University of Copenhagen

Faculty of Humanities
Department of Media, Cognition and Communication
Course: Digital Effects and Cinematic Storytelling
Module: Film/television history and analysis
Curriculum: Film Studies (2008)
Instructor: Casper Tybjerg
Winter 2012-13



Antonio Monachello (fcb642)
curriculum: Media Studies (M.A.) 2008
mob.: 50146326

Digital cinema and the paradox of realism:
an unexpected journey with The Hobbit
1. Introduction
The discussions made upon the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey enter the
continuous fray about the future of cinema. Shot with digital cameras at 48fps, it was released
by Warner Bros Pictures in December 2012 in several different formats, including 2D, 3D,
IMAX, IMAX 3D and HFR 3D (high frame rate).1 It received mixed to positive reviews from
critics, while the audience appreciation seems to be higher. 2 3 In response to this movie there
were raised a lot of questions about the much debated digital cinema (as any movie coming
with some, debatable, new conventions), when considering for example the possibilities for
the use of a different frame rate in capture and projection in cinema, and also about the
reasons for the different experiences and the distinction of quality in digital cinema.
This paper will question the nature of digital cinema between the concepts of realism,
unrealism and hyperrealism, its relationship to analogue film-making, and the relationships to
the viewers and their supposed suspension of disbelief. It will assess the discussion on both
our look at the object and our look at the experience, on how and why higher frame rate could
be felt differently by spectators, while we witness the progress at a steady rate of digital
modes of projection in theatres.
This paper will try to delineate the paradoxical explanations about this apparent shift in the
discourse of cinema: from the “real” film to the “unreal” bits, based on the differences in
capture and projection, and at the same time, from the “unreal” magic of analog cinema to the
“real” clarity and sharpness of digital cinema. In this I would like to avoid simplifying
statements about the aesthetics in the digital techniques, used in a everchanging reality to
transmit subjective aesthetic experiences, while stressing the importance of continuity when
discussing them. Nevertheless, as we will see, one perspective is also irreversibly influenced
by the other. Thus, the task is quite difficult if we look more to the “matter” of movies or to
the “experience” of movies, and if we try to use in a precise way the expression “digital
1 (2012). The Hobbit FAQ Accessed on Dec 14, 2012
2 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Accessed on Dec 14, 2012
3 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Accessed on Dec 14, 2012

cinema”, which is a complex concept and surrounded by misconceptions. Therefore, in the
first part there will be a presentation of theories and concepts on indexicality. I aim to explore
the use of digital techniques and the notions of analog and digital cinema between the realist
and the formalist approaches, while making an attempt to summarise the trends provoked by
the “new” medium. The second part will be more about the phenomenology, and it will drawn
the usual comparison of digital movies (be them also 3D or using higher frame rate) to
television and video games serving as prime examples.
I will try to avoid what Gunning (2004) fears, i.e. ignoring the complexities that visual media
presented in their history, thus reificating photochemical and analog media or electronic and
digital ones. Something shared by Chandler (1996), which warns us about the technological
determinism in both the pessimistic and the optimistic form and the “very broad use of the
terms, [which makes McLuhan's] famous claim that "the medium is the message" even more
dramatic. Such broad claims are open to the criticism of "reification" (treating the referent as
if it were a single, undifferentiated object).”4 The paper will therefore address the perceived
dichotomies between spectacle and narrative, and between the old and new generations in the
suspension of disbelief, focusing instead on the concept of familiarity. Lastly, an analysis of
The Hobbit, not forgetting the history of cinema and the continuity from its origin.

2. Scope and motivations
Previous exams focused on digital distribution in film organisations and institutions, a
discussion declined along the perceived dichotomy of Hollywood vs Europe, entertainment vs
art;5 then on the production level, with the writing of a film script adapted from a video
game.6 Here the aesthetic experiences in digital cinema gain the main stage.

3. Methodology and limitations
The discussion will analyse the discourses beginning from realist theories and focusing on the
experimental nature of cinema and technologies before the spread in uses of conventions and
standards. Assuming the role of an almost timeless flâneur 7, I will try to avoid the observer
4 Chandler, D. (1996). The Tone of Technological Determinism. Accessed on Dec 15, 2012
7 Chandler, D., & Munday, R. (2011). observer bias. In Oxford University Press, A Dictionary of Media and


bias8 to present a more comprehensive look, with e.g. a tentative inclusion of engineering and
neuroscientific aspects, since ultimately every audiovisual experience in the whole history of
cinema was and can be better explained by including other disciplines. It will nonetheless
suffer from a sort of Western-Centrism, while the analysis of The Hobbit will mostly include
film critics reviews and comments made before or shortly after the release.

