The Hobbit Film Project
The Hobbit is the working title for a planned two-part film adaptation of the 1937 novel The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, will direct the films and also serve as producer and co-writer.
The films will star Martin Freeman, known for playing Tim Canterbury in the BBC comedy series The Office, as Bilbo Baggins and Richard Armitage, known for playing Lucas North in the BBC drama series Spooks, as Thorin Oakenshield. Several actors from Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy will reprise their roles, including Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, and Christopher Lee. Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm, and Orlando Bloom, though currently unsigned, are expected to return as well. Additionally, composer Howard Shore, who wrote the score for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, is expected to compose the score to The Hobbit films.
The two films are currently in pre-production, and will be shot back to back in New Zealand, with principal photography scheduled to begin on March 21, 2011.
First stages of development
Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh originally expressed interest in filming The Hobbit in 1995, then envisioning it as part one of a trilogy (the other two would have been based on The Lord of the Rings). Frustration arose when Jackson’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, discovered that Saul Zaentz had production rights to The Hobbit, but that distribution rights still belonged to United Artists (which had kept those rights, believing that filmmakers would prefer to adapt The Hobbit rather than The Lord of the Rings, and therefore wanted a profit). The studio was on the market, so Weinstein’s attempts to buy those rights were unsuccessful. Weinstein asked Jackson to press on with adapting The Lord of the Rings. Ultimately, The Lord of the Rings was produced by New Line Cinema, not the Weinsteins, and their rights to film The Hobbit were set to expire in 2010. In September 2006, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, now the owner of UA, expressed interest in teaming up with New Line and Jackson to make The Hobbit.
In March 2005, Jackson launched a lawsuit against New Line, claiming he had lost revenue from merchandising, video, and computer games releases associated with The Fellowship of the Ring. He did not seek a specific settlement, but requested an audit to see whether New Line had deprived him of money. Although Jackson wanted it settled before he would make the film, he felt the lawsuit was minor, and that New Line would still let him make The Hobbit. New Line co-founder Robert Shaye was annoyed with the lawsuit and said in January 2007 that Jackson would never again direct a film for New Line, accusing him of being greedy. MGM boss Harry Sloan halted development, as he wanted Jackson to be involved. By August, after a string of flops, Shaye was trying to repair his relationship with the director. He said, “I really respect and admire Peter and would love for him to be creatively involved in some way in The Hobbit.” The following month, New Line was fined $125,000 for failing to provide requested accounting documents.
On December 16, 2007, it was announced that Jackson would be executive producer of The Hobbit and its sequel. New Line and MGM would co-finance the film, and the latter studio (via 20th Century Fox) would distribute the films outside North America – New Line’s first ever such deal with another major studio. Each film is budgeted at an estimated US$150 million, which compares to the US$94 million budget for each of the films in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. After completion of the merger of New Line Cinema with Warner Bros. in February 2008, the films were announced as scheduled for release in Decembers 2011 and 2012. Producer Mark Ordesky will return to supervise the prequels. Jackson explained he chose not to direct because it would have been unsatisfying to compete with his previous films.
That same month, the Tolkien Estate—through The Tolkien Trust, a British charity—and HarperCollins Publishers filed a suit against New Line for breach of contract and fraud and demanded $220 million in compensation. The suit claimed New Line had only paid the Estate an upfront fee of $62,500, despite the trilogy earning an estimated $6 billion worldwide from box office receipts and merchandise sales. The suit claimed the Estate was entitled to 7.5% of all profits made by any Tolkien films, as established by prior deals. The suit also sought to block the filming of The Hobbit. The suit was settled in September 2009 for an undisclosed amount. However the Tolkien Trust’s 2009 Accounts show that it received a payment of £24 million, (a little over 38 million USD), in respect of a ‘film rights settlement’. Christopher Tolkien said: “The trustees regret that legal action was necessary but are glad that this dispute has been settled on satisfactory terms that will allow the Tolkien Trust properly to pursue its charitable objectives. The trustees acknowledge that New Line may now proceed with its proposed films of The Hobbit.”
