791 days since my post on 16th October 2010 revealing the excellent news that plans for The Hobbit had been greenlit, that principal photography would begin in February 2011 and that Peter Jackson would direct, write and produce, I finally returned to Middle-earth.
As Ringers the world over can agree with, to say I was looking forward to seeing the first in Jackson’s trilogy was a huge understatement. I followed each casting announcement and eagerly awaited each production video that Jackson and the team produced, the first being released in November 2011 and the latest being uploaded on Sunday 16th December.
When it was revealed that Martin Freeman would be playing Bilbo in October 2010 I admit that I was slightly skeptical, writing in a post that to me he wasn’t leading actor material, especially for a film that fans, and the industry, had been waiting a long time for. Whether he won me round I’ll reveal later…
As film fans know, bringing Tolkien’s novel to the big screen wasn’t an easy process initially. In December 2007, New Line and MGM announced that Jackson would be executive producer of The Hobbit and its sequel. In February 2008, the two parts were announced as scheduled for release in Decembers 2011 and 2012 and, despite the legal disputes going on between the Tolkien Estate and HarperCollins Publishers against New Line, development proceeded.
In April 2008, Guillermo del Toro was hired to direct and pre-production began around August 2008, with Del Toro, Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens writing the scripts. However, this collaboration wasn’t to last. Due to ongoing delays and the fact that the films hadn’t been greenlit, Del Toro left the project in June 2010.
Many names were then suggested to direct, but in July 2010 it was announced that Jackson was in negotiations to take on the role. Finally, in October 2010, the news came that The Hobbit had been greenlit, that principal photography would begin in February 2011 and that Jackson would direct.
Principal filming began in March 2011 and came to an end in July 2012 after 266 days of filming. Once again, filming took place in New Zealand, though in September 2010 that seemed unlikely to happen following a Do Not Work order issued by the International Federation of Actors. This was resolved during talks with the New Zealand government, including involvement from Prime Minister John Key, and production went ahead as planned.
Returning to Middle-earth
On Saturday 15th December, I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for the first time. Accompanied by two fellow Ringers (my boyfriend and my friend Ben), I nursed a slight hangover – it was the work Christmas party the night before – and settled in to my seat. I wanted epic music, fantastic scenery and engaging characters and as the opening ballad began I said to myself: “Please don’t let me down, PJ.”
As the camera panned around and took in the beautiful countryside of the Shire, I immediately had a grin on my face: I was back in Middle-earth.
I was back in Bag End, to be precise. An Unexpected Journey begins on the morning of Bilbo Baggins’ 111th birthday, an occasion that was celebrated with much fun and frivolities in The Fellowship of the Ring. Bilbo decides to write down his story of the adventure he took 60 years earlier with the famed dwarf Thorin Oakenshield. With Bilbo explaining the history of the dwarves, the tone is then set: this will be a story about reclaiming your home and your heritage.
It was lovely seeing Ian Holm back as Bilbo for that opening scene though Martin Freeman did a cracking job. And I must admit that I loved seeing Elijah Wood return as Frodo for those brief moments. Naysayers may complain, but I think it suited the tone of the film and was testament to how much Wood enjoyed his role in The Lord of the Rings and how eager he was to return to the Shire.
The arrival of the dwarves was fantastic and, for this film at least, I think the casting was spot on. I would say that the camera favoured certain dwarves over the others, however, so hopefully we’ll be able to spend more time with each dwarf in The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again.
As readers of the book will know, there is very little background given to the dwarves apart from Thorin. Bombur is mentioned several times – namely because he gets in trouble a lot! – and so are Fili and Kili. Balin is the company’s lookout, but that’s about it. You don’t know their likes and dislikes or any other personal details. I trust that Jackson and his fellow writers Walsh and Boyens will do a terrific job of adding that in, though, if they choose to.
Gandalf and Gollum are worthy of a mention too. Both Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis returned to their roles seamlessly, and while it was great being reunited with a certain wizard and certain elves, my eyes grew wide with amazement to be back in Rivendell. The Lord of the Rings was blessed with some amazing scenery – both natural and digital – and An Unexpected Journey definitely followed this trend.
Moving on to the plot, for me it didn’t seem particularly stretched out. Yes, Jackson, Walsh and Boyens have enhanced certain scenes and added in some of their own original ones, but I felt that they were in keeping with the novel and Tolkien’s writing. I didn’t find it to be overtly long either. Admittedly, I am bias and would happily sit in front of a screen and watch The Lord of the Rings endlessly but I didn’t find my attention wandering at any point. I did find some scenes disjointed, though, with some scenes having more prominence than others, but this could just be down to personal preference.
After seeing An Unexpected Journey, I am now eagerly awaiting The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again. There are some fantastic characters left to meet – particularly Beorn and Bard – and I look forward to seeing how Jackson and co presents them.
• Hobbiton image taken from ghostofgoldwater’s photostream @ Flickr