "West of Memphis" is not the first documentary to tackle the intriguing case. "Paradise Lost," a series of three films directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, followed the case for years and has been credited with helping to generate major public interest in the effort to free the three men.

The final film in the trilogy, "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory," was nominated for documentary feature at the Academy Awards last weekend but lost out to the football team drama "Undefeated."

A release date for "West of Memphis" has yet to be set.


West Memphis 3 outcome 'bittersweet,' filmmaker says

West Memphis Three are freed after 18 years behind bars

Sundance 2012: Will 'West of Memphis' lead to new look at case?

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Damien Echols, top left, director Amy Berg and producers Lorri Davis and Peter Jackson at Sundance 2012. Credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Sundance 2012: Will 'West of Memphis' lead to new look at case?

January 21, 2012 |  1:36 pm

West of Memphis premiered at Sundance on Friday
When the West Memphis 3 were freed from prison in August after being imprisoned for 18 years, it was described by many as a bittersweet victory.

While Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelly were released after a years-long legal battle, they were never fully exonerated in the 1993 murders of three young boys in Arkansas in 1993. To attain freedom, they were forced to enter Alford pleas -- a unique situation in which defendants do not admit guilt, but admit that the prosecution could likely prove the charges. It's regarded in court as a guilty plea.

But "West of Memphis," a new documentary produced by Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh, could prompt the Arkansas legal system to reinvestigate who is truly responsible for the 1993 killings. The film, which premiered at Sundance on Friday, largely points the finger at Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of Stevie Branch, one of the boys who was murdered. Throughout the movie, Hobbs is depicted as an aggressive man who beat his former love interests and children. Through private investigator work financed by Jackson and Walsh, Hobbs' DNA was also found to be at the crime scene. But the most damning evidence implicating Hobbs came only weeks ago, when three new witnesses called a private hotline with a tip about Hobbs' involvement.

Photos: The scene at Sundance 2012

The three witnesses were friends of Hobbs’ nephew, Michael Hobbs Jr., who supposedly told his buddies that his uncle was responsible for the murders of the three young boys.

"According to Michael, his dad called this ‘The Hobbs Family Secret’ and he asked us to keep it a secret and not tell anyone," one witness revealed.

But could the new evidence actually spur the Arkansas justice system to take a closer look at Hobbs? In the film, prosecuting attorney Scott Ellington reiterates numerous times that because the West Memphis 3 technically declared they were guilty, the case is pretty much closed.

In a question-and-answer session after Friday's screening, Echols' attorney Stephen Braga said that Ellington is not actually as stubborn as he appears in the documentary.

"Despite what you saw in the film, Ellington said he would investigate any new evidence and has agreed to review [the witnesses' testimony]" Braga said. "It's still possible to do the right thing. The Alford plea is just a stumbling block -- a speed bump."

Jackson said he hopes the documentary, directed by Amy Berg, will serve as a "lesson for the justice system."

"This shows how fragile it is," the filmmaker said. "Is the system wrong, or are people wrong within the system?"


Power of a light

West Memphis 3 outcome 'bittersweet,' filmmaker says

West Memphis Three are freed after 18 years behind bars

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Director Amy Berg, left, Damien Echols, Lorri Davis and producer Peter Jackson at the premiere of "West of Memphis." Photo: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press

'The Hobbit' trailer starts a Peter Jackson countdown [Video]

December 21, 2011 |  9:56 am

There's a lightness to the opening of the trailer for Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey": a sun-drenched field and a bit of name-themed comedy. It's of a piece with the book, which is deemed just a bit lighter than J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Then, of course, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the "Hobbit" gang get down to more serious business: Questing, sword-fighting and high-stakes intonations ("Can you promise that I will come back?" "No. And if you do, you will not be the same.") All of which will no doubt continue stoking the appetite of "Hobbit" fans, who eagerly await two films that Jackson is shooting back-to-back in New Zealand.

Although the "Hobbit" story takes place about 60 years before the "LOTR" trilogy begins, the trailer also includes the much-discussed Frodo connection, which Jackson has inserted into the "Hobbit" to connect the film to his previous franchise.

