Exhibitors will not charge moviegoers an added premium for tickets to higher-frame rate screenings of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey when the movie opens Dec. 14. While that decision rests with individual theater-owners and not Warner Bros, the studio that will be releasing the movie, a source close to the situation confirms that Warners has received assurances from exhibitors that they will not raise ticket prices when showing the movie at the higher rate of 48 frames per second.
While exhibitors currently charge several dollars more for 3D movies than the same movies screening in 2D, there has been a question of whether they would also charge more for 3D, 48 fps showings of The Hobbit, which will be playing in select theaters, than for regular 3D showings projected at the usual 24 frames-per-second. (While The Hobbit also will be presented in 2D, it will screen at 48 fps only in its 3D versions)
Jackson himself has insisted all along that that he did not expect to see higher ticket prices at theaters using the new technology, telling The Hollywood Reporter in April when he previewed some 48 fps footage of the film at CinemaCon that, “There is no intention that I have heard to charge more.”
In Jackson’s view, high frame rates are important for exhibition. “As an industry there is a certain amount of trouble that we are in; kids seem to think watching a movie on an iPad is an okay think to do,” he said. “Advocating that we have to stick with what we know [24 fps] I think is a slightly narrow mined way of looking at things when as an industry we are facing declining audiences. We have to find ways to make it more vibrant, more immersive – something that will encourage people to come back to the theaters for that experience.”
Still, theater owners will have to invest in some technology to show the movie at 48 fps.
The Hobbit will be the first major motion picture to be made and released at 48 fps, and the CinemaCon preview of about ten minutes of unfinished footage from the film triggered an aesthetic debate about the option. Champions of the format—including James Cameron, who plans to make his Avatar sequels at high frame rates—say it makes imagery more lifelike and 3D more comfortable to watch. Critics argue that it looks like “video.”
When The Hobbit is released wide on Dec. 14, most theaters will play the movie at 24 fps. Earlier this month, Warners’ president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman told THR that while a 3D 48 fps version of the movie will be made available in “all major markets in North America,” in will play only in select theaters to allow both exhibitors and audiences to familiarize themselves with the new process. “In terms of going into thousands of theaters, we will not,” he said.
Fellman added that the studio plans to follow a similar strategy in international markets. Imax will additionally have a number of theaters playing a 48fps 3D version of the film.