By: Michael Bergeron
When I was a senior in high school (100 years ago), they showed Citizen Kane in 16mm to the students. There were two viewing groups divided by the first letter of the last name. I was in the first group and when the second group began watching, I was in drama class -which was located right behind the auditorium stage where the film was playing. So a friend and I climbed up onto the catwalk where you hang lights for the stage and waited until the end of the film. When Rosebud appeared, we took a rubber chicken on a rope and swung it down right in front of the screen so you had the shadow of the chicken swinging in front of the burning sled. I guess my point is that I became a film critic in order to atone for the sins of my youth.
Flash forward to 2012. When I was a kid this was the year that we were supposed to have already colonized the Moon and physically been to Mars. All the time I meet people who say they haven’t seen Citizen Kane or A Clockwork Orange, ditto any of the films of Alfred Hitchcock. I am so envious of those people because, in a sense, they still have some of the greatest experiences of their lives ahead of them. (In addition to traveling to the Great Pyramids or the Grand Canyon or reading a good book.)
Every movie year has it peaks and valleys. Obviously the studios sandbag the end of the year with movies they expect to receive accolades (Les Miz, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, et al.). But any self-aware movie maven knows there are excellent films that fall outside the realm of major studios and their advertising budgets each and every month of the year: Compliance, God Bless America, Damsels in Distress, Safety Not Guaranteed. Throw in foreign films, revivals, and the ever increasing do-it-yourself movement that manifests itself via streaming electronic downloads and you could spend your entire life watching nothing but movies. But yes, all play and no work makes Jack a dull boy.
Just as 2012 has acknowledged the triumphant return of great American directors like Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino, 2013 may be viewed a few months from now, as the year that foreign helmers from South Korea got their due. Jee-woon Kim (I Saw the Devil) helms the Schwarzenegger drug cartel actioner The Last Stand (out in January), and Oldboy director Park Chan-wook has his Hitchcock tribute Stoker scheduled for release in March from Fox Searchlight. Stoker is loosely based on Hitch’s 1943 Shadow of a Doubt, wherein a young woman falls under the dubious influence of her Uncle Charlie. Also, there’s a 2013 American remake of Oldboy on the docket that’s directed by Spike Lee and stars Josh Brolin as the imprisoned man.
But if anything heralds a game change for 2012, it would be the introduction of advanced frame rate projection. It’s beyond the scope of this article to elucidate the history of frame rate as it pertains to persistence of vision and movie projection. Suffice it to say that most current theatrical projection has seen the replacement of analog mechanical projectors with digital projection operating on the premise of 24 frames a second. Considering that there’s a black horizontal line between each frame that’s roughly 48 images a second that the eye beholds. (If you’re interested in a pioneer in advanced frame rate filmmaking look up Douglas Trumbull and his experiments with the process Showscan).
Beginning with the release of The Hobbit (Warner Bros.), theaters will introduce screenings with a frame rate of 48fps. Director Peter Jackson shot The Hobbit using the Red Epic camera shooting at 48fps. On a side note, The Hobbit will be a trilogy prequel to Lord of the Rings with an installment rolling out every year for the next three years. The three films are titled An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug, and There and Back Again.
As usual, Hollywood has labeled the advanced frame process with an acronym that also acts as a branding moniker. HFR3D, which stands for High Frame Rate 3D, will hopefully prove to be the same kind of advancement in watching cinema that sound was to silent. In this case, a refinement in the flicker rate that translates into a greater perception of objects in movement. Think action sequences and rapidly-edited fight scenes.
As always, the average bear will merely be confused when they see a film advertised as being in 2D, 3D, IMAX 3D, and HFR3D. Happy trails and just keep repeating – it’s only a movie.