PARK CITY, Utah – Peter Jackson is making his hobbits and dwarves march double-time in his “The Lord of the Rings” prequel, which he’s shooting in a faster film speed than the Hollywood standard.
Jackson hopes the 48-frames-a-second rate — twice the 24 frames that has been the custom since the 1920s — will help bring about a gradual transition to faster speeds that can bring more life-like images and action to the screen.
Digital cameras allow for shooting at 48 frames or faster, reducing the blurry effect known as strobing that can come with 24-frame filming.
Jackson said he hopes there will be a fair number of theatres equipped with digital projectors that can handle the faster film speeds by December, when Warner Bros. will release “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the first chapter in his two-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy classic.
“You shoot at 48, project at 48 and you get an illusion of life that’s remarkable. You don’t realize just how strobing and how flickery 24 frames is,” Jackson said at the Sundance Film Festival, where he presented the documentary “West of Memphis,” produced by him and his wife, “Hobbit” co-writer Fran Walsh. “You look at something at 48 frames, and it looks gorgeous. It looks like real life. It’s amazing.”
Other digital pioneers are making the same push for higher film speeds. “Avatar” creator James Cameron has said he will shoot the sequel to his science-fiction blockbuster at 48 or 60 frames a second.
At the CinemaCon convention for theatre owners in Las Vegas last March, Cameron showed footage he shot at 24, 48 and 60 frames a second. The faster speeds noticeably reduced or eliminated blurriness in action sequences or when the camera panned and dollied down the length of a crowded banquet table.
As Hollywood moved into the digital age, movie makers generally have stuck with the 24-frame speed at which celluloid film moves through cameras and projectors. “The Hobbit” will show that it’s an outdated way to shoot films, Jackson said.
“I’m hoping it’ll be just the first gentle step into changing film rates because we can change them, especially with all the digital technology now,” Jackson said. “Twenty-four is irrelevant. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s just a traditional thing. It’s far from the best visual way to present a film.”
“The Hobbit” has had a hard road to the screen after Jackson’s blockbuster “Lord of the Rings” trilogy,” whose 2003 finale, “The Return of the King,” swept the Academy Awards with 11 trophies, including best picture and director.
Jackson planned only to co-write and co-produce “The Hobbit,” but he stepped in to direct after Guillermo del Toro dropped out because of delays caused by the bankruptcy of MGM, which owned half of the project.
“It’s actually been a reasonably joyous thing to do,” said Walsh, who returned as a co-writer and co-producer. “I’m surprised to say that because I thought it would be very hard. Certainly, it was a difficult birth of this film. It was protracted and fought. … But it’s surprisingly pleasant, if I can use that word. Pleasant. So far. So I hope I haven’t jinxed it.”
The two films are being shot simultaneously in 3-D, with the second one, “The Hobbit: There and Back Again,” due in theatres in December 2013.
British actor Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit who acquires the evil ring that sets the action of “The Lord of the Rings” in motion. Cast members returning from that trilogy include Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving and Andy Serkis.
Jackson joked that the snowy mountains surrounding Sundance’s home in the ski resort of Park City remind him of the heavy workload still ahead on “The Hobbit.”
“We have a hundred days of shooting to go, which still feels like we’re at the bottom of a mountain. I kind of don’t like being in Park City because I look up the mountain, and I kind of think, well, ‘The Hobbit’s’ at the top of that mountain. I’ve got to kind of climb this. It looks pretty daunting,” Jackson said.
Yet Jackson said he’s having a great time revisiting Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
“If I show up at work every day happy to be there and excited about what we’re shooting, to me, that’s always a good sign,” he said. “So I think we’re making a couple of pretty entertaining movies.”