Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Cinematic Anticipation - 'The Hobbit'

With exactly one year to the day until the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, it's been about 10 years now since the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and the day my perception of film changed forever. I watched it twice in a row on the opening day, another 4 times in the cinema and I don't know how many times after that. Two years later, after the release of the third instalment in Peter Jackson's epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and 17 Oscars and 6 Billion Dollars (box office and merchandising) later, people began waiting for The Hobbit. It's a film that should actually have preceded LOTR, but that did not come to pass. Indeed, it is probably a blessing in disguise, since the massive success of LOTR means that Peter Jackson and his team are equipped to do proper justice to The Hobbit. Hit the jump for a kick-off post on this juggernaut of a picture, in which I will look at a bit of the past and a touch of the future, and hopefully remind you that you absolutely have to be excited for this one.


As I was saying, people begun to wait. Not just the fans of the Lord of the Rings books either. Peter Jackson's films spawned legions of fans all over the world. I remember when I watched Fellowship, (after the movie ended) a little boy in front of me told his dad how excited he was for the next film to come out. His dad tried to explain to him (in a friendly but condescending tone) that there wouldn't be another one. Well, back then your casual cinema goer and infrequent reader (ie most people) didn't know much about the story, but it was not long before that changed forever. Now the LOTR has fans in every corner of the globe and from every walk of life.

Unfortunately, the fans would have to wait a lot longer than anticipated. Why though? When a series of films was that successful, surely it should be easy to put together the money and the people for the next film? The LOTR basically created a film industry in New Zealand, the technical crew were all there and rearing to go, actors would do anything to return, and the script had been in development for ages. Well, a cursed cloud appeared to hang over The Hobbit production from the word go. Development woes, up to the long-awaited green light on 15 October 2010, went a little something like this:
  • March 2005: Peter Jackson sues New Line Cinema for loss of revenue (among other things). Robert Shaye of New Line wanted Jackson off the film (saying he was greedy), but MGM boss Harry Sloan (they were partnering with New Line) wanted Jackson on board. So he stopped production.
  • 16 December 2007: it was announced that Peter Jackson would be the executive producer on The Hobbit, that New Line and MGM would co-finance the film(s), and that they (The Hobbit is split into two parts) would be released in December 2011 and 2012 respectively. Jackson could not direct because of scheduling issues.
  • April 2008: Guillermo Del Toro was hired to direct The Hobbit. This made me, and many other fans, extremely happy. Del Toro is a major talent.
  • August 2008: Pre-Production began, with the first order of business being finishing the script (Del Toro, Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens).
  • March 2009: After quite a lengthy process, the screenplay was finally finished. At least, that's what we were led to believe.
  • November 2009: Jackson revealed that the script would only be complete by sometime in 2010. That of course jeopardised the release dates somewhat, but as fate would have it, that was the least of their concerns.
  • 28 May 2010: MGM is in financial trouble (on the verge of bankruptcy) and Del Toro revealed not only that The Hobbit was not yet green lit, but also that he was bowing out as director due to mounting scheduling issues. It was a dark day for Del Toro and Hobbit fans, but many saw a glimpse of hope that Jackson would return to direct.
  • 25 June 2010: rumours began that Peter Jackson was going to return to direct the films, and things begun to look up again. However, this was to be short lived.
  • 24 September 2010: the International Federation of Actors put a spoke in the wheels by issuing a Do Not Work Order. Basically, it was some Australian union that saw an opportunity and decided to grab it. However, not only were there massive protests against the union, but New Line and Warner Bros simply threatened to move the production elsewhere (Peter Jackson mentioned Eastern Europe as a possibility). Well, before you could say "cheers", the New Zealand Prime Minister got involved and the matter resolved. That gives you an indication of the power of this production.
  • 15 October 2010: The Hobbit (in two parts) is green lit and Peter Jackson announced as director. Hallelujah, after more than 5 years of unnecessary delays, the ball was finally rolling. Filming was going to begin in February 2011.
  • 22 October 2011: Martin Freeman is cast as Bilbo. He acted in The Office and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and, for me, is the perfect casting choice. I could not think of anybody to play Bilbo, but when this announcement was made, I knew they were right. See the pic of him below.
  • 27 January 2011: Peter Jackson is rushed to hospital for surgery after suffering a perforated ulcer. This caused widespread fear that an even further delay was on the cards. At the end of the day though, it didn't make much of a difference because...
  • 21 March 2011: principal photography begins, at long last.
Martin Freeman is Bilbo Baggins