4. Cinema and the analogue and digital reality
What is cinema? Nothing.
What does cinema want? Everything.
What can cinema do? Something.
— Jean-Luc Godard, Histoire(s) du cinéma (quoted in Silverman, 2002)

What is cinema? Theorists, professionals and fans asked themselves this question throughout
the last 120 years without concurring on an answer. Today this medium is gaining an apparent
new virtual life, more and more as digital projection in movie theatres gains prominence. Is
cinema changing? According to the latest statistics “the growth that led Europe to start 2012
with over half its screens converted to the new technologies is thus continuing.” Digital
projection reached 60.5.% in the first half of 2012 in the 35 European countries monitored,
with 3D screens are estimated to be between 50 and 60% of the digital screens.9
The replacement of film stocks in the movie exhibition sector goes up to the experiments and
public demonstrations in the 1920s and 1930s, reaching its limited success in 1939 with the
British cinema television, installed in five theatres, and in early 1952 in the U.S.A., with 102
electronic theatres. Starting from the 1960s, the electronic cinema would be associated with
media activists and video art, but video and film, as Willis (2008) reminds, reprising Binkley,
did not have fluid boundaries even then. In the following decades the efforts were limited to
the uses of electronic production (especially in television) and post-production tools, along
Communication. Accessed on Dec 14, 2012
8 Chandler, D., & Munday, R. (2011). observer bias. ibid. Accessed on Dec 14, 2012
9 MEDIA SALLES (2012) MEDIA Salles presents the new statistics at the Venice Film Festival. Europe’s
digital screens grow by 17% in the first six months of 2012
Accessed on Dec 18, 2012


with new multi-channel sound systems, while in recent years we witnessed the beginning of
screenings in digital cinemas across the world.
Debates on the nature of the digital aspect in cinema and on both the similarities and the
differences with its analog form have been largely considered in contemporary film theory in
an ontological perspective, with also the acknowledgement of the emergence of digital
technologies at every different level of film-making, with the uses of digital tools in capture
and projection considered often as the cheapest solution. Now, as film prints slowly
“disappear”, the discussion becomes more complicated. As Trifonova (2011:1) notes, the most
important strand in the debates are the critical revival of Bazin and Kracauer amongst others,
and the interest to the relation of cinema with photography, which brought back “questions of
indexicality” and “a rethinking of medium specificity away from the idea of medium as a
material or physical support.”
Moreover, the digital practices in cinema have often been seen by critics as being detrimental
to the storytelling, especially in blockbusters from Hollywood, as Lavik (2009) and McClean
(2007) exemplify in the introductions, or as enabler of a more democratic landscape in media
(Willis, 2008).

4.1 The unrealism in digital capture and projection
“As we will see, theory has construed realism solely as a matter
of reference rather than as a matter of perception as well. It has
neglected what I will term in this essay "perceptual realism."
This neglect has prevented theory from understanding some of
the fundamental ways in which cinema works and is judged
credible by viewers.”
— Stephen Prince (1996:2)

Following Prince's advice, the discussion will try to recognise the interplay between
theoretical-ontological and sociological factors in the different perspectives offered in film
theory about the photographic and cinematographic indexicality. Chandler provides a
framework upon which we can place those perspectives, around the concepts of technological
Gunning (2007) openly writes about “the nonsense that has been generated specifically about
10 see note 4.


the indexicality of digital media (which, due to its digital nature, has been claimed to be
nonindexical—as if the indexical and the analog were somehow identical)” (p. 3) and that
“parallels between aspects of Bazin’s theory of cinematic realism and the index do exist, even
if they cannot explain the totality of his theory of cinematic realism.” (p. 5)
Prince's stance is met also by exponents of what can be called realist film theory, such as
Rodowick (2007), which investigates this interplay. He follows Bazin's (The ontology of the
photographic image) and Wollen's ideas along the realism film theory path, explaining the
ontological link between film grain and reality, with the light captured and impressed on the
celluloid with no transformation, stemming a sort of directness in this “automatic analogical
causation”. Willis (2008:5) reminds us, though, that even in the analog video the camera
transmits an analogue signal, “composed of continuously varying waveforms”, and how both
video and film share the generational loss through duplication. When going digital, instead,
such link is thought to be broken. While he speaks about the virtuality of cinema as it was,
Rodowick argues about the fundamental difference between analog and digital cinema trying
to answer to Mongolte's negative question by personally looking at the matter in sight.
The negation in the question, though, reflects a reification similar to the position of scholars
such as Manovich, in that digital, instead of analog, brings light and image into the “computer
cosmogony”, transformed into “numerical abstracts”, not letting it “communicate duration”
or, for Manovich, that a digital film is a function, that “time becomes spatialized” or that
animation gains prominence compared to film and movies.
Can a question like “Why the digital image cannot transmit duration?” become “Why can't I
grasp duration? When/when was/am I?”, without stressing the importance of the material
form of the medium? Before moving away from the index, it's worth take a look at the reality
in a slightly different way, maybe a bit (pun intended) away from film theory.

4.2 Indexicality and reality thresholds
Still reprising Prince (1996), “film theory needs now closer attention to what viewers see on
the screen, how they see it, and the relation of these processes to the larger issue of how
viewers see.”

