Return to Middle-earth
Books will surely be written about the complicated journey to bring J.R.R. Tolkien's classic novel to the big screen.
The abridged version runs something like this: After Peter Jackson completed the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 2003 with New Line, director and studio were keen to make The Hobbit. New Line would co-produce the film with MGM, which held the film rights. However, Jackson and New Line got into a legal battle over royalties, finally settling the matter in the fall of 2007. It was then announced Jackson would executive produce The Hobbit and its sequel.
In 2008, Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy) was brought in to direct, but script delays and the fact MGM had fallen into bankruptcy held up production, forcing him to abandon the project in May 2010. This past October, del Toro told The Hollywood Reporter that leaving The Hobbit was "the most difficult professional decision I've ever had to make."
The obvious choice to take over directing duties was Jackson. In the same Hollywood Reporter story New Line president Toby Emmerich said, "It wasn't clear the movies would survive if he didn't step in."
Yet Jackson hesitated. He told website Crave Online, "I was reluctant to direct it because I felt I would arrive at work every day and I would be thinking about, 'Now, how did I direct this 12 years ago?' And I would be competing against myself. But, if we were going to get this film made I should just do it, it was a sense of responsibility."
And despite suffering a perforated ulcer that required surgery before shooting began, Jackson has no regrets about taking the job. "The surprise for me was how much I loved it," he told Crave Online. "I walked on the set the first day and I just thought I am so pleased that it worked out this way. And my worry about repeating myself never happened."
Set 60 years before the events written about in The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit introduces us to a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a respectable hobbit who enjoys a quiet life.
His world is turned upside down when the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and 13 dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), drop by for tea. The dwarves — having been led to believe by Gandalf that Bilbo is a burglar in search of a job — ask the hobbit to join them on a quest to steal back treasure stolen from their kin by the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch via motion capture). Smaug lives inside The Lonely Mountain, once a dwarf stronghold, and the dwarves not only want the treasure but to reclaim their home, meaning they must kill the seemingly invincible Smaug.
Mustering courage he never knew he had, Bilbo agrees to join the quest that will take the band to the elven outpost of Rivendell, into the forests of Mirkwood and deep inside goblin lairs where Bilbo encounters a strange creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis) who possesses a powerful ring.
THE MAIN CAST
|MARTIN FREEMAN AS BILBO
As The Hobbit's protagonist Bilbo Baggins is featured in nearly every scene of the book, it was crucial that Peter Jackson find the perfect actor to portray the small hero. His first — and only — choice was British actor Martin Freeman, best known for his turn in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and now BBC TV’s series "Sherlock," playing Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes.
|IAN MCKELLAN AS GANDALF
Bringing Ian McKellen back to play Gandalf was crucial. And for the 71-year-old McKellen the chance to portray the more jovial Gandalf the Grey, versus the more serious Gandalf the White (whom he transforms into in the second half of The Lord of the Rings) was a bonus.
|ANDY SERKIS AS GOLLUM
And, of course, no one but Andy Serkis could bring the pitiful Gollum to life. Yet reprising the role via motion capture after such a long layoff wasn't so easy. During one of Peter Jackson's video blogs shot during the making of The Hobbit, Serkis told Jackson that, "Trying to get back into the head of Gollum...I don't know if I ever told you, but it felt like kinda doing an impersonation of a character I played. It was weird, 'cause it was like having to re-own it again."
Perhaps Jackson's greatest challenge was finding 13 actors to play the dwarves, who must resemble one another, but have distinct personalities so that the audience can relate to them each individually.
"Thirteen dwarves was one of the reasons why I dreaded The Hobbit," said Jackson in one of his video blogs, "and why I really didn't think I was going to make [the film] for such a long time. The irony is that it's turned out to be one of the joys of the film."
None of the actors playing dwarves are household names, but look for British actor Richard Armitage as the brave leader Thorin, and Kiwi performer Stephen Hunter as the rotund Bombur, to breakout.
Shooting the first two Hobbit films back-to-back — the third film will be comprised of unused footage from the first two films, plus additional shooting reportedly to take place next summer — proved a mammoth task.
To make 266 days of shooting tolerable Jackson split the filming into three blocks allowing for a respite in between. Studio work took place in New Zealand in Jackson's Stone Street Studios, located in the Wellington suburb of Miramar. More than 115 sets were created, and a trailer park consisting of 21 trailers was needed to house the actors.
The cast and crew also spent nearly seven weeks travelling across New Zealand shooting in remote and magnificent locations. Jackson documented the long shoot with eight video blogs hosted on The Hobbit Blog (www.thehobbitblog.com) which is must-see viewing for Hobbit fans.
All three Hobbit films were shot in digital 3D using RED Epic cameras. Jackson was the first filmmaker to get his hands on the brand new cameras (49 in total).
But the big news is that Jackson shot the film using 48 frames per second, twice the normal 24 fps. The human eye actually sees the world in 60 fps, which means 48 fps comes closer to recreating the world as humans see it.
When Jackson showed his 48 fps footage at CinemaCon in April, the reviews were mixed. Many found it too real, resembling the flatness you see on a TV soap opera. Jackson defends the technology, saying it will take some getting used to. "At first it's unusual because you've never seen a movie like this before," the director told Entertainment Weekly.
To help ease viewers toward the new technology, Warner Brothers — which merged with New Line — will be showing the 48 fps in approximately 10 percent of theatres, with the rest of the theatres presenting the film in regular 24 fps.
One fun fact, if The Hobbit had been shot on 35mm film instead of digitally, it would have used 22,817,520 feet of film.
Ingrid Randoja is the deputy editor of Cineplex Magazine.