There are so many crises in the world that it’s sometimes hard to keep track of who is shilling for which cause. From children’s hospitals to pet shelters to D.C. statehood to global warming to simple partisan electoral politics, it’s easy to tune out the celebrity activism because there’s just so much of it and so little of it is related to anything celebrities actually do.
Which is why it was so refreshing to see Tom Cruise, American avatar, team up with director and frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie to push for a cause near and dear to my heart: the end of motion smoothing.
What is motion smoothing, you might be asking yourself? Well, let’s let Maverick himself explain the wickedness that is “video interpolation”:
Motion smoothing essentially gives pictures exactly that: smoother motion, an effect generated by the television “guessing” how an image should look between frames. The effect is unnatural to eyes that are trained to receive images at 24 frames per second: As Cruise and McQuarrie note in their video, the effect essentially makes film look something like a daytime soap opera or telenovela. (The few viewers who have seen films shot at 48 frames per second, such as the “Hobbit” movies, have experienced something similar.)
This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that many television manufacturers make motion smoothing the default setting.
Filmmakers have finally had enough of this nonsense. Earlier this year, Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson — two filmmakers known for the dedication to the look and feel of actual film, as opposed to digital alternatives —joined forces in an effort to gather artistic voices opposed to the practice. An email from the Directors Guild of America signed by Nolan and director Jonathan Mostow highlighted the effort by Nolan and Anderson to convince manufacturers that something must be done.
“Many of you have seen your work appear on television screens looking different from the way you actually finished it,” the email read, according to Slash Film. “… Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson reached out, via the studio UHD Alliance, to television manufacturers. By starting a dialogue with the manufacturers themselves we hope to try and give directors a voice in how the technical standards of our work can be maintained in the home.”
This is all well and good — and I applaud heartily the efforts of two of my favorite directors to defeat the most wicked technological “advance” since the rise of social media — but there are other, quicker routes that can be taken in the journey to defeat this menace. After all, the TVs are already in our homes. The motion smoothing is already disrupting our entertainment. We can win this war all on our own!
Which brings me back to Cruise and McQuarrie. Their call to arms is short and simple, something easily accomplished at no cost to them or to us: just Google your make of TV along with the phrase “motion smoothing” to discern how to shut it off. This advice is as portable as it is useful: You can perform the search as quickly on your smartphone as you can on your laptop should you find yourself in unfamiliar environs and encounter the menace. (This should go without saying, but just in case it needs to be vocalized: Always make sure to ask for permission before mucking about with a TV that isn’t your own.)
Perhaps most important, this is the rare nonpartisan activism that relies directly on the expertise of the celebrity making the appeal. There’s no hint of phoniness, no reason to be wary of unwanted politicking. It is merely a plea from an artist to help you, the consumer, enjoy the art in the manner it was intended. In these troubled times, it’s exactly the kind of unifying activism we need.