C'mon Hollywood: Stop force feeding us gimmicks!
This week many of us will venture back to Middle Earth with Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY and a large percentage will see it all unfold in 48 frames-per-second, the now infamous “technique” that has swayed critics in a very negative way. While there are some who have championed the new frame rate, most seem disappointed and baffled with its quality. For many, the biggest gripe is simply…why?
Peter Jackson is a phenomenal filmmaker and deserves his accolades. However, the new frame rate push seems to come off as more of a “because we can” more so than a “because we should.” It’s not a format that audiences have been begging for, anymore than the advent of 3D or IMAX, which has taken the industry by storm. In fact, audiences don’t seem to be clamoring for anything more than a good show, but are now inundated with the traveling medicine show of gimmicks and cures in the form of new technology that is “the way of the future.”
With more and more people staying home to watch movies and TV it’s becoming harder and harder to get people into the theater. With obnoxious patrons, overpriced concessions, and a weakened economy, the prospects of heading to your local multiplex can be a daunting and expensive task, rather than a pleasurable and worthwhile experience. Hollywood has recognized this, but instead of putting the quality into the stories themselves, they’re slowly falling back on smoke and mirrors (almost literally) to trick audiences into theaters.
The problem? Well, it’s kind of working. Despite what many of the hardcore movie fans may feel about it, 3D is still bringing in big bucks at the box office, especially in foreign markets (China currently has more 3D theaters than any other nation) with the number of 3D films being released steadily increasing in 2013 and beyond. In short, it’s here to stay.
Not only has 3D solidified its place in theaters, but IMAX, the larger-than-life cinematic experience that seeks to give you more screen for your buck, has as well. And, for the most part, they do, but only when shot with actual IMAX cameras. Things get tricky when Hollywood screens movies that weren’t shot on IMAX cameras on IMAX screens, essentially selling you a Ferrari with no wheels. In the words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!”
Personally, I think IMAX is a terrific venue when it uses the right equipment. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and SKYFALL all make ample use of the format, providing a bigger and better cinematic experience, but not one that cheapens the overall film when viewed in non-IMAX. However, like up-converted 3D, IMAX can up-convert non-IMAX films to play on their screens, essentially stretching the film to fool audiences into thinking they’re getting more, when all they’re really getting is a zoomed-in screen. That, my friends, is called a cash grab.
Fortunately, nobody is trying to bring back smell-o-vision, right? Wrong. Yes, that’s right, there is a tremendous momentum to create a full-on, five senses experience at the movies, with industry “pioneers” attempting to turn the movies into a theme park ride, complete with swaying and vibrating seats, “butt-and-back ticklers,” water jets, air jets, wind fans, scent effects and more. I wish I was joking, but I’m not. And while I can see how some of that could be interesting or fun, it gets to the point of asking just what exactly IS a cinematic experience? Is it watching a story or becoming part of it?
I remember experiencing the TERMINATOR 2 3D experience at Universal Studios a few years ago, complete with pretty much everything outlined above and it was a decent enough “ride,” but in the end it felt like a cheap gimmick that I easily would’ve traded for a third full-length feature directed by James Cameron, rather than a lame theme park attraction that hinted at it. It ultimately separated the experience and made it something else. If I want to ride a rollercoaster, I’ll do so. However, that experience doesn’t have to be initiated into every experience of my life to a literal degree.
The important thing to keep in mind about the impending (?) evolution of 48fps is that, like the use of slow motion or varying film stock, it’s more of a filmmaking tool than a revolutionary step in the art of film. In fact, so is 3D, IMAX, and everything else that the “road-show doctors” are trying to sell us. Trying to convince us that it’s the future just feels like a con. It’s not “the” future. It’s just another new gimmick we have to contend with. Maybe it’ll take hold, maybe not, but it’s still a gimmick, just like HD, which happened to work out. I can’t watch a movie any other way now.
I haven’t seen THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY yet and am on the fence about seeing it in 48fps. I feel like I should see it in that format, as the conmen have done a fine job of selling it like the latest and greatest, but I have an awful hunch that I’ll leave the theater feeling duped. And that’s the rub. I love the art of film and love seeing it in all its splendor, but at what point is enough, enough?
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, nor does it mean that it’s the future. It just means that you’ve got more options, which don’t necessarily trump the one to simply make a good movie without bells, whistles, smoke, and mirrors. I’m fine with innovation, but at the speed it’s happening the process is becoming asinine and bordering dangerously close to blurring the lines of what watching a movie is all about.
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|Extra Tidbit:||How do you feel about so many different types of technologies being thrown at us? Is it technological innovation or a cash-grab gimmick?|