"My dear Frodo, you asked me once if I had told you everything there was to know about my adventures," an elderly Baggins tells Elijah Wood's character in the film's frame story. "Well, I can honestly say that I told you the truth. I may not have told you all of it."

The trailer first appeared on Facebook, where Warner Bros. has been making promotional bits available. The movie is scheduled to hit in just about a year.


"The Hobbit" finally close to greenlight

Is using Frodo to create an "LOTR"-"Hobbit" connection a good idea?

Saiorse Ronan on "The Hobbit": "Hopefully they have a part for me"

-- Steven Zeitchik

Spielberg's 'The Adventures of Tintin' to close AFI Fest

October 31, 2011 |  3:33 pm

The Adventures of Tintin will close the 2011 AFI Fest
Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" will be the closing night screening at AFI Fest.

The Hollywood festival -- which kicks off Thursday evening with the world premiere of Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar" -- will conclude with a gala screening of the animated 3-D picture on Thursday, Nov. 10.

While the Peter Jackson-produced movie opened in 19 foreign markets this last weekend, the movie doesn't hit theaters in the U.S. until Dec. 21. The film, based on a beloved 82-year-old Belgian comic about a young reporter in search of treasure, is already off to a strong start abroad. Not only did it rake in an estimated $55.8 million overseas over the weekend, but early critical reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. 

For the Fest's 25th anniversary edition, festival director Jacqueline Lyanga said it was special to be opening and closing with big films from two iconic American directors.

AFI Fest is offering free tickets to all of its screenings for the third year in a row. 


Eastwood's 'J. Edgar,' starring DiCaprio, to open AFI Fest

Spielberg's 'Tintin' off to a solid start at European box office

Spielberg's 'Tintin' will open in Europe two months before U.S.

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: A scene from "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Saiorse Ronan on 'The Hobbit': 'Hopefully they have a part for me'

March 25, 2011 |  7:40 pm


Production on "The Hobbit" is already under way in  New Zealand with a diverse cast. But don't rule out the possibility of a star of a previous Peter Jackson film winding up in the two-part epic.

Saiorse Ronan, the breakout "Atonement " actress who worked with Jackson on the 2009 spiritual drama "The Lovely Bones,"  says that while her much-rumored casting in the fantasy franchise isn't "confirmed," she's optimistic that she'll be starring amid the dragons and wizards.

"Pete is adding a lot of characters in the film adaption," she said. "Hopefully they have a part for me."

The 16-year-old, whose action thriller "Hanna" comes out  April 8 (more on her and that shortly), declined to reveal what part she'd play in "The Hobbit." Instead, she offered that "on IMDB they say I'm playing an elf [specifically Itaril, a character not in the novel that was described in casting reports as a young female fighter who falls in love with an elf lord]. "We’ll just have to figure it all out."

Speaking in Los Angeles, Ronan said that the primary reasons she'd want to be involved in the films is Jackson and chance to return to New Zealand, where "Bones" was shot.

"It would be great to go back. I love Pete," she said. "It’s such an amazing family unit down here because it's such a small country, and they use a lot of the same crew [for each film]." (Ronan is currently traveling to promote "Hanna" but could easily jet down to New Zealand once her tour is over.)

Ronan said she hasn't yet read the "Hobbit" script but did read the J.R.R. Tolkien original and found herself enraptured.

"It’s magical and it’s a fantasy, but the characters in this story are also so real," she said. "Bilbo’s such an insecure man. He’s comfortable in his life but he’s kind of reaching out for something else even though he won't admit it."

She expects Jackson to bring a different touch than with his previous Tolkien adaptations. "It's a little bit lighter than 'Lord of the Rings,' and Pete is quite a lighthearted man," she said. "He likes to have fun."

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Sairose Ronan in "The Lovely Bones." Credit: DreamWorks


The Hobbit gets close to greenlight

The Hobbit escapes the trolls

Is using Frodo to create a Hobbit-LOTR connection a good idea?

