Have you ever noticed how a movie shown on your TV might not look quite as good as it does on the silver screen? It is the same sequence, but something about the picture and the movement just seems unnaturally smooth? Well, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn has noticed this as well, and he attributes this issue to a pesky television setting known as "motion smoothing." The filmmaker took to social media in a rant about his disdain for the format after watching Ridley Scott's Blade Runner on his parents' TV ahead of a screening of Blade Runner 2049 and wrote:
Motion smoothing is one of those features that you may have noticed while watching a movie on your television -- even if you did not know that it was called that. Also referred to as the "Soap Opera Effect" (because daytime soaps are typically shot on video, and not on film) it's just a function designed to reduce blur in high-definition content that usually runs at a higher frame rate -- such as 30 frames per second, or 60 frames per second.
In a sports setting, the result is a function that allows everything to look as crisp and clear as possible, thus allowing the audience to keep track of the ball in a far more coherent fashion. However, an unintended consequence of this format noted in James Gunn's recent social media rant is that it makes movies (typically shot at 24 frames per second) look unnaturally smooth on a small screen. That's the traditional definition, but I have to admit, I like "Satan's Spectacles" as a fun nickname for the setting.
If you need a better understanding of what motion smoothing looks like in action, take a look at a side-by-side comparison of a movie scene (in this case, a car chase from Drive) using the effect and not using the effect. See if you can spot the differences.
James Gunn's issue with the function is not necessarily the mere fact that it exists, but rather the fact that it is automatically turned on by default in many television sets, and it's difficult for the layperson to figure out how to turn it off. As a result, the Slither director has started to enlist fellow Hollywood heavy-hitters like War For the Planet of the Apes' Matt Reeves and The Last Jedi's Rian Johnson (among others) to call for the removal of motion smoothing as a default feature.
In fact, the director posted a headcount of A-listers who signed onto his cause while also calling for more filmmakers to hop on-board. Gunn said:
At this point, it's unclear if James Gunn's quest to rid the world of default motion smoothing will prove fruitful. There seems to be a reasonably substantial opposition to the function online, but only time will tell if TV manufacturers will catch on and make it a feature that you can turn on -- rather than something you have to turn off.
What do you think of the soap opera effect?