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Looking Back at Hobbit Dates

Whether you’re man, beast or a mountain, time stands still for no one, and we are only here for a brief moment enjoying our small fraction of eternity. Yesterday marked the official release of the second Hobbit movie, and it stands as one of several important dates in Hobbit history. It’s reminiscent of December 14, 2012, the date An Unexpected Journey finally opened for most of the world. (That was a Friday also.) And what of November 27, 1977? That was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and it was the first day people could finally see a movie based on one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books: an animated adaptation of The Hobbit. January 3, 1951 is a lesser recognized date, but it was then that the second edition of The Hobbit became available – the one with the updated “Riddles in the Dark” chapter that brings the book in line with The Lord of the Rings. And finally, there’s September 21, 1937, a Tuesday. That’s when The Hobbit was first published and this whole adventure began. I thought it would be fun to look back through the years through the eyes of these dates, and so here now is my little time capsule:

World Population:

September 1937: 2.2 billion
January 1951: 2.6 billion
November 1977: 4.3 billion
December 2012: 7 billion
December 2013: 7.1 billion

These are, of course, estimates. And it was especially ridiculous to talk about the “sixth billionth” or “seventh billionth” baby, since the number of people in the world, due to deaths and births, is a fluid number always bouncing around. But it is said that somewhere in the world, a woman is giving birth every second. (Personally, I think we should find this woman and stop her.)

Population of India

September 1937: 303 million
January 1951: 363 million
November 1977: 645 million
December 2012: 1.3 billion
December 2013: 1.4 billion

To put this in perspective, there are less than six million people in my home state of Wisconsin.

The Pope:

September 21, 1937: Pius XI
January 3, 1951: Pius XII
November 27, 1977: Paul VI
December 14, 2012: Benedict XVI
December 13, 2013: Francis

Interestingly, John Paul II became the pope in 1978 just before the animated Lord of the Rings movie was released and died in 2005 just after the extended edition of The Return of the King came out. So he’s our LOTR movie pope. (It’s also curious that Hobbit movies were made just before and just after his time as pope. Maybe there’s some spiritual significance to it all.)

Ages of Maury Laws, Christopher Lee, and Misao Okawa:

September 21, 1937: 13, 15 and 39 years old
January 3, 1951: 28, 29, and 52 years old
November 27, 1977: 53, 55, and 79 years old
December 14, 2012: 89, 90, and 114 years old
December 13, 2013: 90, 91, and 115 years old

Maury Laws was the music composer for the aforementioned animated Hobbit movie. (Laws did the music for most of the Rankin/Bass specials, including Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer and the animated Return of the King.) Interestingly, he lives here in Wisconsin not far away from me, and I was able to catch up with him last month.

“I usually had about a month to score the background music for a film. The songs were written first. That was before the film was made. The action was animated to the music. First there was a script which I read. In a film the songs are part of the story and have to relate to the plot. I then worked with the lyricist to write the songs. I would go through the script with the director to decide where background music should be used. Animation has a lot of background music. An hour show would most likely have forty five minutes of music, including the songs. All the music had to be orchestrated and recorded to exactly the times it was written to. Making a film is very complicated and has several elements that have to work together. There is picture, dialogue, sound effects and music all mixed together in the last process of the production. Many people are involved.”

I mentioned to him that my favorite song of his was “Leave Tomorrow Till it Comes” from The Return of the King and he remembered it well. “I always thought it was a pretty good song,” he said. I shared with him this updated version and he enjoyed it, seeming genuinely touched to see how his music lives on. “When the shows first came out I used to always watch them. Now I don’t always watch. It’s fun sometimes to watch them again.”

As for Misao Okawa, she’s a Japanese woman who lives in Osaka. The interesting thing about Okawa is that she was born in the same decade as Professor Tolkien. To put it in perspective, she was 65 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated and almost 66 when the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show – older than both Kennedy and Sullivan. Not to say she’s been around for a while, but in a few years she’ll be referring Elrond as a young whippersnapper.

World Leaders:

1937: FDR, Hitler, Chamberlain, Stalin
1951: Truman, Stalin, Attlee, St. Laurent
1977: Carter, Callaghan, Brezhnev, Trudeau
2012 & 2013: Obama, Harper, Putin, Cameron

Apparently when a landmark Hobbit day happens, we have to have a Democrat as President of the U.S.

