Checking in on The Hobbit

Checking in on The Hobbit

hobbitThere’s a movie version of The Hobbit coming out. You knew that, right? But if you’re like me, it’s not something you keep tabs on every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love all things Tolkien, but movies move at a glacial pace, especially a highly anticipated movie like this one, and especially during pre-production. So I thought it would be interesting to talk a bit about it and update everyone.

So, after The Lord of the Rings movies, there were rumors aplenty that The Hobbit would be filmed as well. I was really psyched about this news. But then I read that Peter Jackson was in a dispute with New Line Cinemas regarding his contract for The Lord of the Rings and, considering that, couldn’t in good conscience agree to speaking about another movie with them until these issues were resolved. Jackson and New Line eventually came to some mutually beneficial agreement. Not only was the lawsuit by Jackson dropped, but he signed on to act as executive producer for The Hobbit film.

Then, early in 2008, I came across some news releases that reported about a new dispute with New Line, this time from the Tolkien estate. The allegation was that to date they hadn’t been paid a single penny for the movies. Wait a minute. What? The movies, which grossed more than the GDP of plenty of countries, haven’t resulted in any money for the Tolkien estate?

From the estate’s release:

The cumulative worldwide gross receipts to date total nearly $6 billion. Notwithstanding the overwhelming financial success of the films, and the fact that the plaintiffs have a gross participation in each of the films, New Line has failed to pay the plaintiffs any portion of the gross profit participation at all.

And this (emphasis mine):

The complaint seeks, among other things, in excess of $150 million in compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages, and a declaration from the Court that the plaintiffs have a right to terminate any further rights New Line may have to the Tolkien works under the agreements, including The Hobbit, due to the serious and material nature of the breach of the agreements.

Now, this is only one side of the story, of course. But being an author myself, and being such a fan, I quickly jumped to the defense of Tolkien. I’d heard about crazy accounting practices on the part of the studios to avoid having to pay royalties, but this? And, as a fanboy, I was pretty miffed that those (allegedly) greedy practices were going to prevent my beloved Hobbit movie from reaching the silver screen.

And this was after I’d heard that Guillermo del Toro was going to direct it. I was pretty disappointed that PJ wasn’t going to direct, but at least he was acting as executive producer, but he’d found a great replacement. (See del Toro’s wonderful Pan’s Labyrinth for more.) And! They had decided to split The Hobbit into two movies. Two! And it was all being held up by an (allegedly) greedy studio!

I shook my fist mightily upon hearing this news, yes I did.

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Well, later that year, September of 2008, the Tolkien estate settled with New Line. I was very relieved by this, not so much so that The Hobbit could be filmed, but because I didn’t want Tolkien’s estate to get ripped off. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but given the hawkish way in which the estate guards over the Tolkien properties, I imagine they came close to the specified contractual agreements.

So good for Tolkien’s estate, and yay for Hobbit fans! The movie was back on. At this point the movie hadn’t done much in the way of pre-production, if any, so I knew it was going to be a while, so I just sat back and waited for the goodness to develop.

But then another hiccup came. Guillermo del Toro decided he could no longer wait for the studio to get their act in gear and move into production. They had had del Toro on hold for quite some time, during which del Toro couldn’t commit to doing any other work. At a certain point, he decided that the delays, plus the prospect of committing six years of his life to living and filming in New Zealand, was too much, and he stepped down from helming the film. This was a sad day, as I was looking forward to the vision del Toro was going to bring, but it opened up the way for Peter Jackson to step in and direct the films. So, bittersweet. I really do think del Toro would have done an amazing job with The Hobbit, which has a distinctly different tone from The Lord of the Rings. But if you have to go to Plan B, can you do any worse than the guy who developed and directed the first three films? No. No you can’t…

So finally, in the second half of 2010, the films went into production. Peter Jackson was at the helm, and… Wait a minute. Let’s get back to that “two films” thing. After looking at the material, Jackson and his crew decided it would be better if it were split into two movies. It didn’t seem to me that there would be enough material to do this, however. But it’s not only the primary tale told in the novel that they’re adapting to film, they’re also looking to bring in “the White Council and the comings and goings of Gandalf to Dol Guldur.” From Peter Jackson:

We decided it would be a mistake to try to cram everything into one movie. The essential brief was to do The Hobbit, and it allows us to make The Hobbit in a little more style, if you like, of the [LOTR] trilogy.

This, I must admit, I’m really looking forward to. As a writer, I realize that there were some very valid reasons for Gandalf to “be away” while Bilbo and his companions traveled to the Lonely Mountain, but I remember wondering over Gandalf’s travels while away from them. Where had he gone? Who had he seen? How had he and the Council of the Wise routed Sauron (posing as the Necromancer) from his tower? It’s going to be great seeing those threads played out on the big screen, let me tell you.