Where are bits? One might ask. Are they in space and/or in time? Why is Rodowick afraid of
imagining pictures as containing numbers? or information? Are there numbers in the film
grain? (p. 119) Sadly, there can be. McMullan (2011) presents a particular point of view
which follows Gunning (2004) in the explanation on how digital matter possesses
indexicality. He draws insight from contemporary theories of science, still remembering their
limits and lack of staticity. A way that stresses not just, e.g. the importance of scientific
research in the technical aspects of capture, but is followed also within theory, as it has
tentatively been done by the cognitive film theory branch, so that he “encourage(s) a closer
inspection of the similarities between digital and analog photographs, instead of focusing
primarily on accentuating their differences.” He writes that “Peirce in no way excluded the
format of storage of indexicality when defining it; it needed merely possess a direct
connection to the signified.” His position about the “indexicality [being] actually quite
removed from cinema altogether” even if only “in the sense that the index as experienced by
the audience in the cinema has a direct connection with the reality that was before the camera
during image capture”, seems on the other hand too radical.
Discussing about the capacity of the human mind, we can consider that we were and are able
to count with a slide-rule or an abacus, as Shores (2009) does: “we compute numerical values
on a slide rule by sliding one rule (ruler) past another and then relating their (logarithmic)
scales to each other. [...] In contrast, an abacus does not have a continuous scale of values, but
rather discrete counting-markers [...] The abacus is digital and the slide-rule is analog; yet, the
precise criteria for distinguishing these types of computation has been a matter of debate.”
Moreover, film theory has usually given prominence to the visual aspect, while the auditory
system has maybe been privileged by music theory, leaving behind the auditory system and a
more comprehensive understanding about how we analyse space, time, light and sound, with
the aspect of sync also not being analysed thoroughly. When speaking about the possibilities
of an analog or a digital camera in space and time, we can turn our attention to science, which
is as usual going beyond the human threshold. Film capture is of course not limited to 24
frames per second, so even on film it was possible to shoot with high speed cameras at speeds
approaching several million frames per second, with e.g. the experiments conducted by


Harold Hedgerton.11 These inspired the digital ones, now going up to one trillion frames per
second.12 Interestingly, Orrom (1954) talks about impossible shots comparing cinema to
theatre, in a way similar to how McClean (2007) writes about digital shots, impossible for a
film camera.
Deleuze (cited in Shores, 2009) talks also about the digital and analog mode of
communication in art. We could and should distinguish between different uses of the words,
but we could argue that painting with computers relates more to the, following Deleuze,
employed by Francis Bacon than to any other (more) analog one, even if only to note that the
structure surfaced more in those by Bacon, to a certain extent which always varies. Images
and statues, for example, were constructed using formulas. But what about the degrade, the
death of digital?

4.3 After-images?
Digital copies have no degrade in quality? It may be, but still they share a fate similar to that
of analog ones. In recent times, especially after the problem of the preservation of films has
been addressed, the same problem emerged in its digital form. 13 Growth and change have been
observed even on digital displays. Different qualities of digital have been witnessed and now
video has reached a quality deemed equivalent to that of analog projection in cinemas (Prince,
While the focus on the apparent differences of digital and analog cinema was mostly first
declined by looking at the indexicality and the spectacle of an digital unreality, now eve the
digital, apart from a explanation considering ideological and social aspects, is sometimes
considered real. Sometimes maybe too real, with its detailed bright reality often compared to
what we see by watching television and playing video games. McMullan (2011:11) borrowing
from Allen and Bolter, defines transparency as the moment “when, in the viewer’s experience,
the medium is effectively erased and the technologies and techniques that support it effaced.
11 (nd) Harold Edgerton A High-Speed Motion Photography Expert and Pioneer Accessed on Dec 30, 2012
12 Ted Talk (2012) Ramesh Raskar: Imaging at a trillion frames per second
Accessed on Dec 30, 2012
13 Inderscience (2010, November 23) Saving our data from digital decay. ScienceDaily. Accessed on Dec 30, 2012


With regard to moving images it can be defined as how “realistic” or “authentic” the image
appears.” We will return to this later. Now, let's move.

5. (Hyper)realism in digital cinema: perception of movement and narrative
“Le cinéma est l’art du mouvement et de la lumière”
[Cinema is the art of movement and light].”
— Dulac, G. (nd:394) Aesthetics, Obstacles, Integral
Cinegraphie. Trans. Stuart Liebman (quoted in Gunning, 2007)