The average cost of a movie ticket in the United States:

September 21, 1937: 23 cents
January 3, 1951: 47 cents
November 27, 1977: $2.23
December 14, 2012: $7.96
December 13, 2013: $8.30

The cost of a U.S. postage stamp:

September 21, 1937: 3 cents
January 3, 1951: 3 cents
November 27, 1977: 13 cents
December 14, 2012: 45 cents
December 13, 2013: 46 cents

Dow Jones Industrial Average:

September 21, 1937: 157
January 3, 1951: 239
November 27, 1977: 844
December 14, 2012: 13,135
December 13, 2013: 15,755

Average price of a gallon of gas in the U.S:

September 21, 1937: 20 cents
January 3, 1951: 27 cents
November 27, 1977: 62 cents
December 14, 2012: $3.38
December 13, 2013: $3.24

Believe it or not, a gallon of gas cost only about $1.15 in the U.S. on December 19, 2001 when The Fellowship of the Ring came out!

U.S. National Debt:

September 21, 1937: $37 billion
January 3, 1951: $255 billion
November 27, 1977: $718 billion
December 14, 2012: $16.3 trillion
December 13, 2013: $17.2 trillion

I hear that Minas Tirith had a surplus under King Elessar’s rule. But then that was a monarchy and he didn’t have to deal with Congress.

Films that just opened:

September 21, 1937: One Hundred Men and a Girl
January 3, 1951: King Solomon’s Mines
November 27, 1977: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
December 14, 2012: Hitchcock
November 22, 2013: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Films that will open next year: 

April 4, 2014: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
May 16, 2014: Godzilla
November 7, 2014: Interstellar
November 21, 2014: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay
December 17, 2014: The Hobbit: There and Back Again

Popular formats for buying music:

1937: 78 rpm records
1951: 78 rpm records
1977: 45 & 33 rpm records
2012 & 2013: Digital downloads

Hit Songs:

September 21, 1937: “One O’Clock Jump” (Count Basie)
January 3, 1951: “The Tennessee Waltz” (Patti Page)
November 27, 1977: “You Light Up My Life” (Debbie Boone)
December 14, 2012: “Diamonds” (Rihanna)
December 13, 2013: “Wrecking Ball” (Miley Cyrus)

TV Show Debuts:

Late 1937: “The Disorderly Room” (UK)
Early 1951: “What’s My Line”
Late 1977: “The Love Boat”
Late 2012: “Guys With Kids”
Late 2013: “Almost Human”

The American television industry had not yet taken off in the 1930s, but when The Hobbit was first published, Professor Tolkien could have watched several English shows, including “The Disorderly Room” (if he had had a television.) I’m not too sure he would have enjoyed “Guys With Kids” though.

Events:

September, 1937: The Chinese Revolutionary Army defeats the Japanese in the The Battle of Pingxingguan
January, 1951: Nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site begins
November, 1977: British Airways begins London to New York service aboard the supersonic Concorde
December 2012: A shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, United States, leaves 28 people dead, including 20 children.
December 2013: The China National Space Administration achieves Earth to Lunar transorbital insertion of their Chang’e 3 probe.

The Elementary School shooting happened the same day The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey came out in the United States.

Popular Baby Names:

1937: William, Donald, Mary, Betty
1951: Patrick, Russell, Sue, Linda
1977: Steven, Jeffrey, Amanda, Jennifer
2012 & 2013: Liam, Mason, Olivia, Ava

I’ve always found the change in the popularity of names to be an interesting area of study. If I were to say the names “Elmer” and “Mildred”, you’d think of a couple of grandparents; yet there was a time when these were new and hip baby names. It’s fascinating to look at how names come in and out of style, and what names become dated while others become timeless. (I think “Michael” is fairly safe.)

Deaths:

October 17, 1937: J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of Titanic and survivor of the sinking
November 2, 1950: George Bernard Shaw, Irish writer
December 18, 1977: Cyril Richard, voice of Elrond in the animated adaptation of The Hobbit
December 11, 2012: Ravi Shankar, Indian musician and friend of the Beatles
December 5, 2013: Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist

Hope you enjoyed!

- Celedor, December 14, 2013

Posted in Events, Miscellaneous

JW Reviews the New Hobbit Soundtrack

J.W. here. Today the second Hobbit soundtrack by Howard Shore has been released, which to me makes this day the equivalent of Christmas morning. As I said in my book, The Lord of the Films, I believe Shore’s music for The Lord of the Rings is the finest film score of all time. And the music for the first Hobbit movie? You can read my thoughts about that one here.