Ok, so back to PJ. Casting went into overdrive in the latter half of 2010. I won’t go into exhaustive detail. You can find out more at plenty of online sites, including TheOneRing.net. But here are a few that I’m excited about:

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Martin Freeman

(Bilbo Baggins)

The lead role. Bilbo Baggins. This will be a tall order to fill. Ian Holm did a great job in The Lord of the Rings, playing someone who is both reserved and feisty, private and welcoming. I’ve seen Martin in a few films, including The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I’ve liked his performances, so I’m optimistic about him in this role.

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Sir Ian McKellen

(Gandalf the Grey)

As central as Gandalf is to the Hobbit, and as wonderful a performance as McKellen put in on The Lord of the Rings, the only real choice here was on McKellen’s part on whether he wanted to take up the role again. Thankfully, he said yes.

As a small aside, Sir Ian just posted a bit about seeing Martin Freeman for the first time in costume on his blog.

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Andy Serkis

(Gollum)

Ditto for Andy Serkis. Even though he wasn’t “on screen,” he did such a wonderful performance with Gollum that there was no real choice here for the producers.

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Cate Blanchett

(Galadriel)

Wait, what? Galadriel? Well, if Jackson can expand the storyline, why not include some really cool characters (and actors) from The Lord of the Rings? That’s just what he’s done, and I have to say, I’m very excited that some of the faces from the other movies will be getting an encore (albeit in a prequel). Cate Blanchett is one of my all-time favorite actors, so I’m ecstatic that she’s in the lineup.

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Elijah Wood

(Frodo Baggins)

Frodo, too? This one is a real stretch, and it’s my least favorite addition to the tale. Why? Well, Frodo was 33 years old when The Lord of the Rings begins, and at that time Bilbo was 111. Bilbo set out with the dwarves for the Lonely Mountain when he was 50, a cool 61 years earlier. That means it would stil be 28 years until Frodo was even born. I’m more or less comfortable with the stories being stretched a bit, but this is a bit much. Still, I don’t know the context under which they’re bringing Frodo into the story (maybe it’s partly a flashback with Frodo talking to Bilbo around the time of Lord of the Rings?). So I’ll withhold final judgment until I learn more.

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Christopher Lee

(Saruman the White)

Christopher Lee did well in LotR, though if I’m being honest I think he put in one of the worse performances of the excellent cast. Partly that was due to the bordering-on-corny dialogue they gave him in his talks with Gandalf, and partly it was due to that half-cool, half-laughable wizard battle between Saruman and Gandalf. Hopefully they do his character more justice in this film, and he stands out more. He’s certainly capable of it.

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Richard Armitage

(Thorin Oakenshield)

I know very little about Richard Armitage at this stage. But I trust the casting crew implicitly. Thorin is of course the dwarf with the most screen time, so it will be interesting to see how the script and Armitage and Jackson handle it. I hope they don’t go the route of Gimli in LotR. He was used too much for comic relief, and I’d like to see more seriousness from the dwarves, at least from Thorin Oakenshield. I fully expect there to be some follies with Bombur and the rest of the gang, but please let’s have Thorin show some of the majesty of the Dwarven race.

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Sylvester McCoy

(Radagast the Brown)

This may be a small part, indeed, but I call it out because Radagast was one of my favorite characters. He’s barely mentioned in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but I played several role-playing games with Middle Earth adventures, and I was always drawn to the Council of the Wise, particularly Radagast, who seemed rather druidic in nature. I’m looking forward to the Council scenes, and particularly how McCoy presents Radagast.

One final note: Filming was set to commence on March 21st in New Zealand, but due to the earthquake in Christchurch, it has been delayed. By way of honoring that country and the hardship they’re now facing, I offer this small reminder: the Red Cross and other fine charities will gladly accept any help you can offer.

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Bradley P. Beaulieu is the author of The Winds of Khalakovo, the first of an epic fantasy trilogy available now from Night Shade Books. For more, please visit his website at www.quillings.com.

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darangrissom

There was also a battle over union contracts at the end of last year, which delayed production, and nearly had the studio moving the whole production to Canada or the UK. I was glad when they settled that; I think the New Zealand backdrop lends a lot to Middle-Earth’s grandeur in the films.

Truly though, I’ve begun to fear this film is cursed in the same way the Spider-Man Musical is.

NewGuyDave

Richard Armitage is great. He’s the new lead male for BBC’s MI-5 (season 8), a TV series about her majesty’s secret service.

[…] Black Gate Tags: Checking, Hobbit […]

Sarah Avery

Armitage was delightful as the brooding, misguided, dangerous Sir Guy of Gisborne in the BBC’s Robin Hood, and funny as the Handsome Stranger in The Vicar of Dibley. He’s got presence, and a great voice. He’ll do right by Thorin Oakenshield.

Pyre

Radagast’s actor, Sylvester McCoy, you may also remember as the Seventh Doctor (Who), the last of the original TV show, the one who regenerates into Paul McGann for the TV-movie.

Unrecognizable beneath makeup in The Hobbit, he retains that quick and sprightly humor he showed as The Doctor.

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