The year is 2009. A film called Avatar has just opened in theaters and the reviews are mixed. Critics hail the 3D film as a giant leap forward in terms of technology, but nearly every review mentions the supposed fact that moviegoers around the country were being made physically ill by the images on-screen. No one can really explain why — it has something to do with motion sickness caused by the film’s 3D technology, maybe — but it’s an epidemic!
Fast forward a few months. Avatar becomes the highest-grossing film of all time. All those stories about the hordes of people who got sick? Yeah… they just disappeared. It turned out to be a non-issue. Perhaps a few people were genuinely left feeling ill by the film, but they were a small minority. The success of Avatar guaranteed a string of 3D films will be produced and released in the following years.
Fast forward again, this time to present day. Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is about to open in theaters and the stories about moviegoers getting sick have returned. Once again, the tales look to be ridiculously overblown.
In the same way Avatar ushered in 3D as a standard for big-budget films, The Hobbit is expected by many to establish film shot at 48 frames per second (fps) as the new standard (traditionally, movies are shot at 24 fps).
In April, selected critics were given the chance to see Hobbit footage shot at 48 fps. At the time, most noted that the images looked almost hyper-real — in a way that revealed the makeup, costumes and sets to be Hollywood creations. Peter Sciretta of /Film said that it was like watching “a made for television BBC movie.” It looked “uncompromisingly real,” he added, “so much so that it looked fake.”
Few, if any, of the critics who got a sneak peek at the footage mentioned feeling sick, however. But the mainstream media loves a good scare story and now, days before The Hobbit opens, everyone is running with the story.
Don’t buy into the hype. Though it sounds like audiences should expect a very different experience viewing The Hobbit at 48 fps (it will also play at 24 fps in many theaters), it’s unlikely to make anyone sick. Besides, it’s just a movie — if the images on-screen give you a headache or make you dizzy, you always have the option of closing your eyes.