‘The Hobbit’: Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens on ‘Five Armies’ ending

Dec. 18, 2014 | 1:40 p.m.
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Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Ken Stott as Balin in "'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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John Bell as Bain and Luke Evans as Bard in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Dean O'Gorman and Aidan Turner in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Smaug, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Lee Pace as Thranduil and Ian McKellen as Gandalf in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Orlando Bloom as Legolas in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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The orc Azog, voiced by Manu Bennett, appears in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Ian McKellen as Gandalf in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Hugo Weaving as Elrond in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Billy Connolly as Dain in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Orlando Bloom as Legolas in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Luke Evans as Bard, Mary Nesbitt as Tilda, Peggy Nesbitt as Sigrid and John Bell as Bain in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Peggy Nesbitt as Sigrid and Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Bolg, performed by John Tui, in a scene from "'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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The Keeper of the Dungeons, performed by Conan Stevens, in a scene from "'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Richard Armitage and Aidan Turner in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Mary Nesbitt as Tilda, Peggy Nesbitt as Sigrid and John Bell as Bain in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Luke Evans as Bard in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Todd Eyre / Warner Bros.)

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Richard Armitage and Aidan Turner in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Todd Eyre / Warner Bros.)

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Orlando Bloom as Legolas in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Luke Evans as Bard in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Orlando Bloom as Legolas in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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The orc Azog, voiced by Manu Bennett, appears in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Ken Stott as Balin, left, and Martin Freeman as Bilbo in "'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Lee Pace as Thranduil in the fantasy adventure movie "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny/Warner Bros.)

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf, left, and Luke Evans as Bard in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny/ Warner Bros.)

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Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Ian McKellen as Gandalf in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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John Callen as Oin, Dean O'Gorman as Fili, Aidan Turner as Kili, William Kircher as Bifur, James Nesbitt as Bofur, Adam Brown as Ori, Jed Brophy as Nori, Graham McTavish as Dwalin, Ken Stott as Balin and Stephen Hunter as Bombur in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Todd Eyre / Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo in "'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Richard Armitage as Thorin and Martin Freeman as Bilbo in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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The Keeper of the Dungeons, performed by Conan Stevens, in a scene from "'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Luke Evans as Bard, left, and Orlando Bloom as Legolas in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Graham McTavish as Dwalin, Jed Brophy as Nori, Ken Stott as Balin, John Callen as Oin, Dean O'Gorman as Fili, William Kircher as Bifur, Aidan Turner as Kili, Adam Brown as Ori, Peter Hambleton as Gloin, Mark Hadlow as Dori, Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Stephen Hunter as Bombur in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Director Peter Jackson, center, and Martin Freeman on the set of the fantasy adventure movie "The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny/Warner Bros.)

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Peter Jackson, left, and Ian McKellen on the set of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

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Peter Jackson, left, Luke Evans and Ian McKellen on the set of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny/ Warner Bros.)

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” filmmakers Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh are bidding Middle-earth goodbye after six films.

“Five Armies,” which caps “The Hobbit” prequel trilogy, is in theaters, and though director  Jackson says he’s “too close” to the movies to know if they’re good, fans of the series appear to be showing up in force at the box office. “Five Armies” grossed more than $11 million in domestic ticket sales for opening-night showings Tuesday, in addition to the roughly $125 million it has earned overseas.

For Jackson and Boyens, who spoke to Hero Complex via phone prior to the film’s release, it’s been a long journey from “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” which introduced moviegoers to writer J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy world more than a decade ago, to “The Battle of the Five Armies,” which the filmmakers intended to bridge the gap between the two trilogies.

That bridge, Jackson and Boyens said, is partly why they decided to change one of the final scenes in the film — a farewell between wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) in which a seemingly happy moment shifts into a minor key.

Hero Complex also chatted with Jackson and Boyens about their feelings as the saga comes to a close, their collaborative process, the final film’s breakneck pace and the reason they chose to turn the slim children’s book “The Hobbit” into three long films. Spoilers lie ahead.

Hero Complex: “The Battle of the Five Armies” drops the audience right into the action, and then the film doesn’t really slow down. Was that quick pace an important decision?

Peter Jackson: Yeah, that was really driven by two things. The primary thing for me when I’m making “The Battle of the Five Armies” is it’s not just a single film. It’s the third part of “The Hobbit,” which is one single story, so it’s the climax of “The Hobbit.” So the fact is that you have a feature-length film which is really the climax of the story. And we’ve seen things set up in the middle act in the first two films, and the nature of the climax is you’re not setting up characters, you’re not establishing, and you’re not doing all the things that a movie would normally slow down its pace to do, so you’re just jumping in, and you’re in the climax, and it’s a two-hour long finale. That alone shows you that it’s got to feel that way. It’s not a regular film structure. And secondly, rather than the quest/journey type genre, which the first two films were — a quest to the mountain to face the dragon — this, I decided, is not a journey sort of film because they’re already there. So the story became much more of a psychological thriller. It had much more of a thriller feel to me with Thorin’s deterioration and all the complication that was happening. So I cut it and shot it with the rhythms of a thriller rather than the rhythms of a fantasy quest film.