'The Hobbit' finally escapes the trolls

October 15, 2010 |  7:26 pm

It's taken a long time -- longer than it takes most movies to be shot, released and come out on DVD  -- but "The Hobbit" is now a real film. A pair of them.

After being widely known for weeks that a deal for to finance the Peter Jackson-directed 3-D franchise was coming together, as my colleagues Claudia Eller and Ben Fritz at Company Town have been reporting, the news came officially this evening via press release from New Line and MGM that the movies were going forward (pending a labor dispute between Jackson and performers' unions).

Production on the first film starts in February in New Zealand (again, pending that labor issue). The second gets shot right after, or even overlaps a little with it, and the movies would hit theaters in December of 2012 and 2013.

“Exploring Tolkien’s Middle-earth goes way beyond a normal film-making experience,” Jackson says in the release. "It’s an all-immersive journey into a very special place of imagination, beauty and drama." (And, he might have have added, an all-immersive journey into the vagaries of film financing.)

There are questions both creative and marketing around the next pictures to be adapted from a J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy novel. The technological scope of Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy was groundbreaking, but in a post-"Avatar" world, that bar is now much higher.

And while fanboys will scrutinize the movie with their own lens, the reception among the critics and awards community will be almost as interesting. After all, the third "LOTR" swept through the Oscars, but it took goodwill accumulated from the two previous movies. Will the first "Hobbit" get to build on that or will it need to start from scratch?

There also will be an interesting race to the multiplex between "The Hobbit" and "At the Mountains of Madness," another large-scale fantasy project, this one from the man who for a long time was going to direct "Hobbit," Guillermo Del Toro. Both movies are expected to start production at roughly the same time, and comparisons and what-ifs inevitably will follow.

Today, though, the fans are simply breathing a sigh of relief. Or maybe just fainting.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Peter Jackson and Miranda Otto on the set of "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King." Credit: New Line


The Hobbit movies ready to go, pending labor resolution

Guillermo del Toro opens up on 'The Hobbit': 'It wasn't just MGM'

July 27, 2010 |  7:30 am


As Peter Jackson makes progress -- in theory -- on getting "The Hobbit" moving forward again, Guillermo del Toro has a few things to say about the movie he spent two years developing.

The genre auteur says he has no regrets about departing the New Zealand production, but says that anyone who think that MGM's financial mess was the main culprit for his departure is oversimplifying the issue.

"People kept misconstruing that it was MGM. It came from many factors," Del Toro told 24 Frames in an interview at Comic-Con. "It wasn't just MGM. These are very complicated movies, economically and politically. You have to get the blessing from three studios."
Instead, he said, it was the cumulative effect of all of these problems that began to wear him down. "It was really the fact that every six months we thought we were beginning, and every six months we got pushed [back]. And before you could blink, it was a year, and then it was two years."

So was there was a last straw in this bundle of woes? Some insiders have said that Del Toro and Jackson clashed over creative-control issues. The director said that in all their time working on the movie, he and the "Lord of the Rings" filmmaker were nothing but copacetic, though Del Toro didn't entirely rule out that it one day could have become fraught. "We were at the stage where the collaboration was good. If there were going to be any issues, we never got to that stage [in development]," he said.

Del Toro was in San Diego to tout two Disney projects -- a newly announced reboot of "Haunted Mansion," based on the theme-park attraction, and his latest godfather/producer/co-writer project, the Gothic scare-fest "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," which the studio will release in January.

"Dark," which stars Katie Holmes and remakes a little-known 1973 movie, tells of a young girl who moves into a house with her mother and stepfather and begins to realize there are supernatural beings in the basement who want to pull her down with them. It fits with the themes of Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" and "The Orphanage" (which the filmmaker also godfathered), in which supernatural events reflect more subtle emotional truths.

"We're combining the dark European fairy tales of creatures who would substitute babies, creatures from a world older than ours, and we also borrowed what I think it a very interesting idea from 'The Birds,' where the monsters are a manifestation of the tensions in the family," Del Toro said.  "It's a classic tale with a modern level of intensity."

