Director Peter Jackson on the set of "The Hobbit"
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(USA Today by Brian Truitt) SAN DIEGO- Peter Jackson raised the bar for fantasy popularity 11 years ago with the first of three The Lord Of the Rings films.
With his latest J.R.R Tolkien adaptation, he aims to do the same with a new movie technology.
Directed by Jackson, the LOTR prequel The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (out Dec. 14) is being filmed at 48 frames per second - the first major theatrical movie that's not 24 fps - to mold a more immersive cinematic world and also create a smoother 3-D that will reduce eye strain.
"The entire industry is in some respect waiting to see what happens with The Hobbit. I'm very happy to be the guinea pig," says Jackson, who appeared at a Warner Bros. panel for The Hobbit last week at Comic-Con.
Check out 'The Hobbit' movie trailer
Using 48 fps "gives you an illusion of life that's so much more vivid than 24 frames does," he says. "You suddenly have no strobing, no motion blur, no flicker."
Filmmakers and technicians have been interested in higher frame rates for decades, Jackson says. But while 35-mm cameras could film at 48 fps, they were hamstrung by projectors that couldn't match that evolution. "Unless you somehow got the entire industry to buy new projectors overnight, it was not something that was ever possible."
Whole new worlds
Newer digital projectors, however, are capable of projecting 48 fps, and in a heavily computer-generated movie like The Hobbit, there's an incredible effect on the relationship between a live-action and a CG character, says Andy Serkis, who plays the wrinkled, inhuman role of Gollum in The Hobbit.
"At 24 frames a second, there's always a sense that they slightly inhabit different worlds, but that's one of the great moves forward. (At 48 fps) your brain processes it in a completely different way and you cannot help but believe that these two beings exist in the same space and time."
Does fast film look too real?
Though Jackson and fellow filmmaker James Cameron are proponents of the technology, some in Hollywood aren't ready. Jackson presented 10 minutes of Hobbit footage at Cinema-Con in April, and many thought it looked too realistic and akin to a soap opera - not enough like a movie.
But Jackson predicts that by the time The Hobbit is released, there will be several tent-pole studio movies that will be using the technology. If not, he says, the industry might as well throw in the towel.
"While audiences are dwindling, while kids don't come to the movies anymore because they're happy to watch films on their iPads, do we all sit back and celebrate the technology of 1927 and say, 'Wow, let's not do anything with it because that's the look of cinema'? Or do we try to get all these audiences to come back to the movies by saying, 'You know what, this is really cool'? It's going to be like you're really there."