Just as the original Avatar was a game-changer for 3D, James Cameron might break new ground again with the sequels.
Although Peter Jackson was the first director to shoot a major feature film (three of them, actually) in what is now called "high frame ratio" (HFR) -- filming The Hobbit movies at 48 frames per second instead of the industry standard 24 -- James Cameron has been eyeing the technology for years and actually encouraged Jackson to take the leap.
Even before Jackson released his first Hobbit movie (An Unexpected Journey), Cameron had been telling people that he wanted to take the format a step further and shoot the Avatar follow-ups at 60 frames per second -- another huge leap forward (along with shooting them in 3D and 4K resolution, of course).
But now another possibility has come into play, thanks to visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull. The legendary Trumbull, whose achievements include 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, has developed a new process called MAGI that shoots at the blazing speed of 120 frames per second -- and he says that Cameron might be interested in checking it out.
Trumbull told the Hollywood Reporter that he will take a meeting soon with Jon Landau, Cameron's producing partner, to show him a short film called UFOTOG that will display the MAGI process. Would Cameron be interested in shooting Avatar in this format? Trumbull doesn't know, and Cameron himself said earlier this year that he had not decided yet whether he was going to shoot the sequels in HFR:
"I’m studying (HFR). I haven’t made a final decision yet, whether the entire film will be made at high frame rate or parts of it. You know, we’ll be shooting at a native resolution of probably 4K and so then there should be a lot of true 4K theaters by then as well."
It's important to remember that Jackson's HFR versions of his Hobbit movies -- which will conclude this December with The Battle of the Five Armies -- have not exactly blown away audiences or critics. Theater owners and film journalists (yours truly included) were harshly critical of the process, which seemed to give the movies a cheap video look instead of the immersive images that were promised. The promotion of the process was pulled back greatly for last year'sThe Desolation of Smaug, in fact.
But Trumbull said that 120 frames per second is a whole different ballgame, explaining, "The Hobbit fell victim to the ‘uncanny valley' ... when you dramatically increase the frame rate to 120 fps you jump over the valley to a whole new territory.” He added that his MAGI process "delivers extreme fluidity of motion and amazing clarity ... and a viewing experience that far exceeds conventional movie quality."
It's almost a lock that Cameron will employ some sort of HFR process in the making of the Avatar films, but is this the right choice? And if 48 fps landed with a thud, can 120 fps be the format that really does dazzle audiences and transform the moviegoing experience? Which would you prefer?