But now it’s time for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. And here is my track by track analysis for the Special Edition, with one asterisk indicating a track not available in the Standard Edition and two asterisks indicating a track that has been extended. As of this writing, I’ve not yet seen the film it scores. So away we go!

DISC 1

1. The Quest for Erebor (3:23)

Full of sadness and mystery, this track is reminiscent of the prologue music in the previous films and serves as somewhat an overture, introducing the main themes. It leads right into the next track…

2. Wilderland (4:56)

This could be called “The Quest for Erebor Part II”. It picks up the tempo in the second half, creating a sense of urgency and danger with its percussion driving the brass and strings. Definitely a good one!

3. A Necromancer (2:54) *

Descending broken thirds mean you know who. (Actually the familiar Sauron theme is buried within the texture here, though it peeks through the surface from time to time.) Obviously this is one of those evil themes, with rumbling brass and high strings being Shore’s music of choice for such occasions.

4. The House of Beorn (4:52) **

This low key and mysterious piece isn’t very memorable. It’s sort of “A Necromancer Part II”, with more of what we just heard in the previous track.

5. Mirkwood (5:31) **

Like the forest itself, this dark, creepy piece serves its title well, using a choral backing to set the mood. It’s sort of The Hobbit’s version of “The Paths of the Dead”.

6. Flies and Spiders (9:35) **

This one is very Star Wars like! It begins somewhat heartwarmingly before getting going, and then it’s like John Williams scoring a space battle, with the violins flying around their E strings and working the sixteenth notes. Curiously the Smaug motif appears here as well, brief but memorable. Overall, it’s one of the standout tracks of the album.

7. The Woodland Realm (5:15) **

This begins with the familiar choral backing we’ve come to associate with the Elves, with the texture reminiscent of Rivendell and Lothlórien but also new and different. It quickly becomes dark and dangerous, however, playing out even more creepy than Lothlórien, which suits the forest it is in.

8. Feast of Starlight (2:48)

Dark and somber, yet uplifting all the same, this piece is highlighted by solo woodwinds and a female voice. and is quite beautiful. It reminds me of “Aníron” from The Fellowship of the Ring. Curiously, the history of the Ring theme works its way into the end.

9. Barrels Out of Bond (1:50)

Full of staccato and anticipation, this little number is the audio equivileant of the question “What’s going to happen next?!” It doesn’t last long, but what’s here is exciting.

10. The Forest River (5:10) **

What happens next is a brisk tempo, with excitement in every note. This one is sure to be a crowd pleaser, with a spirit of adventure so bold, you could mistake it for the film’s climax. The piece builds throughout before a thrilling, percussive finale.

11. Bard, a Man of Lake-town (3:18) **

Somewhat anticlimactic after the last piece, this is dark and somber and pure filler.

12. The High Fells (3:38) **

The circular strings that introduce this piece create a lofty sense of anticipation before a creepy voice works its way in and out, creating a sense of mystery and suspense that’s heightened by tremolo strings. It’s not the most memorable piece, but it’s one of my favorites.

13. The Nature of Evil (3:20)

This is highly reminiscent of the black riders chasing Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring, with low rumbling evil themes and high strings that will make you scream, “Get orf the Road!” It picks up momentum as it continues and becomes jarring.

14. Protector of the Common Folk (3:37)

This lighter fare works its way into a little string jig. It comes across as a harmless, filler track.

DISC 2

1. Thrice Welcome (3:34)

This rhythmic piece works its way into the familiar chromatic theme from the Unexpected Party, though it mostly just dances around a new, short descending motif.

2. Girion, Lord of Dale (4:15) **

Dark and somber (like much of the album) there’s a majestic quality here that reminds me of the Argonath.

3. Durin’s Folk (3:04) **

A standout. Building into a force of Middle-earth, this piece features a rare use of distortion by Shore. With its boldness and self importance, you can almost see the Lonely Mountain as you listen to it.

4. In the Shadow of the Mountain (2:15)

This reflective (and short) piece starts off sprite and fun before getting dark and moody.

5. A Spell of Concealment (3:22) **

With screeching strings and a feeling of anticipation, there’s no mistaking this one for anything but a dangerous, evil piece. Sauron’s themes (including Barad-dûr) return in full force as the track works its way into a frenzy.