A scene from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros.)

A scene from “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” (Warner Bros.)

HC: You’ve been working together for over a decade now. How have you evolved as collaborators?

Philippa Boyens: I can honestly tell you that Peter’s pretty much the same guy that he was 17 years ago when I first met him.

PJ: I was as tired then as I’m tired now.

PB: Ha! Exactly, we haven’t changed at all. But one of the things I love about working with Fran and Pete is that they make films because they want to make films. They’re not doing it to be famous or make money.

PJ: We’re making the films because we’re fans, and we’re making the films that we want to see. And it’s quite a good process because I’m not making the film that I want to see, because I have to accommodate Philippa’s tastes and Fran’s, so you’ve actually got the three of us who have to agree on some things. And generally, if one of us really thinks there’s a mistake and objects, we don’t do it. It really has to be all three of us. I mean, you can try to mount an argument as if you’re a lawyer in court and say why this is important and persuade and change minds, which also happens, which is good because that means it forces you to have to think and to actually pick things apart. So it’s a very healthy thing. I could never write alone or create something alone. That sounding board, and being forced to justify — I think you see a lot of movies where you’re self-justified and you’re sure that you’re doing the right thing, but you’ve never had to persuade somebody. So the best thing in the world is when I want to do something, and then Fran and Philippa will say, “Why? Why would you want to do that?” That’s the most healthy thing that a collaborator could ever be asked.

Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson and Philippa Boys pose with their Oscars for "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" at the 76th Academy Awards in 2004. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson and Philippa Boys pose with their Oscars for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” at the 76th Academy Awards in 2004. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

PB: Especially when it comes to ownership. I see that a lot with filmmakers — that they feel like they have to own everything, and in actual fact the people who own movies are the audience, and that’s who you should make them for. So I think that’s another good thing. It stops you having to have that sense of, “Oh, this has to be my good idea.”

PJ: What we’re trying to do is to bring Tolkien to the screen in the most respectful way we can, and as filmmakers we have another obligation, because if we feel the books get us to a point, but it’s not where we need to be for a film, then obviously, as filmmakers, we made those decisions to change, alter, add, do whatever we need to do. But ultimately, there’s the heart, and there’s no point doing these projects if, in some form or another, you’re drifting away from the heart of the stories, the heart of what this Oxford don wrote in 1937. That’s what we keep coming to.

PB: But to answer the other part of your question, the main thing that has changed is our ability to get films funded and to make the films we want to make. I have to say, that does get easier. So now when you think of actors you might want to work with, it actually becomes a bit more of a reality, which is a privilege.

Fran Walsh, left, and Philippa Boyens attend Peter Jackson's Hollywood Walk of Fame star ceremony on Dec. 8, 2014. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Fran Walsh, left, and Philippa Boyens attend Peter Jackson’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star dedication ceremony on Dec. 8, 2014. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images)

HC: You say that the film is better because of those decisions you made when one member of your writing team made a case for a change. Can you give us an example?

PB: We have a recent one, actually. One of the last things we changed was we’d written the end, and I, in my mind, I wanted quite a fond farewell between Bilbo and Gandalf. And we originally shot quite a fond farewell. And Fran said, “You know what we’re doing is we’re dropping the tension of this moment, and this film does hand over to another film in a very important way. It hands over to “The Fellowship of the Ring.” And we immediately heard her and knew where she was going.

PJ: And I’m thinking, “This is great. We’ve shot the scene, Ian [McKellen] and Martin [Freeman] went home months ago. How on Earth are we going to change a scene we’ve already shot?”

PB: But it was a good idea, a very, very good idea.

PJ: Because at the very beginning of the scene, if you know how the scene is going to end at the beginning, then what’s the point? And as soon as you know that scene is a farewell, you spend a page of them just saying goodbye to each other in various ways, and they walk off. You’ve got a whole scene where nothing actually happens. So it was a very good thing; it’s a farewell, but then suddenly the ring comes into it. So we had to manufacture something with ADR [automated dialogue replacement] and little cut-aways and things, and put this little twist in there. What I love about it is ultimately Bilbo lies to Gandalf, which is probably the first time that ever happens. He looks him in the eye and he lies, and that was never in the original scene that we shot, but suddenly the scene is going somewhere at the end, which was a great idea.

Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." (New Line Cinema / MGM / Warner Bros.)

Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” (New Line Cinema/MGM/Warner Bros.)

PB: Not only that, [but] it’s actually true to the book, because Bilbo never tells the proper truth about what happened down in that tunnel when he found that ring.