The genre community has played the game of 'What will Guillermo do (next)?' practically since the moment the auteur left "The Hobbit." While Comic-Con shed light on some of his longer-term projects -- he could eventually direct "Haunted Mansion," he said, but it's not his next movie (Matthew Robbins and he need to write the script first) -- it still left tantalizingly open what he will tackle in the immediate future.

And that future is indeed not far off. In the interview, Del Toro said he would shoot a movie in the first quarter of 2011. The film, he said, was a big movie he'd been writing and developing (so anyone hoping he'd jump on, you know, "Superman: The Man of the Steel" might be disappointed). "It's something that has been with me for a while," he said.

Of course, that still leaves the possibilities pretty open, and gives fans even more to chew on. The new movie could be anything from a new "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde "to a "Van Helsing" reboot to the Roald Dahl adaptation "The Witches" --  but it particularly could be his long-gestating "At the Mountains of Madness," based on the H.P. Lovecraft novella for which he's long professed enthusiasm. We mentioned that title, and Del Toro flashed an impish grin and said, "We'll see."

As for the film he left behind, Del Toro threw his support to the man whom fans have been calling for. "I would love for Peter to direct it." But couldn't that be difficult for Del Toro to watch, knowing it could well have been his own creation? "Parts of it would be, but I'll be really happy to see the designs we did come to life," he said.

Del Toro did still sound a rueful note about his decision to pack his bags and return to Los Angeles without seeing "The Hobbit" through. "It is the hardest professional decision of my life," he said. "I still feel very emotional about it."

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Guillermo del Toro. Credit: Miguel Villagran / Associated Press


Finance and fan boys: How the Wall Street crisis hit Guillermo del Toro and 'The Hobbit'

Guillermo del Toro isn't afraid of...much of anything

Guillermo del Toro scares up a haunted mansion film for Disney

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'District 9' moves into Oscar territory (maybe)

January 5, 2010 |  3:06 pm

District9_poster-689x1024 Like a prawn dropping from a spacecraft, “District 9”  is unexpectedly back in the middle of the awards field.

Or is it?

The South African political allegory/sci-fi thriller this morning nabbed a nomination from the Producers Guild of America for its top film prize, the first best-picture nomination from an industry group that the Peter Jackson-produced sleeper has drawn.

That’s good news for fans of the film, which after previously being mentioned as one of the movies that could benefit from the Oscars' expansion to 10 nomination slots, had kind of fallen off the radar. The PGAs can be a predictive force on the awards circuit: In each of the last five years, four of the five movies that the organization nominated went on to land an Oscar nod for best picture. For those who’d like to see the movie win some Oscar gold come March 7, that’s more good news.

The bad news is that in every one of the past five years there’s also been one PGA nominee that hasn’t made the Oscar list -- and it’s usually a global blockbuster (“The Dark Knight,” “The Incredibles”).

But this year, with both the PGA and the academy switching to 10 slots, it means that by the vast powers of extrapolation and speculation (Oscar pundits’ specialties), there will be two Oscar slots
that the PGAs don’t get right. Given that seven of the other PGA nominees are reasonably strong Oscar candidates ( “Up in the Air,” “Precious,” “Up,” “The Hurt Locker,” “An Education,” “Inglourious Basterds” and “Avatar”) and an eighth (“Invictus”) that also has a pretty good shot, it could make “District 9” and the other summer blockbuster the PGA recognized, “Star Trek,” the odd movies out, and push them off the Oscar list.

Of course, as it has been since the expansion was announced, it’s anyone’s guess what films will be doing the pushing. Never count out a smaller drama having its way with even a serious-minded blockbuster with the academy, as “The Reader’s” triumph over “The Dark Knight” proved last year.

That means prestige films such as the Coen Bros.' “A Serious Man” and Tom Ford's period drama “A Single Man” could get the better of the spaceship sagas. And that's not even counting the lighter summer fare that could nab one of the final slots, particularly “Julia & Julia." If that movie squeezed its way in, the prawns of "District 9" could be, well, cooked.

-- Steven Zeitchik


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