Flickchart Preview: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
It’s been nine years since the Battle of Pelennor Field. Nine years since Aragorn was coronated, Gollum drowned in the fires of Mount Doom with the One Ring, and Frodo Baggins set sail from the Grey Havens. Nine years since Peter Jackson released the third part of his epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “unfilmable” novels, and actually finished shooting the film after it won the Oscar for Best Picture (with pickup shots for the Extended Edition DVD).
Since then, fans of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy have waited with baited breath for news that Tolkien’s prelude novel, The Hobbit, would get a similar big-screen treatment. A long wait, to be sure, and there were many times when it seemed the road really would go ever on and on, out from the door where it began.
Still, the wait is finally over, and the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – the first chapter in a new Jackson-directed Tolkien trilogy – is set to become one of the biggest films of the year.
Following the ten-year marathon of making The Lord of the Rings, Jackson jumped straight into a dream project: his 2005 remake of King Kong. The question of whether or not he might return to Middle Earth after his sojourn to Skull Island arose, but the project was plagued by delays. When it was announced two years after Kong that Jackson would executive produce – but not direct – The Hobbit and a sequel, it led to the most significant new addition to the Lord of the Rings team.
Guillermo del Toro joined the project in 2008, to serve as director and co-writer with Jackson and his Rings co-writers, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. It was a directing choice met with positive feedback among fans, as del Toro’s is a directorial vision that certainly seems it would mesh well with Jackson’s. Alas, it was not to be. Continued production delays and legal battles stretched out pre-production to an astonishing length, and after two years living in New Zealand, del Toro finally decided he could not remain, not with no definite future for The Hobbit yet in sight and other projects he wished to pursue. (His name will remain in the credits as a writer and producer.)
Principal photography finally began on The Hobbit in March 2011, with Peter Jackson now back at the helm. But a funny thing had happened during nearly five years of pre-production: The Hobbit project had been envisioned as two films from the start – an adaptation of the book, followed by a film bridging the gap between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring. During del Toro’s tenure on the films, the script evolved so much that it became apparent that the two movies should both include material from Tolkien’s book. Suddenly, a book half the size of any of the three Lord of the Rings novels would be getting twice as much screen time.
Then came the bombshell in July 2012 (halfway through principal photography) that The Hobbit would now be split into three films: An Unexpected Journey in 2012, The Desolation of Smaug in 2013 and There and Back Again in 2014. Delving into J.R.R. Tolkien’s extensive appendices to his books has allowed for “padding” of the story, but the writers have even gone so far as to create a new character, in the form of an elf named Tauriel to played by LOST star Evangeline Lilly.
Still, all the right ingredients are in place: Jackson at the helm; returning Rings actors including Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis, Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee and Cate Blanchett; conceptual artists Alan Lee and John Howe (veteran illustrators of Tolkien books); creature effects by Weta Workshop and CGI by Weta Digital; composer Howard Shore…and New Zealand – Middle-earth on Earth – as the perfect location for Tolkien’s fantastical vision.
An Unexpected Journey features Martin Freeman (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the BBC’s The Office and Sherlock) as a younger Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit more inquisitive than most, who sets out on a grand adventure with the wizard Gandalf (McKellen) and a company of Dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshiled (Richard Armitage) to reclaim the Lonely Mountains from the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).
On a technical level, the movie represents a first for major films: It has been shot at 48 frames per second, doubling the framerate from the standard 24. It’s intended to reduce motion blur in the film’s 3D showings, and make for a more “immersive” experience, but The Hobbit is also being shown in standard 24fps 3D, so check to see what your local theater offers before choosing your poison.
Critical reviews thus far are on the positive side, but a little mixed, praising Freeman’s performance, deriding the film’s length, and questioning the use of the 48fps format. It makes one wonder whether the three-movie split was a good idea, but as an avid fan of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, I can’t wait.