Development with Del Toro
Despite the legal suits, development proceeded, and in April 2008, Guillermo del Toro was hired to direct the films. Del Toro has said he was a fan of Jackson’s trilogy and had discussed directing a film adaptation of Halo with him in 2005. Though that project stalled, they kept in contact. In a 2006 interview Del Toro was quoted saying “I don’t like little guys and dragons, hairy feet, hobbits, […] I don’t like sword and sorcery, I hate all that stuff”. After he signed on to direct in April 2008, Del Toro posted on TheOneRing.net forums that he had been enchanted by The Hobbit as a child, but found that Tolkien’s other books “contain[ed] geography and genealogy too complex for my prepubescent brain”. In taking the job of director, Del Toro was now “reading like a madman to catch up with a whole new land, a continent of sorts – a cosmology created by brilliant philologist turned Shaman”. He also posted that his appreciation of Tolkien was enhanced by his knowledge of the fantasy genre and the folklore research he had undertaken while making his own fantasy films.
Pre-production began around August 2008, with Del Toro, Jackson, Walsh, and Philippa Boyens writing the scripts. Del Toro collaborated with Jackson, Walsh and Boyens via videoconferencing, and flew every three weeks, back and forth from Los Angeles, California (where some of the designs were done) to New Zealand to visit them. Del Toro spent his mornings writing, and afternoons looking at material related to Tolkien to help him understand the writer’s work. He watched World War I documentaries and asked for book recommendations from Jackson, who is a collector of World War I memorabilia. Del Toro felt Tolkien’s experiences in that war influenced his stories.
By November 2008, Del Toro has said, he, Jackson, Walsh and Boyens would realize something new about the story every week, and the script was continually changing. The writing hours increased to twelve each day, as they dedicated three weeks to finally deciding the films’ structures. During the first few months of 2009, writing would start from 8:30 am and end at 3 pm when Del Toro would meet with Weta (i.e. Weta Workshop and Weta Digital film effects companies). Completion of the story outlines and treatments ended in March 2009, and the studios approved the start of writing the screenplay. Filming was expected to take place throughout 2010 in New Zealand, with Del Toro renovating the Hobbiton sets in Matamata. For his part, Jackson had kept the Rivendell scale model and the Bag End set (which he has used as a guest house) from the trilogy. During the middle of the shoot, there was expected to be a break which would have allowed Del Toro to edit The Hobbit while sets would be altered for the second film. The director expected the shoot to last 370 days.
Jackson revealed in late November 2009 that he anticipated that the script for The Hobbit would not be finished until the beginning of 2010, delaying the start of production until the middle of that summer (several months later than previously anticipated). The announcement created doubts about whether the film would make its previously-announced release dates of December 2011 and December 2012. Jackson reiterated that no casting decisions had been made. On January 22, 2010, Alan Horn said the first film would likely not be released until the fourth quarter of 2012.
Del Toro’s interpretation
The first film will stand on its own, and the second will be a transition and fusion with Peter’s world. I plan to change and expand the visuals from Peter’s, and I know the world can be portrayed in a different way. Different is better for the first one. For the second, I have the responsibility of finding a slow progression and mimicking the style of Peter.