In his attempt to move away from discussion upon indexicality of the image, Gunning stresses
the importance of the concept of movement in cinema, which has always been associated with
the 24 frame per second convention, especially from the dawn of sound cinema. He covers the
issue about the physical (and at the same time mental, we might specify) reactions created by
watching motion and “considering [that] this sensation of kinesthesia avoids the exclusive
visual and ideological emphasis of most theories of spectatorship and acknowledges instead
that film spectators are embodied beings rather than simply eyes and minds somehow
suspended before the screen.” (p. 11)
This view clashes with the one proposed by Rodowick (2007:177). He writes about the digital
image bearing an inseparability from the (interactive) screen, expressive of a “temporal state
that draws us toward the future rather than engaging us in the past. Here the spectator is no
longer a passive viewer yielding to the ineluctable flow of time, but rather alternates between
looking and reading as well as immersive viewing and active controlling.”
This duality might come from the different choice in what we think is at the basis of the
cinematic experience. It was thought to be based on the persistence of vision theory, but for
Nichols and Lederman (1980, quoted in Herbert, nd), “virtually every... account of the
perception of movement in film texts [is] wrong. The impression of movement is not due to
persistence of vision. The very persistence with which this "explanation" has been recited says
more about the hermetic and impressionistic world of some film scholarship than it does
about the actual mechanisms involved [...] This fusion occurs regardless of whether motion is
perceived or not. The appearance of a continuously visible series of images, in other words, is
a phenomenon distinct from the appearance of motion. "


Anderson and Anderson (1993) clarify about the myth of the persistence of vision, “an
inaccurate and inadequate explanation of the apparent motion found in a motion picture” (p.
1), rehabilitating Wertheimer's work on the beta movement, in the range between 30 and 60
Hz, and the phi phenomenon, occurring at speeds between 60 and 200 Hz, and their work
(that had little effect) done in 1978.
Herbert traces the acknowledgement of the problems with the persistence of vision theory to
film engineers almost one hundred years ago: “In his opinion the continuity of the
cinematographic vision is due to no such physiological phenomenon as persistence, but is
purely an illusion. It is psychological, and not physiological at all." ((Cinema Notes, Amateur
Photographer, 3 March 1913), quoted in Herbert (nd))
Reprising the transparency concept, digital has then been considered also as being both more
real, in a good, credible, way, e.g. in Dogma 95 films (“hoping idealistically for some way to
connect with the authentic”, Willis, 2008:29), or in a bad, cheap way, mostly in television
(reality and soap) and video games. But to what extent then can we talk about the perception
of reality without considering the “movements”, or why “new” media seems “more real” or
“worst” at telling stories? Some scholars such as Murray and Ouellette (2008) try to trace
some similarities between reality TV and neorealism in cinema, a proposal surely met with
more than just one raised brow. Lastly then, borrowing the question from Lavik (2009) about
attractions and narrative: “Is it possible – and reasonable – to construct an historical argument
out of these differences?” The differences of the ideal positions between “organic” and
“mechanistic” narratives are, according to him, “deeply ingrained in our culture”, and very
hard to disregard. (p. 14)
Still, McMullan (2011:15) “believe[s] that in some ways video technology has always been
more transparent than film, such as in representing movement more accurately, possessing an
increased depth-of-field, and exhibiting instantaneity of distribution.” What differentiates (and
in the end connect with) his view from the one by Rodowick is the motivation for this belief,
being “not because I feel it has any increased power over, or direct connection with, anything
“real” or “true to life””, but only because of nostalgia.


The discussion will then go through the concepts hyperreal and uncanny and how do we react
to them and to the movement perceived from moving pictures while we're following narrative
structures. Somehow, sometimes images become in a way too real, but it ultimately depends
on the subject. Something similar may apply to our cognitive grasp on the narrative and on the
technical display.

5.1 Digital effects and narrative
“People love great stories. They love to get into a world and
have an experience. And how they get there — it doesn’t really
— David Lynch, in Side by side (2012)

In recent time the long lasting discussion about spectacle and excess in film gained
prominence in light of the digital technologies used. Lavik (2008), citing Gunning, stresses
“that the emergence of narrative did not cause the cinema of attractions to disappear, but
rather to live on as a kind of energizing element in narrative and certain avant-garde films.”
Nonetheless there has been a trend, especially in film critics reviews, that claims about digital
effects being detrimental to storytelling (McClean:1-14). We will avoid those broad critiques
and focus instead on the uses of spectacular (digital) effects and/in narrative.
Musser (1994) explains that “if we think of “attractions” as non-narrative aspects of cinema
that create curiosity or supply pleasure, attractions of some kind can be found in virtually all
narrative films (in fact in all cinema). More specifically, Hollywood cinema and its uses of
cinematic form cannot be explained by its efforts simply to tell stories.” Do we really then
speak cinema that differently in Europe? Or did we? According to North (2007:3) we can find
more about “the origins of filmic special effects [in] the practice of theatrical illusions in
nineteenth-century magic shows, partly as a way of exploring the legacy of pre-cinematic
techniques of illusion and partly as the result of a need to situate the work of Georges Méliès
more effectively within that history.”
Keating (2006) with his alternation model considers “attractions [as] more than just
interruptions. Narrative more than just an organizing structure” and that “rather than
theorizing the relationship between narrative and attractions as one of struggle, we can
recognize [they] can often cooperate to create an intensified emotional response.”

