Why The 'Hobbit' Films Should Win Some Real Oscars

The production videos from the set of The Hobbit in New Zealand continue to impress. Just yesterday, director Peter Jackson posted a fourth vlog on his Facebook page, in which the crew spends 10 minutes talking about the raw, technical side of the shoot – specifically the cameras, the 3D, and the revolutionary 48 fps framerate the films will use.

This featurette got me thinking. Considering the huge amount of work going into these two films, and the visually striking story that will result from this new shooting method, I believe the Hobbit films should be held in serious contention for some real Oscars. It should continue the trend that 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King started with its 11 Oscars, and “legitimize” the fantasy genre in the eyes of mainstream moviegoers.

If you’ve been following Peter Jackson’s production videos as I have on the blog, then you’ll know that Jackson is busy recapturing the magic of the first three Tolkien films. The videos take the viewer on a tour through familiar sets: Bag End, Rivendell and the Trollshaws. We see friendly faces (Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Elijah Wood as Frodo) and new faces (the 13 actors playing the Dwarves). More importantly, scenes from the Hobbit novel - that have been largely left to our imagination until now - come to life in these videos.

What really caught my eye about the most recent installment was the focus on how Jackson & co. are actually shooting The Hobbit. We see Jackson talk about the 48 RED Epic cameras the production uses (each one costs $58,000). He explains how two of each are mounted in special rigs equipped with mirrors so they can capture the 3D effect in-camera (essential for effective 3D). Then we’re shown how the stereographer can adjust the “depth” of the 3D in real time, allowing the effect to “flow” with the storytelling.

This last part is important. In most 3D films, we can see the gimmicky 3D coming from a mile away. For example, a character spitting into a sink while brushing his teeth becomes an extreme close-up, projected into the theatre in three dimensions to try to thrill the audience. The way Jackson is using the 3D in The Hobbit implies that the format might finally achieve the feeling that been bragged about for years by studio executives: that the movie comes into the theatre with you.

Jackson devotes part of the video to the use of an increased framerate in the films. Most films are shot at 24 frames per second, because that rate is enough to produce the illusion of movement in the human eye. When it comes to the extra layer of a 3D movie, the frames need to be moving faster to truly fool the human eye into seeing a three-dimensional effect. Jackson says in the fourth production video that seeing 3D at 48 fps is like “the back of the cinema has had a hole cut out of it where the screen is”.

I think that if Jackson is right about the effect of this improved 3D, it will set a new storytelling standard in Hollywood. Moviegoers will see films in an entirely new way. That’s why the Hobbit films should be up for some big awards, like cinematography and direction (the latter of which Jackson won for The Return of the King). The Oscars are ostensibly the final confirmation of a movie’s quality, so why shouldn’t a fantasy film that reinvents the way we watch movies be recognized?

At the moment, it feels like The Return of the King’s haul at the 76th Academy Awards was a bit of a fluke for the fantasy film genre. It was the first fantasy to ever win Best Picture. Eight years later, fantasy films have arguably fallen back into the stereotypical “nerdy movies” category, the kind of flick that only a Warcraft-playing denizen of Mom’s basement would see.

Sure, the subject matter and setting of The Hobbit is not the hard-hitting drama that guarantees a major Oscar win. The exploits of hobbits, dwarves and dragons may not move the general populace to tears or present the gritty realities of life. But fantasy films do tell grand stories, and if they are made by a filmmaker like Peter Jackson, it’s a safe bet that the material will be presented in a way that also advances the medium of film. Supposedly, those two criteria should be enough to win some Oscar gold.

I’m not saying I expect The Hobbit to take the Oscars to the cleaners. If anything, the Academy has lately restrained itself from giving half the awards to a single film. Merely by analyzing Jackson’s approach in these videos, I can see how the Hobbit crew wants to serve the story with the technology, rather than the other way around. I can only hope that all this work will result in some quantifiable Hollywood acknowledgement (then again, whether the Oscars really matter is a well-worn issue).

It comes down to the question, “Can a 3D film win Best Picture?”. Considering almost any 3D film of the past (except, perhaps, How to Train Your Dragon), the answer would be a loud “No!”. If Peter Jackson can make this new 3D method work, I think we might be about to enter a new chapter of the 3D story, where the tech does what it was meant to do: make our fantasies come to life.


What do you think of the way Jackson is using 3D in the Hobbit films? Are you afraid it might ruin the movies? Do you think that it could legitimize the 3D format? What about The Hobbit’s Oscar chances? Sound off in the comments section down below, and browse through some of my recent movie commentary:

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