6. On the Doorstep (7:46)

As you can imagine, this track is filled with anticipation and wonder, though a lot of it is low key and mellow. Still, it’s quite pretty and one I could listen to over and over.

7. The Courage of Hobbits (3:00)

Beginning with the Shire motif, this gets dark and mysterious in a hurry, working in a chiming gamelan. This leads us to…

8. Inside Information (3:48)

… which begins with more of the same before working its way into the Smaug theme. The track is a marvel, unlike anything Shore has done in Middle-earth before and quite frankly knocked my hobbit shoes off. It weaves together its themes and instruments in a unique way to create a sense of awe and wonder.

9. Kingsfoil (2:25)

One of the few warm, heartlifting pieces, “Kingsfoil” includes a female voice and is quite comforting, a refuge from the more frightening pieces of the soundtrack.

10. A Liar and a Thief (3:41)

Returning to low brass and high strings, there’s no doubt what’s going on here: anger and rage building itself into a terror. Shore takes his time, not rushing a single note, and the result is JW ducking for cover by the end.

11. The Hunters (9:55) **

Combining several different themes, this pulse raising adventure track will go on my ipod in my workout playlist. Backed by a recurring percussive rhythm, the piece is full of suspense and danger.

12. Smaug (6:29) **

It’s curious that Tolkien didn’t use “Smaug” as a chapter title (opting instead for “Inside Information”). I realize he didn’t want to give away any of the story with the chapter list at the beginning of the book, but a Smaug chapter is a foregone conclusion from the beginning. Personally, I think “Smaug” as a title would have a simplistic beauty, like “Mount Doom” in Return of the King. Ah well, the soundtrack uses both titles!

This track is not quite as memorable as “Inside Information”, but gets going towards the end and builds towards something powerful, with percussion and voices in overdrive mode.

13. My Armor Is Iron (5:16)

This is just an extension of the previous track, with more of the same and a resolution. (Actually, I think I like this one more, because it’s more to the point.)

14. I See Fire (5:00)

Ed Sheeran sings this one well, but I can’t say I like the song as much as Neil Finn’s “Song of the Lonely Mountain”. (The fans on youtube sure like it, however, so what do I know?) It’s a fine song on its own (and lends itself to covers), but I’m not sure it makes me think “Hobbit”. It’s more bluesy than the other closing songs. Then again, I’m sure some people find it a nice change of pace.

15. Beyond the Forest (5:27)

Oh, this one is pretty. A female voice opens it up, and it develops into a somber run through of the film’s themes.

Closing Thoughts:

I must say that this album wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s better! It knew it would be darker than the first Hobbit soundtrack, but I didn’t think it would be so different and so rich. The Smaug theme, which recurs throughout, is the standout, perfectly capturing the awe and wonder of the dragon. But there’s something more. There’s a build and development in the music, almost like a story in itself, that is lacking in the first Hobbit soundtrack. By the latter half of the second disc, I’m listening not only to hear the beauty of the music, but to hear what happens next. There’s a sense of urgency and importance that I couldn’t turn away from. Is there some filler? Yes, particularly early. But overall, I couldn’t be more happy with what Shore has done here. Now I just have to see the movie!

Posted in Ed Sheeran, Hobbit Movie, Howard Shore, soundtrack, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Remembering C.S. Lewis

It should have been front page news, or at least worthy of a front page teaser: “Beloved author C.S. Lewis dies, details inside.” Today we might imagine that it was on the evening news, that newspapers around the world devoted a page to his life, and that fans around the world acknowledged the loss. But actually, it was barely mentioned, and most people took no notice.

It wasn’t because the media didn’t recognize his importance, or because people weren’t interested in him; it was because most people were distracted.

C.S. Lewis died, of all days, on November 22, 1963 – exactly fifty years ago today. Unfortunately, someone else died the same day. As the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy’s death was certainly more important historically. It was more shocking. It was more newsworthy. Indeed it was the news story of all news stories, and even today – especially today – people talk about where they were when they found out about it. (In fact, I just posted a video of my dad recounting what it was like to meet Kennedy and subsequently learn of his death.)

But let us not, whatever else happened fifty years ago, forget about C.S. Lewis. To me, the Inklings are the literary equivalent of the Beatles. They dismissed the stigma of their genre and encouraged each other to put together great works of art that are as imaginative, fresh, and exciting today as when they were written so many years ago. As a fan, it’s difficult to conceive of the void that would exist had they never filled it.

