‘The Hobbit’: An unexpected journey on- and off-screen

Jan. 14, 2012 | 5:00 a.m.
thehobbit8 The Hobbit: An unexpected journey on  and off screen

Hero Complex Exclusive: Martin Freeman plays Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." (Mark Pokorny/Warner Bros.)

No major release of 2012 arrives at theaters with more baggage or battle scars than “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” a title that became a sort of epic inside joke for the cast and his crew, many of whom worked on “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy that made movie history a decade ago.

“I think fate has actually been kind to us,” director Peter Jackson said last summer, although he didn’t sound convinced by his own words. “Yes, I think fate was kind but I don’t know that we knew that along the way.”

That’s how most quests go, of course, but the journey to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth saga into a lavish two-part movie adventure was especially stormy right from the beginning. Roadblocks included an ugly legal battle with the author’s heirs, a two-year delay that came with financial meltdown of MGM, the jolting defection of director Guillermo del Toro, a nasty union dispute and a hospital stay to treat a stomach ulcer for Jackson, who shifted from co-writer and executive producer to director after del Toro’s departure in May of 2010.

There’s also been the vague but very real anxiety that comes with competing with history — can this encore effort actually escape the considerable shadow of the “Rings” trilogy, which racked up $2.9 billion in worldwide box office and saw its finale installment in 2004 become the first fantasy film to win the Oscar for best picture?

This time around, Martin Freeman (best known for costarring in BBC’s “The Office” and his work in films such as “Love Actually” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) portrays Bilbo Baggins, a young Hobbit who joins a band of dwarfs on their journeys to Lonely Mountain where they hope to reclaim their treasure from Smaug, the fire-breathing dragon who has squatted for so long on his hoarded riches that his pale underbelly is encrusted with jewels and gold pieces.

Not only is Ian McKellen back in the peaked hat of Gandalf, but there are also plenty of other familiar faces from the “Rings” cast (although some make only fleeting appearances); among them are Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Christopher Lee and even Ian Holm, who portrayed the older version of Freeman’s character when last we visited the Shire, the land of the Hobbits.

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Peter Jackson talks to Martin Freeman, who plays Bilbo Baggins, on the set of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." (James Fisher / Warner Bros.)

For the uninitiated, “The Hobbit” was published in 1937 and is considered by many Tolkien scholars to be a Misty Mountain warm-up act for the darker, richer 1950s “Rings” epic, which aimed for older readers and found them by the millions across the decades. The softer tones of “The Hobbit” were an early concern for Jackson and the returning members of the “Rings” creative team, among them Philippa Boyens, a screenwriter on all three “Rings” films (and an Oscar winner for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which closed out the trilogy in 2004).

“The story is very much a children’s story so deciding how to tell this was one of the first things we had to do,” Boyens said in a phone interview right before Christmas. “Who is the audience? It is very distinctly different, tonally, to ‘Lord of the Rings’ until the very end and then you begin to see the world of Middle-earth opening up… but, having said that, we felt that it is the same audience [who will come to see the films] and then you start to worry because it is easy to repeat yourself. It is quite a similar journey, you’re going from the Shire to a large, dangerous mountain.”

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Peter Jackson on the set of "The Hobbit." (Warner Bros.)

By most reports, Warner Bros.’ two “Hobbit” films — the second of which, “The Hobbit: There and Back Again,” will be released in 2013 — have a combined budget in the $500-million range, so the stakes are high. The appetite of fans is certainly intense (the first trailer for the film, released Dec. 20, quickly became an Internet sensation) and when Jackson made a surprise appearance last summer at Comic-Con International in San Diego he was cheered like a returning war hero.

Backstage, he said that, after the first three Tolkien films, he never expected to be back for another tour of duty but that — like Bilbo Baggins — it’s the journey that chooses the traveler, not the other way around.

“This is the most enjoyable filmmaking experience of my career, by far, which is interesting since I came into it slightly reluctantly,” the director said in San Diego. “It’s all unexpected.”

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” opens Dec. 14.

— Geoff Boucher

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Comments


18 Responses to ‘The Hobbit’: An unexpected journey on- and off-screen

  1. THOMAS WINSTON says:

    THIS IS ANOTHER GREAT STORY THAT I CANT WAIT TO SEE IN THE THEATERS.THESE ARE THE KIND OF PROJECTS AS AN ACTOR I WANT TO BE INVOLVE IN.WHERE THERES A GREAT STORY.

  2. Joyce says:

    Gook summary of The Hobbit event up to this time. Thanks for posting.

  3. John Lerchen says:

    Love Peter Jackson? We need your help! Help fund a Peter Jackson Homage. Follow this link: http://www.indiegogo.com/Peter-Jackson-Homage
    Thanks for any help you can provide!

  4. Joe Obvious says:

    That photo is pretty obviously from the LOTR shoot, not the Hobbit as captioned, since that's a much larger Peter Jackson than the modern version, and clearly Elijah Wood rather than Martin Freeman at the table.

    • bardgal says:

      You forget how big PJ was ten years ago. Go grab your TFOTR disc and watch the extras. These are new photos.

      • Chuck says:

        Agreed. Yeah, that's current Pete. He's been packing some of the pounds back on likely due to this stressful shoot – and clearly Freeman as Bilbo at the table, not Elijah's Frodo.

  5. T D McKinney says:

    Martin Freeman is probably actually best known as Doctor John Watson, his award-winning co-starring role on the BBC hit SHERLOCK. He won a BAFTA in 2010 for the role. He's an immensely talented actor and more than capable of carrying the lead in a production like this.

  6. Gordon Trapp says:

    I am excited. One question, where are we cutting, dividing, the movie? Since Bilbo kills a spider in a Mirkwood, I assume it might be as the barreled dwarfs and Bilbo are drifting down the river towards Laketown.

  7. Mark says:

    Joe: download the pic & zoom in a bit. That's Freeman. The placement of Jackson's hand beneath his face, and his baggy pants & open sweater drooping beneath him make him look larger in that pic at first. It's nice that they've done so well with the set work & costume design that it's hard to tell though, huh.

  8. Brendan says:

    The sword isn't the same. Sting in the other movies had elvish writing on it

    • Irfon says:

      Bibo had the writing engraved after his advanture

    • Palmer says:

      That IS bizarre – I've got the replica right next to me and they are exactly the same aside from the missing elvish writing, and the width of that etched swirl that encompasses the writing – why on Middle Earth would they have changed that?!

  9. Tolkien Talk says:

    Great new photo from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey! Some interesting comments on the unexpected journey of the story and the film making journey!

  10. Branko Vekic says:

    Ian Holm portrayed young Bilbo Bagins too, in the prologue to "Fellowship of the Ring" – scene with Gollum and finding the Ring…

  11. Leticia says:

    iT´S lovely ♥♥♥♥

  12. doug l says:

    I seriously doubt that the real enthusiasts will be disappointed, though plenty of others will. They'll nit pick about it and wonder why it has to be two movies…it's just the nature of the beast. I recall going to the midnight opening of the Return of the King. Every seat was filled and the small party seated just in front of me had purchased several different snacks: chicken strips, nachos with cheese, popcorn, hot dogs, chicken wings, sodas and spread it all out across a couple of seats which they loudly snacked on during the movie, then took a post prandial nap!…and of course at the end they whinged about it's being sooo long…why they even bothered I have no idea other than they thought it would be fun to see what all the fuss was about. My only complaint was that it wasn't longer. I wish there was some kind of subscription purchase so that one would be relatively certain that those who had no clue as to what they were going to see would just not bother.

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