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Too Real?: Middle Earth and 'The Hobbit' at 48 frames per second

Still from the film
Still from the film "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
New Line Cinema
Still from the film
Still from "The Hobbit."
New Line Cinema
Still from the film
Director Peter Jackson emerges from from a Hobbit house before delivering a speech at the "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" World Premiere at Embassy Theatre on November 28, 2012 in Wellington, New Zealand.
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

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Peter Jackson is known in Hollywood and around the world for making visually captivating films including The Lord of the Rings films, an updated version of King Kong, and most recently “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” While Jackson’s latest film, the first of three following Bilbo Baggins’ fantastical journey, has garnered a lot of attention, not all of it has been positive.

In order to fully understand why, a little Film School 101 is required. Most feature films are recorded at the standard film projection rate of 24 image frames per second because seeing that number of images per second is enough to trick the human brain into processing flickering still images as actual movement. Jackson, however, decided to not only film “The Hobbit” in 3D, but also at 48 frames per second – twice the normal rate.

This may sound impressive, but audiences and film critics alike are having mixed reactions. New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane remarked “HD has the unfortunate effect of turning every film into what appears to be a documentary about a film set, not just warts-and-all but carefully supplying extra warts where a wart has no right to be.”

According to scientists and researchers in the field of consciousness perception, the human brain perceives reality at a rate somewhere between 24 fps and 48 fps, and there’s a “sweet spot” somewhere in between. Going beyond that rate, they say, spoils the perception of reality. If you’ve seen “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” at 48 frames per second, what did you think? Did you find that it bring you closer to the action? Do all those extra frames diminish the cinematic experience?


Claudia Puig, film critic for KPCC and USA Today

James Kerwin, film and theatre director whose credits include the feature film "Yesterday Was a Lie,” and a frequent lecturer on the science of film perception and frame rates.