PJ: But if I was alone with this, I would have just been happy with the original scene, which would ultimately have been quite dull, but Fran, one of the three, said, “Hang on, hang on, are we doing the right thing here?” And that’s what’s great about the collaboration between two or three people.

PB: My favorite thing that Pete does to Fran and I is he says, “OK, I really like this, now make it a quarter as long,” which forces you as a screenwriter to be less self-indulgent. It’s always better, because Pete reminds us to think visually and to trust the actor to play this moment. You don’t need a line.

HC: Having three films instead of one or two gave you plenty of time and space to play up characters, like Alfrid or Bard or Kili, who weren’t very big in the book. What was it like to have that freedom?

PJ: Well, it’s what you have to do. Movies are about story and character, and there is no story unless there are characters that you’re following and connecting. When you have characters from a children’s book, a very thin children’s book, who are not fully developed, then they’re not going to give you that engine for the film. They’re just not. You’re going to see them on the screen, you’re going to have people saying words, great for a child in bed with Mum or Dad reading the book, but as an audience in the cinema, it’s not going to connect you to the story. So we had to develop those characters. Character is the lifeblood and the pulse of a story. The question we always get is, well, “The Hobbit” is a thin book, so why the three films? And that’s the answer. Right or wrong, as the filmmakers, we felt we needed to have the ability, the space to have depth in order to have people connect with the characters, because we didn’t want them to be shallow. And part of it is the fact that we’re making a six-film saga of which “The Hobbit” is one, two and three. We’ve already done four, five and six, 10 years ago. And “The Lord of the Rings” is not a thin book. “The Lord of the Rings” is 1,200 pages, and those 1,200 pages, which are full of depth and complexity and character development, they set the tone. You’ve done four, five and six with that tone. So “The Hobbit,” we wanted to make an organic story that ultimately would exist as a six-part story. It’s not going to be this year-in, year-out single film. And we’re only four or five years away from that, because kids who are 4 or 5 years old now, who are too young to see this “Hobbit” movie, in only like four or five years, that’s going to change, and they’re going to be able to sit down and watch one through six, to start at “An Unexpected Journey” and to finish at “Return of the King.” And that’s exactly what we’ve shaped this story to be in its final form.

Members of the cast and crew for "The Hobbit" films attend the London premiere of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the FIve Armies" on Dec. 1, 2104. (Dave J. Hogan / Getty Images)

Members of the cast and crew of “The Hobbit” films attend the London premiere of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the FIve Armies” on Dec. 1, 2104. (Dave J. Hogan / Getty Images)

HC: Is it bittersweet to arrive at the end of your time in Middle-earth?

PJ: For me, it’s not really bittersweet in the sense that we set out to make these films, “The Lord of the Rings” movies, and now we got to do “The Hobbit” films, and so I just think we achieved what we set out to do. I have no sense of the movies, I mean, obviously I’m too close to them, but it seems that a lot of people enjoy these films. Not everybody, but we certainly entertain enough people that they make a reasonable box office, and people see these movies five, six times, so as a filmmaker, I can only feel fantastic about that. The audience that goes to these movies, that wants to go to these movies, are being entertained. So I’m absolutely proud and thrilled and happy. It’s not really a negative feeling at all. It feels good.

PB: I agree with Peter. We’re handing these films over to the people we made them for, and it’s always interesting to see how they’re received. They take on a life of their own, these films, and that’s what I’ve come to learn after “The Lord of the Rings.”

Tolkien enthusiasts show off their Middle-earth costumes at a fan event for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" in Los Angeles on Nov. 4, 2013. (Eric Charbonneau / Warner Bros. / Associated Press)

Tolkien enthusiasts show off their Middle-earth costumes at a fan event for “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” in Los Angeles on Nov. 4, 2013. (Eric Charbonneau / Warner Bros./Associated Press)

PJ: And in a way, what I’ve been waiting for — because obviously, there’ve been people looking at the films and saying, “Well this is too long,” and this and that, which is all fine, and you want to make films that everyone likes, but to me, since we knew we were going to do “The Hobbit,” this has been a six-part story. And “The Hobbit” is the first three, and the back three are already done. So I’ve been waiting and am going to be very, very happy when they’re done because what’s eventually going to happen is they’re not going to be one film, two films; they’re going to be six films in order, and that’s the shape. That structure and pace and shape is what we set up to do from the beginning. People haven’t had the third “Hobbit” film to see, and it’s not until that film slots into its place that that storytelling is complete, and now that that’s happened, I’m very happy.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+

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Comments


3 Responses to ‘The Hobbit’: Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens on ‘Five Armies’ ending

  1. R. von Kleist says:

    I first read the Hobbit over 50 years ago and thought OMG let me live long enough to see this book made into a big screen movie. Thank you Peter Jackson great job!

  2. Brad says:

    How come no one is talking about doing the Silmarillion?! Is this a trick question, or a well kept secret?

  3. Brad says:

    Peter, Please do the Silmarillion next!!!!!

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