The Hobbit is coming - I may just burst into tears of joy.
As an avid film buff, I keep track of upcoming movies obsessively. I’m usually up to date on all the latest casting announcements, director interviews and trailers (Check out my article from a few days ago on four notable trailers I found this week).
Because of this, I’ve been following the news of the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit for years. The production has had a bumpy ride on its journey to the screen, but the fact that it is now shooting in New Zealand is a fantastic achievement for director Peter Jackson’s team. I’m going to be bringing you up to date on the progress of this film adaptation and explaining why a video released on Facebook a few weeks ago had me smiling from ear to ear. Grab your Ring of Power and journey on past the break!
Peter Jackson made his first solid inquiries into making The Hobbit in 2006, but he was opposed on a number of fronts. First was his ongoing battle with New Line Cinemas over lost revenue from merchandise for The Fellowship of the Ring. Jackson’s subsequent lawsuit (not directly for the money, but for New Line to be audited to check for financial discrepancies), caused a brief falling-out with the studio.
When New Line eventually agreed to co-finance the film with MGM, the project looked green-lit, but then a lawsuit came down from the Tolkien Estate demanding 7.5% of all revenue from the Rings films. That suit was settled, but the legal manoeuvreing further stalled the project.
In 2008, it was announced that Mexican director Guillermo del Toro would direct a two-part Hobbit film, with Peter Jackson as executive producer and writer. I was excited at this news, because I’m a huge fan of Del Toro, both for his Hellboy movies and the superbly creepy Pan’s Labyrinth. Personally, I agreed with Jackson that Del Toro’s darker, twisted style would complement the tone of The Hobbit nicely (fans of the book who have read LOTR will likely know what I’m talking about). Fans rejoiced: the long-gestating project would finally happen!
Well, not quite as quickly as expected. For two full years Del Toro worked with Jackson and Jackson’s writing partner/wife Fran Walsh on story treatments, outlines and a screenplay. Del Toro was very vocal with fans about the process, detailing the intense number of hours per day (sometimes as much as 12) he spent working on the project. He spoke in interviews about his ideas for the film, which would include more animatronics (like in Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth) and a more fairy-tale feel (again, a connection to the text).
But in May 2010, Del Toro abruptly left the project, citing the money problems MGM were having (a crippling $3.7 billion debt). Del Toro was frustrated that he, Jackson and the rest of the team had put so much work into the project but had to wait to begin shooting because of the lack of cash. Del Toro had a number of other directing options on the table which he reasoned would move forward faster than The Hobbit, and so he parted ways (amiably) with the film.
Amazingly, that still wasn’t the end of the saga! Jackson decided to direct the film himself, and got the green light from the studios (invigorated by money from Warner Bros.) to start shooting the two-part project. But Jackson still couldn’t move ahead: an industrial dispute with several actor’s unions necessitated talks with the New Zealand prime minister and government legislation. Finally, on October 27th, 2010, the film was in the clear to shoot - once Jackson recovered from an ulcer (rumoured to have been caused by the stress of all the delays).
Whew! With that out of the way, Jackson actually started making the movie. Actors were cast (including Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins) and the production churned back to life. We learned that Jackson would be shooting the film in 3D (on actual stereoscopic cameras, thank God) at 48 frames per second, a revolutionary new framerate for film. This decision would mean the 3D effects would be far more convincing, and if viewed in a digital theatre equipped with the right projector, would supersede the 3D in Avatar or How to Train Your Dragon.
Then something fantastic happened. Peter Jackson posted a video on his Facebook page on April 14th, 2011. This was the official “start of production” video, a vlog-style look at the start of filming, with a number of glimpses of the sets, the costumes (a lot is blurred out to maintain the secrecy), and the generally epic atmosphere of the production. I heard about this video from a film blog, and promptly jumped over to Facebook to watch it – my mind was subsequently blown.
As I watched Jackson walk around, talking to actors like Sir Ian McKellen or poking around the Gollum’s Cave set, I felt a huge smile spread across my face – the video just made me so happy. As a longtime fan (seriously, quiz me sometime on Tolkien. I dare you.) and someone who has read up on all aspects of the prior series’ production (check out the book The Lord of the Rings: The Making of the Movie Trilogy by Brian Sibley – a great look at the project), this video was the ultimate treat. I could see all the elements of the series I loved coming back together, along with the incorporation of some exciting new stuff.
Now the production has come to its first break, and Martin Freeman has returned to England for a spell to shoot three more episodes of BBC’s Sherlock (check out my article on that series here). Once the shoot starts up again, I expect another wave of great news from New Zealand – when it arrives, look to Professionally Incoherent for my thoughts on it all!
What do you think about the adaptation of The Hobbit? Worried? Excited? Will it approach The Lord of the Rings in quality? Inscribe your thoughts in the comments below!
-For camera nerds, here’s what Jackson is shooting on (I know I’m drooling)-