Such approach is replicated by Lavik (2009): he delineates a dichotomy highlighting the key
differences in film-making, placing them in caricatured positions: on the left we have “Largescale attraction, Mechanistic, Springboard for a story, The point of the narrative, Plotting



Commercial/compromised”, on the right: “Small-scale attraction, Organic, Springboard for
the story, Interesting starting point, “Real creation”, Gifted individual, Mysterious/indefinable
attraction, Artistic/uncompromised.” While, as he writes, it's “relatively easier to talk about
films like Magnolia and American Beauty using words and phrases from the column on the
right hand side”, still, as he recognises, “some of the criteria are rather fuzzy, and sometimes
they overlap; some tie into other large and unwieldy issues that I haven’t touched upon here,
such as authorial intentionalism.” (p. 9) While proposing his framework, he also advices
about the ambiguity of the notions, and the bias we might have in presence of critical
consensus on earlier film, when “comparing the best of the past with the current average.” (p.
15), reminding us also that Méliès said to construct scenario as a pretext for the “stage
effects”, the “tricks”.
Moreover, the framework for the narrative use of digital visual effects in film by McClean
(2007) also does not offer a categorisation of film themselves, since usually more than just
one category apply to a film. She lists “eight categories of effects usage: Documentary,








HyperRealist.” (p. 73). The authorial intentionalism is touched on a more professional level.

5.2 (Hyper)realism in digital cinema: CGI
The lack of clarity in the aforementioned frameworks arises especially when considering the
the effect we might have when watching “perceptually realistic works [in which the makers
used] animation techniques.” (McClean, 2007:99) The basis for the analysis is as usual
occupied by the Uncanny valley theory14. The more than unclear categorisation would be
better seen as a heterogeneous group of phenomena, since it does not include for example any
consideration upon the familiarity and, if present, the narrative of such representations.
McClean (2007:102) underlines the importance of taking into consideration the contextual

14 Mori, M. (2012). on Ieee Spectrum's blog. The Uncanny Valley. Accessed on Dec 30, 2012


relationship of the digital effects to the story, and “assertions about spectacularity of DVFx 15
in films also needs to be provided the context of specific instances in order to clarify the
nature of the spectacularity.”
Moreover, the practice of motion capture alone seems to hold more than what has been said,
such as questions covering not just the perception of uncanny sensations in relation to robot or
CGI. We could turn our attention to the acting performance or to the perception of movement
and meaning: we watch movies by using both our visual and auditory systems, and even
within science, it's still not completely clear how the humans perceive and make meaning of
the world around them. Some research has been done. 16 But what about speech then, e.g. the
McGurk effect? The perceptual phenomenon indicating an interaction between hearing and
vision in speech perception, which, Boersma (2006) notes, “is less strong for people who are
used to watching dubbed movies and have therefore learned to ignore visual cues to some

5.3 A digital suspension of disbelief?
“Any serious attempt to understand cognition, emotions and
language, devoid of a ‘global perspective’, appears to be
doomed to failure.” — Gallese, 2003

To what extent we can then say digital cinema is more “real” or more “unreal”? When did we
begin to grasp reality from a screen? North (2007) historically links cinema to magic: “the
spectator is enjoying both a diegetic event and a display of mechanical virtuosity in which the
viewer’s scopic acuity is pitted against the film-maker’s deft elision of the traces of technical
contrivances. This bifurcated mode of viewing, focused as it is on both the illusion and its
manufacture, can be seen as an effective way to conceptualise the principles upon which
magic performance relies.” Going further back, Coleridge called this phenomenon the
“willing suspension of disbelief” while justifying his writing about fantastic characters. 17
Surely we could go further, but we will stop here.
Holland (2008) focuses on the control we have: “psychological experiments show, however,
15 Digital Visual Effects.
16 Group Sigma (2011). What influence does music in visual content have on human reaction/behavior?. A
qualitative research using EEG. Accessed on Dec
30, 2012
17 cited in Holland, N. N. (2008).


that during our experience of any narrative, we do not suspend disbelief. We believe, and then
we partly disbelieve. Our brains link reality-testing to action and the possibility of action to
change what we are perceiving. If we cannot change it, our brains need not test its reality, and
they don't. When responding to works of art, Kant and other aestheticians point out, we are
'disinterested'.” Still, while writing that “we do not plan to act in relation to the literary work”,
nonetheless, while “reading a book of poems, we are boss. We can put the book down any
time we feel like it. [...] this fundamental difference in control that leads to the wholly
different ‘feel’ of television from movies, even when the television program simply shows a
movie. We can switch channels with television, not with a movie or a play”, with the
exception being the interactive book.
How could it be that only movies and books correctly suspend our disbelief? How has it
gained so importance? Do we really think that only a continuous stream of 24 fps is magical
and oniric, while if we are watching a DVD we are over-critic? What about movies in
television? Or is it just a matter of our predisposition to the experience? It is worth to draw
insight from other fields: Voisen (2010:32) in his experimental thesis tests the artificial
intelligence capacity to narrate stories, finding out that those tests were “not characterized as a
binary pass or no-pass situation, but instead measure[d] on a continuous, and subjective,
spectrum. The effectiveness of a piece to invoke an emotional response may fluctuate from
interaction to interaction and from person to person. What draws one viewer to suspend his or
her disbelief may irritate the next and destroy any potential for the illusion.”