In a lot of ways, Lewis and Tolkien are the yin and yang of fantasy. Lewis liked to write quickly, allegorically, and did not like to edit his manuscripts. Tolkien, on the other hand, wrote slowly, methodically, and did as much editing as writing. And so it was that Lewis wrote all seven Narnia books inside of six years whereas Tolkien spent a whole decade and beyond working on The Lord of the Rings. The two sets of books are two different types of fantasy, but just as Star Trek and Star Wars can coexist, so can these great works of literature, each balancing out each other’s charm. The same can be said for Lewis and Tolkien, two great friends that were so different, yet so connected.

Today let’s remember C.S. Lewis and celebrate his life. He remains a great friend to many a reader, even fifty years after his passing, and his stories will continue to delight children for the next fifty years and beyond.

“I am sorry that I have not answered your letters sooner; but Jack Lewis’s death on the 22nd has preoccupied me. It is also involving me in some correspondence, as many people still regard me as one of his intimates. Alas! that ceased to be so some ten years ago. We were separated first by the sudden apparition of Charles Williams, and then by his marriage. Of which he never even told me; I learned of it long after the event. But we owed each a great debt to the other, and that tie with the deep affection that it begot, remains.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Posted in Miscellaneous

10 Things You Know About The LOTR Movies (That Aren’t True)

If you’re like me, you love your Tolkien. You’ve read all his books, you’ve seen all the film adaptations, and you’ve got a restraining order against you saying you can’t get within 200 feet of Liv Tyler. But hey, even if you’re not exactly like me, as a fan of TheOneRing.net you’ve probably heard a lot of things about the making of The Lord of the Rings movies. You know that Gandalf hitting his head on the rafters of Bag End was really an on-set accident, and that Sean Astin cut his foot on a piece of glass. You might have even heard that The Two Towers didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Score because it was ineligible. But, much like the idea that Salem, Massachusetts once held witch burnings, or that the U.S. has a national holiday named “President’s Day”, these things just aren’t true.

1. The myth: Peter Jackson discovered The Lord of the Rings when he bought a paperback copy to read on a train ride. He became an obsessive fan and later came up with the idea to make film adaptations.

Why we think it’s true: the publicity materials for film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

But actually: According to Jackson himself in his authorized biography, he was introduced to The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi’s film adaptation. He then bought a copy of Tolkien’s book that was a tie-in to the film (with Bakshi’s art on the cover). While Jackson did enjoy the book, he hardly became an obsessive fan. After reading it once, he set it aside and never bothered to read the book again… until his wife suggested it might be a good source for a fantasy film in 1995.

2. The myth: New Line Cinema made three Lord of the Rings films because there are three books.

Why we think it’s true: Logic, the DVD bonus materials

But actually: The number of books didn’t factor into the decision.

You’ve probably heard the story: Jackson was preparing to make two The Lord of the Rings films for Miramax when he was asked to condense everything into one film to save money. Jackson went to New Line Cinema to plead with them to buy-out the project and make two films instead of one. Bob Shaye, head of New Line Cinema, replied:

“Why would I want to do two films? There are three books. Why not do three films?”

It’s a good story, but there’s one problem: Bob Shaye himself has said that it’s bunch of baloney. “I didn’t say, ‘Aren’t there three books’ or whatever,” Shaye later said in an interview for the book, Peter Jackson: A Film-Maker’s Journey. Shaye was thinking more in terms of business than in terms of Tolkien. “I was cognizant of my discussions with Michael Lynn about our need for sequels. I knew that, after conferring with Michael… we were going to make three films.”

“Bob was getting pretty excited,” New Line executive Mark Ordesky said about the meeting, “because he sees what Peter was saying artistically, but because he’s also seeing three video releases, three network television sales…”

Interestingly, turning The Lord of the Rings from two films to three films would turn out to be quite the challenge for the writers. (In retrospect, maybe four would have been better!) But regardless, New Line Cinema was having trouble making sequels to their more successful films, and when Shaye saw an opportunity, he pounced on it – regardless of how many books Tolkien used to tell the tale.

3. The myth: While shooting at the Bag End set, Ian McKellen accidentally hit his head on the rafters. Because it was a funny moment, and McKellen gamely kept going with the scene, Jackson decided to keep it.

Why we think it’s true: Jackson says so himself in the DVD commentary.

But actually: McKellen himself addresses the issue on his website, writing “Peter, for once, is wrong. The head-banging was my idea but I’m glad if it seemed spontaneous, the aim of all actors.”

