The marketing of Ang Lee’s Gemini Man leaned heavily on talking up the high frame-rate technology on display in the sci-fi action flick. But very few theaters were able to display the film the way Lee shot it, and viewers who were able to watch a high frame rate projection came away unimpressed. Whenever HFR was mentioned in relation to Lee’s film, James Cameron‘s Avatar sequels were brought up, because it was rumored that Cameron would be shooting these films in a similar manner. Not so, says Cameron. Sort of. During a recent interview, Cameron said that he would be using high frame rate footage “sparingly” during production but seemed to indicate that the finished films won’t be screened in that format.
For as long as there have been movies, they’ve been projected at 24fps. This is a standard frame rate, and what we, as moviegoers, have grown accustomed to. But some filmmakers have been trying to change things. Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies were shot at 48fps, while Ang Lee’s recent Gemini Man was shot at 120fps. Jackson and Lee felt these higher frame rates would lend something new to their respective films, but most viewers found the end result severely lacking. Visually, high frame-rate movies tend to look like soap operas, or like TVs with motion smoothing still turned on.
So what of Avatar? Rumor had it that James Cameron was shooting his Avatar sequels at 120fps like Gemini Man, but Cameron attempted to set the record straight while talking to Collider. “I have a personal philosophy around high frame rate, which is that it is a specific solution to specific problems having to do with 3D,” said the director. “And when you get the strobing and the jutter of certain shots that pan or certain lateral movement across frame, it’s distracting in 3D. And to me, it’s just a solution for those shots. I don’t think it’s a format. That’s just me personally.”
Here’s where things get a little muddled. Cameron continued: “I think [high frame rate is] a tool to be used to solve problems in 3D projection. And I’ll be using it sparingly throughout the Avatar films, but they won’t be in high frame rate.” As you’ll no doubt notice, Cameron almost immediately contradicts himself. First he says he’ll be using high frame rate “sparingly” in the sequels, then instantly says “they won’t be in high frame rate.”
The way I read it, Cameron is implying that he’ll be using high frame rate in certain scenes as a “tool,” just like he says. But when the Avatar sequels arrive, you shouldn’t expect them to be advertised as, or screened in, a high frame rate format the way Gemini Man was. That said, this is quite a change for Cameron. Back in 2016, he seemed to be all-in on high frame rates. “I’m going to push. Not only for better tools, workflow, high dynamic range and high frame rates — the things we are working toward,” the director said then.
We’ll know for certain how it all plays out when Avatar 2 opens on December 17, 2021.
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