“This was a creative choice, it wasn’t a financial choice at all,” answers Boyens. “Professor Tolkien,” she notes, “didn’t stop writing ‘The Hobbit’ when he stopped writing ‘The Hobbit.’” Her script draws on the connective tissue linking Bilbo’s story to the broader Tolkienverse that appears in various appendices to “Rings,” and elsewhere. Making three films of more than two and a half hours has necessitated side plots, flashbacks, and fleshings-out of minor characters such as the batty wizard Radagast. Themes of courage and greed have been deepened.
“It’s a deceptive book, it’s deceptively slight,” Boyens says. “To those people who think this is daft, they don’t understand the story, they don’t understand how dark this story turns, how this story moves towards ‘Lord of the Rings’ in a very profound way towards the end of the book.” Yes, “The Hobbit” is a children’s tale, but it’s one with “a sad and dark ending,” Boyens adds, “and we wanted to fulfill that.”
You might call “The Hobbit” a bridge to “Rings,” and a padded one at that, but the filmmaking team is confident that its choices are in keeping with the spirit of the book.
“I think Jackson has earned the trust of many fans and has more leeway now,” wrote Larry Curtis, Middle-earth correspondent to TheOneRing.net, a Tolkien movie fansite, in an e-mail. “I hope he uses it wisely.”
The film almost didn’t get made. A dispute with local unions threatened relocation of the production from New Zealand to Europe. When the first director, Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), bailed after interminable production delays, Jackson had to convince himself to return to Middle-earth for a fourth time. “I remember talking to him, right after ‘Return of the King’ had wrapped,” says Brian Sibley, author of the film’s “Official Movie Guide.” “He said categorically, ‘I would never do ‘The Hobbit.’”
Yet, aside from the controversies and already spirited critical response, there are the wonders of cinema magic to behold. New technical advances from Jackson’s Kiwi team make “The Hobbit” one of the most visually sumptuous films of the year.
With “Rings,” crews had “this whole landscape of characters and creatures that we had to create,” says Joe Letteri, director of Weta Digital and visual effects supervisor on “The Hobbit,” which he calls a “homecoming.” “Here’s kind of where it all started. Now let’s take what we’ve learned and do it again.”
A major breakthrough, technology-wise, was Jackson’s decision to shoot “The Hobbit” in the pioneering format of 48 frames per second, double the standard frame rate of 24, as well as digitally and in 3-D. Early reports are mixed — some feel that the technology creates an eye-popping, hyper-clear image; others report nausea.
You could also get queasy from the movie merchandising — from $400 replica prop axes to Denny’s Hobbit menus. Amid the clutter, can the real Tolkien shine through?
“I think the film is a clearly faithful realization,” says Weta Workshop’s Taylor. “At the end of the day, this is an epic, modern-day feature film that has to capture a world audience.”
Any disappointed readers still have their precious to turn to in book form. “The [‘Rings’] films, rather than taking anything away from the books, actually brought a lot more readers to the world,” Boyens says. “Which is fantastic. If this [movie] brings some kids to the book, fantastic too.”
Ethan Gilsdorf can be reached at email@example.com.