—Del Toro on tonal consistency with Jackson’s trilogy
Del Toro and Jackson had a positive working relationship, where they compromised on disagreements to the benefit of the film. Del Toro believed he would be able to shoot all of the films himself, although Jackson noted he had similar hopes for filming all of his trilogy, and offered to help as second unit director. Del Toro planned on shooting the films in the trilogy’s 2.35:1 aspect ratio, rather than his signature 1.85:1 ratio. He hoped to collaborate again with cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. Del Toro shares Jackson’s passion for scale models and background paintings, though he wanted to increase the use of animatronics; “We really want to take the state-of-the-art animatronics and take a leap ten years into the future with the technology we will develop for the creatures in the movie. We have every intention to do for animatronics and special effects what the other films did for virtual reality.” Spectral Motion (Hellboy, Fantastic Four) were among those Del Toro wanted to work with again. Some characters would have been created by mixing computer-generated imagery with animatronics, and some would have been created solely with animatronics or animation. Gollum would be entirely digital again, as Del Toro noted “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
Del Toro said that he interpreted The Hobbit as being set in a “world that is slightly more golden at the beginning, a very innocent environment” and the film would need to “[take] you from a time of more purity to a darker reality throughout the film, but [in a manner] in the spirit of the book”. He perceived the main themes as loss of innocence, which he likened to the experience of England after World War I, and greed, which he said Smaug and Thorin Oakenshield represent. Bilbo Baggins reaffirms his personal morality during the story’s third act as he encounters Smaug and the Dwarves’ greed. He added, “The humble, sort of a sturdy moral fibre that Bilbo has very much represents the idea that Tolkien had about the little English man, the average English man”, and the relationship between Bilbo and Thorin would be the heart of the films. The Elves will also be less solemn.
Del Toro met concept artists John Howe and Alan Lee, Weta Workshop head Richard Taylor and make-up artist Gino Acevedo to keep continuity with the previous films, and he also hired comic book artists to complement Howe’s and Lee’s style on the trilogy, including Mike Mignola and Wayne Barlowe, who began work around April 2009. He has also considered looking at Tolkien’s drawings and using elements of those not used in the trilogy. As Tolkien did not originally intend for the magic ring Bilbo finds to be the all-powerful talisman of evil it is revealed to be in The Lord of the Rings, Del Toro said he would address its different nature in the story, but not so much as to draw away from the story’s spirit. Each Dwarf would need to look different from the others. Del Toro would have redesigned the Goblins and Wargs and the Mirkwood spiders would also have looked different from Shelob. Del Toro felt the Wargs had to be changed because “the classical incarnation of the demonic wolf in Nordic mythology is not a hyena-shaped creature”.
Del Toro also wanted the animals to speak so that Smaug’s speech would not be incongruous, though he explained portraying the talking animals would be more about showing people can understand them. Smaug would not have a “snub Simian [mouth] in order to achieve a dubious lip-synch”, and Del Toro noted that such is the attention given to him that he would be the first design begun and the last to be approved. The director, whose Chinese zodiac sign is the Dragon, is fascinated by the mythological species and attempted to include one in Pan’s Labyrinth, but was unable to for budget reasons. His favourite cinematic dragons are Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and Vermithrax Pejorative from Dragonslayer. He has also provided a foreword to Howe’s portfolio book Forging Dragons, where he discussed the dragon’s differing symbolism and roles in various cultures and legends.
Del Toro and Jackson considered the sudden introduction to Bard the Bowman and Bilbo being unconscious during the Battle of the Five Armies to be “less cinematic moments” reminiscent of the novel’s more “fairy tale world” than The Lord of the Rings, which they would change to make The Hobbit feel more like the trilogy. However, Del Toro considered some of these moments like Bilbo waking up to find the battle is over iconic and would require the “fairy tale logic [to] work as is”.
Del Toro’s departure
In 2010, Del Toro left the project, due to delays. On May 28, he explained at a press conference that due to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s financial troubles, the Hobbit project had then not been officially greenlit at the time. “There cannot be any start dates until the MGM situation gets resolved… We have designed all the creatures. We’ve designed the sets and the wardrobe. We have done animatics and planned very lengthy action sequences. We have scary sequences and funny sequences and we are very, very prepared for when it’s finally triggered, but we don’t know anything until MGM is solved.” Two days later, Del Toro announced at TheOneRing.net that “[i]n light of ongoing delays in the setting of a start date for filming”, he would “take leave from helming”, further stating that “the mounting pressures of conflicting schedules have overwhelmed the time slot originally allocated for the project. […] I remain an ally to it and its makers, present and future, and fully support a smooth transition to a new director”. Reports began to surface around the internet about possible directors; apparently the studios wanted Jackson, but such names as Neill Blomkamp, David Yates, Brett Ratner, and David Dobkin were mentioned.
