Warner Bros played to a full house this morning for its 2012 product presentation at the enormous Caesars Palace Colisseum theatre on the second day of CinemaCon. One reason was certainly pre-publicity about 10 minutes of footage of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit being debuted in the revolutionary new format of 48 frames per second. The exhibs had to wait until the end of Warner Bros topper Jeff Robinov’s entire presentation to see how this potential game-changer looks. But before they did, Jackson gave them a history lesson on the subject in taped introductory remarks (also shot in 3D but at 24 frames per sec) from New Zealand. That’s where he is working on the first of the two new films, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which opens December 14 (the second follows a year later). Jackson explained as the process got more talked-about in the industry he became intrigued by it and was hopeful Hobbit could be the first mainstream major studio feature to be projected at 48 frames (24 frames has been the norm for the last 80 years). Now having done it, he feels there is no reason at all to stick with 24. “It gives you much more of an illusion of real life; in 3D it also offers much less eye-strain,” he said, adding that with digital technology taking over the exhibition industry now, it’s “simple”, and he asked for the exhibitors’ support. With that, he intro’d 10 minutes of Hobbit footage but warned the crowd that it might take their eyes a little time to get used to. He also noted that the footage was far from finished but that this taste will give them the idea.
No question the crisp, high-def-to-the-max look of the work-in-progress was wildly different and quite startling to those used to film and 24-frame digital 3D. One industry observer next to me said afterwards, “It was like seeing Live From The Met at IMAX. Kinda cold.” Another three-time Oscar winner in attendance who has worked on innumerable classic films told me later, “I think we should let him finish it and see what it’s like then, but it seems a little like the look of a soap opera”. Still another media member thought it looked “extraordinary” but felt the high-defness of it all would deeply divide moviegoers, especially those who like the grain of film.
Of course with every new innovation it takes time to get used to and 10 unfinished minutes isn’t the whole story, but applause from the exhibs was only polite. For me, I’m a purist. I am already kinda missing film. As the clip from the 1957 musical Silk Stockings that opened this morning’s confab reminded, “you’ve gotta have glorious Technicolor, breathtaking Cinemascope and stereophonic sound”.
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