Much like the LOTR at the time, The Hobbit cast is a big one, and doesn't contain any major stars. You see, Peter Jackson and co don't need star power to get bums in seats, at least not for this movie. The upside here is that they can cast the actor who is right for the role, without their discretion being fettered by the need to get stars on board. I'm not going to list the entire cast because, like me, you probably won't be familiar with all of them. However, here are some noteworthy points:
  • Old favourites are returning, including Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Ian Mckellan (Gandalf), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Orlando Bloom (Legolas) Christopher Lee (Saruman) and of course Andy Serkis (Gollum). Some of these characters, like an adult Frodo, don't even appear in The Hobbit book. They have apparently been added as "book ends" to the films, in order to facilitate a smooth transition to the LOTR movies. Others only have small roles. Gollum, for instance, appears in one scene only, but it is probably the most crucial scene in the entire book.
  • A new character has been created in Tauriel, a woodland elf to be played by Evangeline Lily (Lost). Some fans have bitched a little about this, but I have faith in Peter Jackson and Co.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch is the voice of Smaug. I don't know this actor, but he is in a number of huge movies coming out now and in the near future, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and War Horse. I have read nothing but great things about him, and his repeated bellowing of "Be Brave" at the end of the War Horse trailer almost caused, in the words of one of my friends, my skin to melt off from goosebumps. Oh, and he will also be "playing" Smaug by means of motion capture. Interesting! If you wonder why I say this, it's because, well, Smaug is a Dragon.
Instead of rambling on about the casting choices, see the official pictures below of the Dwarves in The Hobbit. If you are not familiar with the story, the Dwarves accompany Bilbo on his adventure and play a central role in the film. Needless to say, they look great!

Nori, Ori and Dori
Oin and Gloin (Gimli's dad)

Left: Fili and Kili. Above: Bombur, Bofur and Bifur.

Above: Thorin Oakenshield (the leader of the Dwarves). Right: Balin and Dwalin. If you recall The Fellowship of the Ring, the tomb in Moria where Gimli was mourning and Pippin disturbed the Orcs, is Balin's tomb.


We know that filming is underway and, in fact, that it is likely to wrap quite soon. The best thing about the filming process (from a fan's perspective), is the fact that Peter Jackson posts regular production video blogs. They are fascinating, and I have embedded them below. But first, some interesting technical bits and pieces:
  • The Budget of the two Hobbit films is $500 million. That is an insane amount considering the fact that the combined budget of all three LOTR movies was $260 million. At $250 million each, The Hobbit movies are not the most expensive ever made (the third Pirates of the Caribbean film cost $300 million and Tangled cost $260 million), but considering the costs saved in shooting back to back and the fact that The Hobbit contains no major stars, they must effectively be the most expensive films ever. The expense must have something to do with the next few points...
  • The Hobbit is being filmed in 3D. Whether or not you are a fan of 3D, I'm sure you will agree that Peter Jackson is going to do a great job with it. I won't say much more, because the most recent production blog below focuses on 3D, so you can see for yourself. 3D concept art? I know, awesome.
  • Red Epic Cameras are being used. What are these Red Epic cameras that everyone is talking about, and what makes them special? I'm not really sure, but I know that (1) they shoot at 5000k resolution (5 times more than full HD), (2) they are expensive (a camera costs about $60 000, the "brain" alone is $40 000) and (3) the production is using no less than 48 of them on 17 3D rigs! That's about $2.5 million for the cameras alone, before you even get to the lenses and the rigs. Moreover, the hidden costs associated with these cameras is apparently huge, with all the data processing and whatnot that is required. See this interesting article for more. What initially drew my attention to this camera is that every production that matters seems to be using it, including The Amazing Spider-Man, Bryan Singer's Jack the Giant Killer, Ridley Scott's Prometheus, James Cameron's Avatar 2 and David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
  • They are filming at 48 frames per second. What? Traditional film is projected at 24 frames per second but, according to many (including James Cameron), 48fps is a huge improvement and is the next big thing in film technology. The problem is, we are not likely to see any difference because to reap the benefits, you of course have to project at 48fps as well, and most modern theatre projections systems are still 24fps.
Part One: Start of Production

Part Two: Last Day of Shooting Block 1

Part 3: Looking Back at Shooting Block 1

Part 4: 3D


Unfortunately, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is only being released on 14 December 2012. That is exactly one year from today, and a very long wait. However, we have Peter Jackson's intermittent production videos to tide us over in the months ahead. More importantly, the marketing machine of this Middle Earth juggernaut is about to get rolling. I know a trailer has been cut and seen by a lucky few, and according to Andy Serkis in an interview with IGN, it will be released around Christmas (which is basically now). In fact, before Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which is coming out this Friday. I cannot wait! Of course, I will post it here the moment it hits.

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