However, this incident has received negative reaction from many Hobbit fans, who have been angry at MGM for delaying the project. They also tried willing the studio to sell their rights to Warner Brothers. On July 27, del Toro responded to these angry fans, saying that “it wasn’t just MGM. These are very complicated movies, economically and politically.”
On June 25, 2010, Jackson was reported to be in negotiations to direct the two-part film. On October 16, 2010, New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. confirmed that The Hobbit was to proceed filming with Jackson as director and that the film will be in 3-D. As well as confirming Jackson as director, the film was reported to be greenlit, with principal photography to begin in February 2011. Jackson stated that “Exploring Tolkien’s Middle-earth goes way beyond a normal film-making experience. It’s an all-immersive journey into a very special place of imagination, beauty and drama.”
On September 24, 2010, the International Federation of Actors issued a Do Not Work order, advising members of its member unions (including the Screen Actors Guild) that “The producers…have refused to engage performers on union-negotiated agreements.” This would subject actors who work on the film to possible expulsion from the union. In response, Warner Bros and New Line Cinema considered taking the production elsewhere, with Jackson mentioning the possibility of filming in Eastern Europe. On 25 October 2010, thousands of New Zealanders organised protest rallies imploring that production remain in New Zealand, as shifting production to locations outside New Zealand would potentially have cost the country’s economy up to $1.5 billion.
After two days of talks with the New Zealand government (including involvement by Prime Minister John Key), Warner Bros. executives decided on the 27th of October to film The Hobbit in New Zealand as originally planned. In return, the government of New Zealand agreed to introduce legislation to clarify the distinction between independent contractors and employees working in the film production industry, and also broaden the government’s financial support for big budget films made in New Zealand.
Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis (who played Gandalf and Gollum, respectively), met Del Toro, who ideally wanted every actor (including Ian Holm, who played Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings) to reprise their roles, although he acknowledged some may be unable to because of health problems; he would also consider having Holm narrate the films. In an interview with BBC radio, Del Toro confirmed that McKellen, Serkis and Hugo Weaving (who played Elrond) would reprise their roles. All 13 Dwarves and Beorn will also appear, while Thorin’s father, Thráin II, will also be featured.
Doug Jones—who portrayed various creatures in Hellboy, its sequel and Pan’s Labyrinth—was interested in playing Thranduil, King of Mirkwood and Legolas’ father, but Del Toro said he wanted Jones for a different role. Similarly, Hellboy star Ron Perlman was a person whom Del Toro had “something in mind for”. However, after Del Toro’s departure, the status of the actors’ involvement has been cast in doubt. In an interview on October 17, 2010, Jones stated that while he would still like to have some kind of involvement with the film, he was unsure of whether or not Peter Jackson was still interested in giving him a role. He went on to say that in the event that Jackson were to offer him a role, it would all depend on whether or not the shooting schedule would conflict with Del Toro’s planned adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, which will begin filming in May 2011. On November 30, 2010, Perlman, when asked if he would be appearing in the films, replied, “I’m not doing [it]. I think maybe that’s a scoop for you.”
In July 2010 McKellen appeared on TVNZ’s Good Morning, where he stated that: “I’m not under contract and my time is running out. I don’t want to give the producers the impression that I’m sitting waiting.” However, on November 27, 2010, McKellen updated his website to include The Hobbit, suggesting that he had, in fact, decided to reprise the role of Gandalf in the two films. In the update, he wrote, “THE HOBBIT’s, two films, start shooting in New Zealand in February 2011. Filming will take over a year. Casting in Los Angeles, New York City and London has started. The script too proceeds. The first draft is crammed with old and new friends, again on a quest in Middle Earth.” In January 2011 McKellen confirmed on his website that he was “happy to say I start filming in Wellington on February 21 2011”.
Former Doctor Who star Sylvester McCoy, who appeared alongside Ian McKellen in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of King Lear in 2008, confirmed he was in negotiations to play a major role as a “wizard”, leading to speculation he could appear as Radagast the Brown. This was later confirmed by the actor.
