Despite presumably being up to his ace director eyeballs in finally getting the sequel to Avatar Ready to bring a cinema near you this Christmas, James Cameron is also somehow finding time to put together new 4K, HDR releases of both the original Avatar and his second-highest grossing film, Titanic.
Cameron being Cameron, though, ‘merely’ delivering the films in 4K and high dynamic range for the first time just isn’t a big enough challenge. It’s also been revealed that his Lightstorm Entertainment company will be partnering up with video software company Pixelworks, Inc to deliver high frame rate home entertainment masters of both films for the very first time.
Films are typically shot or, at least, mastered at a fairly low frame rate of 24 frames a second. Cameron, though, will be remastered titanica and Avatar using Pixelworks’ acclaimed TrueCut Motion platform, which remarkably allows a filmmaker to remaster films shot by shot at pretty much any frame rate they choose. Even potentially using different frame rates for different parts of the film.
Cameron is at pains to stress that the application of HFR to the titanica and Avatar 4K HDR releases won’t be done on any sort of arbitrary, ‘just because we can’ basis: “We will be presenting both films in 4K with high dynamic range visuals and have been working with Pixelworks’ TrueCut Motion platform to remaster the films in high frame rate,” he says, before adding, crucially, “while keeping the cinematic look of the original.”
The usual delivery at cinema and home of films at 24 frames a second is a throw back to the speed at which frames of celluloid used to pass through projector gates when cinema started to become an established form of entertainment. It’s certainly fair to argue, then, that switching to higher frame rates is long overdue given how far movie making has progressed in other technical areas.
The only problem is that Cameron’s remasters of his two most popular films won’t actually be the first films to be released – in the cinema or on home video – to try HFR. And the previous attempts have been met with a seriously mixed response to say the least.
The most high profile HFR release to date was Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, where all three films were made available in compatible cinemas in high frame rate options for their 3D performances. While I personally liked the extra clarity The Hobbit‘s HFR brought to the 3D experience, though, especially with the second and third films where Jackson slightly refined his HFR approach, I was the only person in a group of four who went to see each of the films together who actually had anything positive to say about the HFR experience. The other three hated it, finding that it made special effects look more artificial and cheapened the whole feel of the film, making it seem more like a provincial TV show than an epic Hollywood blockbuster.
The potential downsides to high frame rate movie making were even more harshly exposed by usually excellent director Ang Lee’s two ill-fated HFR efforts. first there was Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walkwhere a combination of a) the substantial shooting limitations created by the amount of light required to film in HFR 3D often led to stilted, awkward staging, b) the way HFR left all but the very best actors looking horribly wooden, and c) the ‘too perfect’ feel to the look of everything ended up making the film genuinely difficult to watch at times.
The same issues recurred, albeit to a slightly lesser extent, with Lee’s sophomore high frame rate effort, Gemini Man. The action scenes in this Will Smith vehicle sometimes do look pretty extraordinary in all their more fluid glory, but even these ‘made for HFR’ sequences can easily tip over into artifice. And the non-actiony parts of the movie often again feel awkward and, ironically, more ‘staged’ than they do in 24 frames a second.
If you haven’t experienced HFR in movies for yourself yet, Lee actually released both of his HFR films in 60 frames a second on 4K Blu-ray. It should be said that from an objective perspective the raw picture quality on both of these 4K BD releases is really spectacular, with the extra frames of image making it easier to appreciate the full capabilities of both HDR and, especially 4K. But the 60Hz images also make the apparent difficulties associated with higher frame rate movie making at times all too apparent.
As noted earlier, I for one am not relentlessly set against high frame rates. Far from it. HFR has enormous potential for some TV content, especially sport, and I think it really could turn its fortunes round with films, too, as directors get a better understanding of how to shoot for it. I also have a suspicion that the more HFR movies we’re exposed to, the more we might start to become accustomed to their different ‘feel’.
As things stand today, though, there may well be more movie fans hoping that the high frame rates on Avatar and titanica‘s upcoming 4K releases can be turned off/avoided as there will be fans who are jumping up and down with excitement at the thought of what the HFR remasters might look like. I suspect, too, that even more Cameron fans will be sat there wishing their favorite director would spend less time fiddling with Avatar and titanica‘s frame rates and more time finally putting together a long (long) overdue remaster of The Abyss instead.
I couldn’t possibly conclude this article, though, without pointing out that if anyone has a track record of turning the public on to a new movie making technology – even one they might inherently feel hostile to – it’s James Cameron.
Hate ‘The Hobbit’ In High Frame Rates? Maybe You Just Need To See It Again