6. A really open analysis of The Hobbit: An unexpected journey (2012)
— 1915 projectionist's handbook (quoted in Brownlow, 1980)

As stated above, the movie spawned a series of complaints which reflect those made about
digital and 3D movies, especially the one about being commercially-driven. Directed by Peter
Jackson, it was released in three different versions: 2D, 3D and 3D High frame rate. This
particular choice was met with praise and criticism, positive and negative expectations, as
normal. Only a gimmick or finally an experiment? Can it be both?
While the public seems to enjoy it more, the reviews were more mixed. One of the complaints

was about the frame rate: there was “too much detail in every frame that the magical filter of
cinema that makes most 24 fps film so pleasing to the eye is gone; every prop on a set too
clear, and even a performance by someone like the very fine Ian McKellen looks
embarrassingly, unnaturally theatrical. Moving images, especially walking Hobbits and
dwarves - not as much the CG creatures, for what it's worth - flit at odd speeds that just never
look right.”18
Someone had to write afterthoughts about the differences in reception and watched again and
liked better the movie in the 24 fps 2D version. 19 Nonetheless, even reviewers try sometimes
to find about the others and our experience as it could be described “objectively”. Laforet is
interested in “finding (unusually respectful) dissent – with people finding they feel the exact
opposite. Or didn’t notice the effect at all. While others couldn’t agree more.” He spots two
unscientific gathered trends, one about young people being more receptive, the other about the
“people that went to the film without knowing about HFR [which] seem to have reacted much
more positively than people who went in there to specifically see the new HFR technique.”20
The other major point of interest is the length. While the previous three movies were adapted
from one novel divided in three volumes, The Lord of the Rings, now they are preparing three
movies from one novel, a children's book with less epic tones. Again it could be viewed as a
way to sell, in a bad or good way, more story, while Thompson (2012) writes that “perhaps
[she] will be disappointed upon seeing the film, but all the evidence so far indicates that the
writers have been inventive and careful in expanding the project. Moreover, the trailers
suggest that the technology used to create Gollum and to manipulate the sizes of the actors
has improved since LOTR.”
According to McClean (2007:144), Gollum in The Lord of the Rings “has elevated the degree
of acceptance of fully digital characters, and the morph of his transformation from hobbit
(portrayed by an actor) to corrupted lost soul assists in audience acceptance of the CG
18 Yamato, J. (2012). 'The Hobbit' At 48 FPS: A High Frame Rate Fiasco? Accessed on Jan 2,
Accessed on Jan 2, 2013
20 Laforet, V. (2012). The Hobbit: An Unexpected Masterclass in Why HFR fails, and a reaffirmation of what
makes cinema magical Accessed on Jan 2, 2013


performance. Further, he is beautifully realized using motion capture, animation, and, in most
shots, verisimilitudinous compositing.” Converging the focus on his personalities, can he be
hyperreal as an acceptable “hybrid” and at the same time as an unacceptable “fast moving”
character? Or does it depend on more ineffable variables?
Which category then, can we borrow from the frameworks of the uses of digital effects in
narrative? To what extent do we know them only by analysing the interplay between effects
and narrative? Writing about the first trilogy and adaptation, McClean (2007:147) notes that
“Jackson demonstrates both the ability to get to the heart of the story and its deepest themes
and also complete awareness of how to use DVFx to meet narrative drive.”
Unfortunately, including the (literary) adaptation theory and fidelity would have enlarged too
much the scope of this paper, and moreover, a complete comparative analysis between the
novel and the movies would have to wait the next two. Still, judgement on the running time
can be done and it is found in the reviews: the length of scenes is felt sometimes as too long
or that there is too much “telling”. Nonetheless, under an authorial point of view, it is worth
noting that, compared to the other films, there is the same director, almost the same people in
the production, recurring characters are played by the same actors (except of course for the
“young” protagonist of the adventure), and sometimes the same music. 21 But in the end, are
they authors or “simple” workers?
So, reprising the suspension of disbelief, if someone does not “believe” in this movie or any
other movie, must it be only for the high frame rate? Or because his/her mind thinks it can or
should act, and why? In the cinema we cannot act, yet we can think and focus our attention on
something, especially if it is annoying.
This feeling of hyperreal could come from the comparation of the quality of the images we
watch, what is being communicated in that “form”, and also our particular frame. So when
someone watches a moving image without film grain, highly detailed and “fast-moving”, the
brain might prepare itself to experience a content it is been familiar to receive in one way, i.e.
someone might expect Peter Jackson to pop up from the screen and talk about the beauty of
New Zealand. Therefore we could have had different experiences which in turn produce
21 Barron, N. (2012). 6 Gripes About The Hobbit That Aren’t About the 48 fps Accessed on Dec 30, 2012