On October 15, 2010, a Deadline report suggested that James Nesbitt, David Tennant, Michael Fassbender, and Saoirse Ronan were in negotiations for parts in the film project. Nesbitt was eventually cast as the dwarf Bofur. On January 11, 2011, TheOneRing.net reported that Tennant had entered into negotiations to portray Thranduil, the Elvenking of Mirkwood. On January 27, 2011, casting director Ros Hubbard revealed in an interview that Ronan had been cast in an unspecified role. On February 14, 2011, Ronan revealed that although she was in talks for a role in the films, she had not yet been signed. However, there has been no further word on the status of Fassbender.
In October 2010, Jackson confirmed that Richard Armitage would play Thorin. Other dwarves would be played by Irish actor Aidan Turner (Kíli), English actor Rob Kazinsky (Fíli), Scottish actor Graham McTavish (Dwalin) and New Zealand actors Stephen Hunter (Bombur), Peter Hambleton (Glóin), John Callen (Óin) and Mark Hadlow (Dori). Peter Jackson announced “Despite the various rumors and speculation surrounding this role, there has only ever been one Bilbo Baggins for us. There are a few times in your career when you come across an actor who you know was born to play a role, but that was the case as soon as I met Martin Freeman. He is intelligent, funny, surprising and brave—exactly like Bilbo and I feel incredibly proud to be able to announce that he is our Hobbit.” On November 1, 2010, Jackson confirmed that James Nesbitt (Bofur) and Adam Brown (Ori) had also been added to the cast.
On December 7, 2010, it was confirmed that Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt would be portraying the shape shifter Beorn. Additionally, Cate Blanchett became the first actor associated with The Lord of the Rings film trilogy to be officially announced as joining the cast. Also announced were Scottish actors Ken Stott (Balin) and Sylvester McCoy (Radagast). British actor Ryan Gage will play Frodo Baggins’ father Drogo Baggins, while New Zealand actors Jed Brophy and William Kircher will round out the company of dwarves, playing Nori and Bifur respectively.
On December 4, 2010, Deadline reported that Orlando Bloom had entered into negotiations to reprise the role of Legolas, although it is currently unclear if a deal has been reached yet.
On January 6, 2011, Deadline reported that Elijah Wood was in talks to reprise his role of Frodo Baggins in the two films. They also indicated that both Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis were in talks to reprise their roles as Gandalf and Gollum, respectively. Wood was confirmed as joining the cast on January 7, 2011 by TheOneRing.net. It was then officially confirmed on January 10, 2011 that McKellen and Serkis would reprise their roles in the film and that Sir Christopher Lee and Ian Holm had entered into negotiations to reprise the roles of Saruman and the older version of Bilbo Baggins. Lee had originally said he would have liked to have shown Saruman’s corruption by Sauron, but would not be comfortable flying to New Zealand at his age. Lee went on to say that if a film were made, he would love to voice Smaug, as it would mean he could record his part in England, and not have to travel. On January 11, 2011, Lee announced on his website that he would be reprising his role as well.
According to TheOneRing.net, “As readers of ‘The Hobbit’ know, the tale of ‘The Downfall of The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit or There and Back Again,’ are contained in the fictional ‘Red Book of Westmarch.’ In Peter Jackson’s LOTR films, the book is shown on screen and written in by Bilbo and Frodo and handed off to Samwise Gamgee….The fictional book, and either the telling from it or the reading of it, will establish Frodo in the films experiencing Bilbo’s story. Viewers are to learn the tale of ‘The Hobbit’ as a familiar Frodo gets the tale as well.”
The following is a list of cast members who are scheduled to voice or portray characters appearing in one or both of The Hobbit films.
