The Hobbit only playing 48fps in a few cities

Most of the directors with a big boner for 3D – James Cameron, Peter Jackson – claim many of the problems people have with 3D – that it’s disorienting, that it’s hard to follow quicker camera movements – can be solved with higher frame rates. But when Peter Jackson debuted some 48 fps footage at CinemaCon (twice the normal 24 fps for film) back in April, the response was, shall we say, mixed. He later declined to show any 48 fps footage at Comic-Con, and now Variety reports that the 48 fps version, at least in the case of part one of Jackson’s now three-part Hobbit series “will go out to only select locations, perhaps not even into all major cities.”

Just don’t let Peter Jackson hear about this, he might try to shoot a whole other version.

According to source familiar with Warner’s release plans for Peter Jackson’s first “Hobbit,” the HFR version will go out to only select locations, perhaps not even into all major cities. People who have seen much of the film in 48 frames-per-second 3D tell Variety the picture now looks vastly better than the test footage shown this April at CinemaCon, which had not yet undergone post-production polishing and got a mixed reception from exhibitors.

In case you’re wondering, yes, “HFR” does seem to stand for “high-frame rate.” Real scientific, there, guys.

But the studio still wants to protect the format by going into a limited release for the HFR version, hoping to test the marketplace and expand the HFR release for the second and third installments — provided auds are enthusiastic. As of now, there are still no theaters ready for HFR projection, though some require only a software upgrade that will be ready in September. Warners is satisfied with the pace of efforts to ready theaters for HFR.

Considering these audiences are people dying to see nine more hours of Hobbitry, yeah, I’m guessing they’re going to be enthusiastic.

Since Jackson is capturing at 48 frames per second, it actually requires some expense to down-convert it to 24, the frame rate at which most theaters will play it. Filmmakers can’t simply drop every other frame; they must add motion blur or the picture looks choppy.

But d-cinema systems weren’t originally conceived for a 3D, high-frame-rate world — not all digital cinema projectors can even make the switch. The early generation of d-cinema projectors, dubbed “Series 1,” simply aren’t capable of showing high frame rate 3D.

More recent “Series 2” projectors can be upgraded, but the expense and difficulty of those upgrades varies. Theaters storing digital prints on a server, for instance, need to attach to each projector hardware called an “Integrated Media Block.”

The easiest upgrade is for a series 2 projector that already has an IMB; in that case, the switch to 48 fps is just a software upgrade. Most recent “Series 2” installed used IMBs.

Each of the makers of the most popular 3D projection systems (RealD, MasterImage, Xpand and Dolby) says its systems are either HFR ready or easily upgradable, though several doubt each others’ claims. One thing that won’t be happening soon is a combination of 4K resolution — which is already in some theaters — 3D and high frame rates. Today’s gear and networks can’t handle that much data.

“That’s going to be a forklift upgrade when that comes about,” said Shaw. “That would require a full-scale replacement of all of the equipment in a movie theater.” [Variety]

I didn’t really care what they did with the frame-rates on the Hobbit movies, because I’d honestly rather sit through a timeshare presentation at a Coldplay concert than nine more hours of that. You made three movies out of three books, and now you’re going to make three movies out of one book??? Half of that book was songs! But if they’re forcing theater owners to choose high-frame rate 3D upgrades over 2D resolution upgrades… well, I’ll probably just keep whining impotently like the powerless shitheel I am, but I’ll tell you this, I’m not going to be happy about it. I’m not going to be happy at all. YOU WILL RUE THIS DAY, PETER JACKSON!