different expectations. I always try to watch movies at home (or playing video games that also
tell a story) with a suspension of disbelief coming from the silence around and the willingness
to not suspend the “play”. Similar to that in cinema theatres, but without any phone ringing
nor displays browsed, nor comments, nor smell of pop corn, nor movement, like a kick in the
chair, coming from the people around, which on the other hand, could be better appreciated by
others. Some may feel more emotional while watching news told with a dramatic soundtrack,
which in turn I despise. I am more familiar with my particular way, but does it stay the same?
Can this predisposition change only in a few minutes?
Moreover, how can we talk objectively about our experiences? What about our retelling of the
experience or the mirror neurons? Is it “uncanny” or “real” even/only for me/you? Chandler
(1998) for example cites James Elkins' (1996, 38-9) “ten different ways of looking at a
figurative painting in a gallery”. Couldry (2004), after reminding that a link between
sociology and media theory has been established in regards to television, suggests “to think
about how people’s cognitive and emotive frameworks are shaped by the underlying features
of the networks in which they are situated.” But this theory of systems “between human and
non-human actors, has very little to say about processes that come after the establishment of
networks: what comes after – the acts of interpretation and attachment – becomes mysterious
because, by definition, it cannot be encompassed in an account of how the broad
infrastructures of actors and objects (on which, to be sure, it depends) have emerged.” This
could be linked to the metaphor of the sun by Plato, “when [the soul] inclines to that region
which is mingled with darkness, the world of becoming and passing away, it opines only and
its edge is blunted, and it shifts its opinions hither and thither, and again seems as if it lacked
The larger the dataset of what we could say (maybe with some machine learning 23) about our
feelings towards movies is, the less seems to be easy to speak about those in general terms.
Still we can say something more about them.

22 Greek Texts & Translations. Plato, Republic (English)
dbname=GreekTexts&getid=1&query=Pl.%20Resp.%20509a Accessed on Jan 2, 2013
23 LSE Research: The Mathematics of Machine Learning
Accessed on Jan 2, 2013


6.1 Audiovisual simplicity (standard/convention) and Familiarity (look/ feel)
“The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden
because of their simplicity and familiarity.”
— Ludwig Wittgenstein (2001,§ 129)

Only 24 frames per second gives a cinematic look? Or is it “just” a standard? Is high frame
rate only digital? 48 fps was reached even on film, e.g. in experiments by Douglas Trumbull,
but it was never used extensively.24 Discussion on the cinematic look then should not consist
of solely a debate between 24, 48 or 60 fps, but include everything we can say at least about
the movement of the camera, the movement in the frame, the shutter, the frame rate in capture
and in conversion (if any), and in projection. “The Hobbit was shot at 48p, but with a shutter
angle of 270°. This translates to a shutter speed of 1/64 of a second. The traditional “film
look” rule for film is that the shutter speed should be twice the frame rate. For 24p, the shutter
speed is usually 1/48. [...] One source said the shutter angle for The Hobbit was chosen
specifically to work with 24p, though if that were the case, why not shoot at 1/48? Either way,
the higher shutter speed will also contribute to a different look to the film, even when viewed
at 24p.”25
Sound too was important, for the introduction of the industry standard in the 1920s, after the
mechanization of cameras. A constant speed was set, so that the frame rate would be the same
for everyone, a slow and cheap speed which allowed for sufficient sound quality and smooth
movement. Therefore, an implication arises: silent films were not “cinematic” because they
were shot and or projected at a lower frame rate and had a large depth of field? 26 What about
those that changed frame rate between capture and projection, intentionally or not?
What can tell us yet again Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show shot in 1902 at 16 fps? The
“filming of the old gag of a country rube confusing projected movies with real life [which]
was possibly a remake of an earlier film by Robert Paul, The Countryman's First Sight of the
Animated Pictures, which substituted Edison scenes for the films-within-a-film.” 27 Adams
24 PBSQualityGroup Great Frame Rate Debate.
Accessed on Dec 31, 2012
25 Murie, M. (2012) The Hobbit Arrives with a High Frame Rate, and New Sony Camera Prices Filmmaker
magazine. Accessed on Jan 2, 2013
26 Brownlow (1980).
27 Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show Accessed on
Jan 2, 2013


(1991) notes that when transferring silent films to be viewed on another support, “better
results can be achieved with less trouble when transferring to videotape. In fact, some of the
best versions we have of the old silents (that is, that most closely approximate the way they
were meant to be seen) are those specially prepared for TV. The old silents weren't necessarily
meant to move at the same speed as today. In some old silents, comedies in particular, things
were supposed to be speeded up, the better to enhance the comic effect. Chase scenes in the
Keystone Kops flicks, for example, were often shot at 8-12 fps but projected maybe twice as
fast. Today the frantic action in these films strikes us as hilarious--but people thought the
same thing in 1915.”28
Generalising, in analog television we had the different standards of PAL (50 Hz) and NTSC
(60 Hz), with the latter having a slightly greater discrepancy between live television and
films. Nonetheless, we should not forget that thanks to the telecine process, movies were aired
on television with a frame rate almost equal to that used in the cinema venues. Our perception
of what we are watching was influenced by the standards of 24 fps in analog cinema (or selfcharacterised serious audiovisual storytelling) and the 50/60 fields per second in analog
television which, thanks to the digital are maybe becoming less and less important. Directors
could use different frame rate for different genres, or in the same move or scenes, e.g. in the
capture of action sequence (not just action movies) and the amount of motion blur applied will
be taken more into consideration. While there is cost saving by not shooting on film indeed, it
still costs more to create motion blur than only “perfect” images.
Speaking about fantasy and illusion, how do we react to repeated illusion coming from
literary works? Tolkien (2001) himself wrote that “it is at any rate essential to a genuine fairystory, as distinct from the employment of this form for lesser or debased purposes, that it
should be presented as 'true.' ...But since the fairy-story deals with 'marvels,' it cannot tolerate
any frame or machinery suggesting that the whole framework in which they occur is a figment
or illusion.”
“Whereas previous studies focused primarily on the cultural selection of discrete supernatural
concepts”, Norenzayan et al. (2006) “examined the cultural selection of lists of ideas and
narratives that contain counterintuitive elements and often act as a coherent unit of
28 Adams, C. (1991) Why is the action in old silent movies so fast?