The project has been envisaged as two films since 2006, but the proposed contents of the films has changed during development. MGM expressed interest in a second film in 2006, set between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Jackson concurred, stating “one of the drawbacks of The Hobbit is [that] it’s relatively lightweight compared to Lord of the Rings… There [are] a lot of sections in which a character like Gandalf disappears for a while. From memory – I mean, I haven’t read it for a while now – but I think he references going off to meet with the White Council, who are actually characters like Galadriel and Saruman and people who we see in Lord of the Rings. He mysteriously vanishes for a while and then comes back, but we don’t really know what goes on.” Jackson was also interested in showing Gollum’s journey to Mordor, and Aragorn setting a watch on the Shire.
After his hiring in 2008, Del Toro confirmed the sequel would be about “trying to reconcile the facts of the first movie with a slightly different point of view. You would be able to see events that were not witnessed in the first.” He also noted the story must be drawn from only what is mentioned in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as they do not have the rights to The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. Del Toro also added (before writing began) that if they could not find a coherent story for the second film, they would just film The Hobbit, stating “The Hobbit is better contained in a single film and kept brisk and fluid with no artificial ‘break point’.” By November 2008, he acknowledged that the book was more detailed and eventful than people may remember. He decided to abandon the “bridge film” concept, feeling that it would be better for the two films to contain only material from The Hobbit:
When you lay out […] the story beats contained within the book (before even considering any apendix [sic] material) the work is enormous and encompasses more than one film. That’s why we are thinking of the TWO INSTALLMENTS as parts of a single NARRATIVE. That’s why I keep putting down the use of a “bridge” film (posited initially). I think the concept as such is not relevant anymore. I believe that the narrative and characters are rich enough to fit in TWO films.
Del Toro was faced with two possible places to split the story including Smaug’s defeat. He noted the second film would need to end by leading directly into The Fellowship of the Ring. In June 2009, Del Toro revealed he had decided where to divide the story based on comments from fans about signifying a change in Bilbo’s relationship with the dwarves. The second film’s story would also have depended on how many actors could have reprised their roles.
New Line Cinema has registered two film titles—The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: There and Back Again.
The two parts are being filmed back to back and are currently in production in New Zealand; principal photography began on 21 March 2011. They are scheduled to be released on 14 December 2012 and 13 December 2013, respectively.
Principal photography began on 21 March 2011 in Wellington, New Zealand. Filming is at Wellington Stone Street Studios, the town of Matamata and at other undisclosed locations around New Zealand. In April 2011, Jackson revealed through his Facebook page that he is filming The Hobbit at 48 frames/s (frames per second) instead of the normal 24 frames/s:
We are indeed shooting at the higher frame rate. The key thing to understand is that this process requires both shooting and projecting at 48 frames/s, rather than the usual 24 frames/s (films have been shot at 24 frames per second since the late 1920s). So the result looks like normal speed, but the image has hugely enhanced clarity and smoothness. Looking at 24 frames every second may seem ok–and we’ve all seen thousands of films like this over the last 90 years–but there is often quite a lot of blur in each frame, during fast movements, and if the camera is moving around quickly, the image can judder or “strobe.” Shooting and projecting at 48 frames/s does a lot to get rid of these issues. It looks much more lifelike, and it is much easier to watch, especially in 3-D.
Not only that, it will also likely be the highest budgeted film so far to be shot on Red Digital Cinema Camera Company’s Epic sensor of which Peter Jackson received one of the very first shipments. Epic Brains will record a data rate of 225 MB/s. The sensor sizes will be Super 35, 135 film, 645 (medium format), and 617, equivalent to the Linhof Technorama camera (the 617 will record a data-rate of 500 MB/s). Horizontal resolutions will range from 5K to 28K (the latter is the equivalent of 261 megapixels) and could be printed onto 70 mm IMAX 15/70 without the need for the IMAX Digital Media Remastering (DMR). Peter Jackson, reportedly, will film his version of The Hobbit using 30 Epic cameras.
In the recent Hobbit Blog part 3, Peter Jackson is seen at Pinewood Studios near Watford in England. At the end of the blog Sir Christopher Lee is seen in full makeup and costume as Saruman. This confirms that filming for some parts of The Hobbit are being done in England. The recent blog featuring this scene can been seen on The Hobbits Official Blog site.