4. The myth: Jackson pays homage to Ralph Bakshi’s animated Lord of the Rings with a scene where the hobbits hide under the roots of a tree.

Why we think it’s true: It’s not in the books, yet it’s in both the animated and live action adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring.

But actually: The story is a little more complex.

It is true that this manner of hiding is not in Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring. Near the beginning of the book, the hobbits do hide from a “black rider” (twice). In their first encounter, Pippin and Sam hide in a hollow away from the road (Merry is not present) and Frodo hides next to a tree – though not under its roots:

“Just in time he threw himself down in a patch of long grass behind a tree that overshadowed the road. Then he lifted his head and peered cautiously above one of the great roots.”

The second encounter is similar (which is probably why both film adaptations condense it to one):

“They had no time to find any hiding-place better than the general darkness under the trees. Sam and Pippin crouched behind a large tree-bole, while Frodo crept back a few yards towards the lane.”

So the idea of the hobbits hiding under the roots of a tree with the Black Rider peering overhead, (and the iconic framing,) is an invention of Bakshi’s film. In 1985, a young artist by the name of John Howe used the scene as a basis for a painting. On his website, he says, “This painting was inspired by the Bakshi movie, where the Hobbits cower under a tree root as the Black Rider seeks them. I thought it was the best scene in the movie, and it must have trod a path in my subconscious, as it certainly is nowhere to be found in the Fellowship of the Ring. After a long hike on the West Coast Trail of Vancouver Island, I returned with exactly this photo – minus the hobbits and the Ringwraith, of course, and painted it for my own pleasure.”

The painting subsequently appeared in the 1987 J.R.R. Tolkien Calendar and caught the attention of Peter Jackson. Later, when Jackson was making his Lord of the Rings movies, he showed his people John Howe’s work: “Peter so enjoyed a beautiful painting that John Howe had done,” Richard Taylor later said, “that all of our brief and the Art Department’s brief was to try and generate the very feeling of this painting.” (In fact, Jackson even had a tree imported to the path just for the scene.)

And so in the end we actually have Jackson’s interpretation of Howe’s interpretation of Bakshi’s interpretation of Tolkien. And the best part is, the scene really works!

5. The myth: For the battle of Helm’s Deep in the animated Lord of the Rings, director Ralph Bakshi used footage from the 1938 historical drama Alexander Nevsky.

Why we think it’s true: The internet says it’s so.

But actually: It’s a mix-up of information.

Director Ralph Bakshi did indeed use footage of Alexander Nevsky (which wasn’t a legal issue, because the film is in the public domain) but not for The Lord of the Rings. He rotoscoped the footage for his 1977 film Wizards after 20th Century Fox refused to increase the film’s budget to allow him to animate the battles in a traditional way. The film was a success, and after this positive experience with rotoscoping, Bakshi decided to use it extensively his Lord of the Rings movie; but all the live action was shot by Bakshi himself in Spain. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the money to animate all the shots, so he resorted to posterizing some of the footage (mostly in the second half of the film) instead.

6. The myth: After Bakshi’s film failed at the box office preventing a “Part 2″, Rankin/Bass decided to finish up the story with their version of “The Return of the King”.

Why we think it’s true: The internet, the media, and common sense

But actually: This is one time common sense will work against you.

Heck, we all know critics and fans hated Bakshi’s film. We all know he didn’t make a Part 2 and that Rankin/Bass stepped up to the plate with their own sequel. It’s not hard to read between the lines and guess what happened.

But the truth is stranger than fiction.

To begin with, and this is going to be the opposite of what you’ve always heard, Bakshi’s film was actually a box office success.

“The theatrical release in 1978 had a domestic total gross of nearly $90 million at the box office,” said Amit Desai, WHV Vice President of Family, Animation & Partner Brands Marketing said in a press release to announce the film’s release on Blu-ray.

Actually, Amit, it was more like $30 million. But considering the film’s budget was $6 million and that the movie made some additional money overseas, it’s safe to say the film turned a healthy profit and was a success by 1978’s standards.