transmission across minds.” They posit that they were “likely culturally selected because they
successfully exploited the already existing cognitive architecture of the human memory
system, which was naturally selected to solve adaptive problems that were quite unrelated to
the propagation and cultural stabilization of counterintuitive narratives. Thus, memorability is
necessary, but not sufficient in the cultural selection of such narratives. [...] It is the
convergence of cognitive and motivational vectors that determine the overwhelming presence
and resilience of supernatural narratives in cultures around the world.”
How much control does the author have then, if confronting an always demanding and
mysterious audience? What does the spectator before spectating? Ferri (2007:70) imagines a
“previewing stage”, i.e. the “'placebo effect', or the expectations of the viewer, [which] is
triggered in some way. [...] One might expect that entering the movie theater itself would be
an important stimulus. There is early field evidence of demonstrable behaviour from movie
theaters at the beginning of the twentieth century [...] Would not such untrained, or "novice",
viewers be more susceptible to high expectancies?”
Could some spectators have then expected the epicness present in Lord of the Rings or
impatient to know/feel if the higher frame rate was really like watching television? Since
sound had a part in this standard and has still in movies, could there be a familiarity in image
quality similar to what happens when we listen to music?
For Huron, “expectations can arise from general-purpose schemata or from episodic
memories. Sometimes these two memory systems 29 predict different outcomes, accounting for
such phenomena as the "surprise" of a deceptive cadence that is otherwise entirely expected.
In addition, expectations can adapt dynamically as events unfold. Four sources of expectationrelated emotion are distinguished: pre-outcome imaginative and tension responses, and postoutcome appraisal of the outcome, and appraisal of the expectation. Using these resources,
musicians have become adept at crafting specific emotional effects.”
29 In his “Summary of Principal Research Findings”: “The fast and slow brain responses reflect a basic neuroevolutionary understanding of brain functioning. Specifically, the cortex often functions to suppress or inhibit
otherwise automatic responses (reflexes). The effect of inhibition is evident in the difference between hearing
an unexpected door slamming, and watching the door about to slam. The former case evokes a full-fledged
startle response, whereas the latter produces an attenuated startle response. The slow (conscious or thinking)
brain is also able to generate emotions without external stimuli. Rumination can therefore evoke emotional


Chion (1994:222) defines “Audiovisual contract as a sort of symbolic pact to which the audiospectator agrees when she or he considers the elements of sound and image to be participating
in one and the same entity or world.” He believes that “the consequence for film is that sound,
much more than the image, can become an insidious means of affective and semantic
manipulation. On one hand, sound works on us directly, physiologically (breathing noises in a
film can directly affect our own respiration). On the other, sound has an influence on
perception: through the phenomenon of added value, it interprets the meaning of the image,
and makes us see in the image what we would not otherwise see, or would see differently.
And so we see that sound is not at all invested and localized in the same way as the image.”

7. Conclusion
While reminding the importance of context when shifting frame, at every level, I tried to
testimony that the modes of representation and analysis, in regards to digital cinema and
cinema as a whole, have (and could) become more complex but they will be always around
the same concepts. A comprehensive understanding of what changes and what will become is
nevertheless not easy. We can argue that ultimately bits are, in maybe different ways, real. and
that exploring the sociological realities should not be detrimental to the explanations of the
subjective experiences. Cinema theatres may not be (and surely were not) the only home for
the 24 fps movies.
The future of cinema is not at 48 frame per second; it can be, as experiences of digital film
enter and are accepted in our world (be it more or less personal). A return to freedom, with
possible different frame rates, but standardised. Paradoxically digital systems could feed our
brains of more light per second, more illusion and more reality, which nonetheless was
possible on film, and ultimately is, maybe, at the basis of our perception comprising its vast
cognitive limits. Our understanding of time and space came probably from counting the things
we could frame in our grasp to reality. We will always hope or worry that someone will
always find a “better” way to tell this entanglement of reality and imagination. Would he still
try to emphasise more the frame or the content? We will see and decide by ourselves.


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