Whatever the case, “Part 2″ was never made, opening the door for Rankin/Bass… except that Rankin/Bass was already in the room, so to speak. A year before Bakshi’s LOTR film was finished, and before anyone had yet seen the Rankin/Bass adaptation of The Hobbit, Rankin/Bass was already hard at work on The Return of the King. From the November 27, 1977 edition of the New York Times:

“We will go on to complete our next Tolkien work, which will continue the characters we have established in ‘The Hobbit,’ and will be adapted from ‘The Hobbit’ and the last book in the Ring trilogy, ‘The Return of the King.’ At this point we are scripted, the music is composed and recorded, our backgrounds are painted, the sound track is partially completed, and new characters are designed-such as Frodo Baggins.”

It’s really bizarre when you think about: there were two different animation studios working on The Lord of the Rings at the same time, and for a period it looked like they were both going to be adapting the same material at the same time. Yet the movie that actually makes millions of dollars gets no sequel, and meanwhile the other guys do The Return of the King as a sequel to The Hobbit simply because it sounds like a good idea. If it seems like some crazy person was involved, I’ll remind you that the guy who held (and still holds) the film rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is the same guy who once sued John Fogerty for sounding too much like Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Whatever the case, the result is interesting: the independent choices of all parties involved coincidentally led to two animated Lord of the Rings movies by two different studios covering different ground, yet the two movies nearly dovetail and form a Part 1 and Part 2.

7. The myth: Cameron Rhodes plays Farmer Maggot in The Fellowship of the Ring movie.

Why we think it’s true: The film’s credits, Wikipedia, TheOneRing.net

But actually: someone else plays Farmer Maggot

It sounds like the ultimate imposter caper, something out of “Catch Me if You Can”: this guy, Cameron Rhodes, has fooled the media into believing he’s “Farmer Maggot” in the Lord of the Rings films, and now he’s able to work the convention circuit and sign autographs for $10 a pop.

Actually, this isn’t a case of someone who had nothing to do with The Lord of the Rings movies sponging off their success. (That’s my territory, darn it!) Rhodes, in fact, was bought on board the Lord of the Rings film project before Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, and most of the other actors. Early on, Jackson needed voice actors for a first pass at the script, and he had Cameron Rhodes (as well as Craig Parker and Peter Vere-Jones) record an audio version his Lord of the Rings. Rhodes was later cast as a hobbit in The Fellowship of the Ring, with a part that was derived from Farmer Maggot’s story in the book . Flanked by his dog, the character tells a Black Rider, “There’s no Bagginses around here. They’re all up in Hobbiton. That way!”

Here’s the problem: Rhodes’s character, which seems awfully young to be the curmudgeon, old farmer from the book, is never actually named in the film.

I can hear it now: “J.W, you’re being silly! Just because he’s not named doesn’t mean he hasn’t got a name. After all, Lurtz’s name is never spoken in the film either, but he’s still Lurtz.”

That is true, but there’s also this: later in the film, another character based on Farmer Maggot is introduced. He’s called Farmer Maggot, and he is a curmudgeon, old farmer, and he’s not played by Cameron Rhodes. He’s played by a scythe… and the voice of supervising sound editor Mike Hopkins (who sounds quite different than Rhodes). This is like the reverse of a composite character: we’ve taken a character from the book and given him two different parts! We could, perhaps, say that Hopkins is Farmer Maggot Senior and Rhodes is Farmer Maggot Junior (or just pretend they’re the same character) but there’s really nothing in the film to indicate this. Moreover, if there’s only to be one actor credited as Farmer Maggot, wouldn’t it be common sense to credit the guy who’s actually identified in the film as Farmer Maggot?

Well, there’s the catch. You see, credits don’t really exist for the sake of the audience (as this whole section illustrates: it’s unlikely anyone would say to themselves, “I wonder who plays that hobbit with the dog? Maybe he’s the son of that farmer hobbit and shares his name. Maybe I’ll just look for that other hobbit’s name, it will tell me who played his son.”) The real reason credits exist is because they are, along with monetary compensation, part of the agreement between a studio and the cast and crew. Simply put, New Line Cinema agreed to credit Rhodes as Farmer Maggot. This also allows him to credit himself as “Farmer Maggot” at appearances. And the truth is that Rhodes has a substantial enough part to deserve recognition. (Isn’t his contribution to the film fabulous?) Meanwhile, Mike Hopkins probably saw his voiceover in the film as part of his duties as Supervising Sound Editor, for which he’s given proper credit. So it all works out in the end. But that said, Mike Hopkins – who sadly died in a rafting accident in December – will always be Farmer Maggot to me.

8. The myth: While shooting a scene for the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, Sean Astin cut his foot on a shard of glass.

Why we think it’s true: It’s mentioned in all the bonus materials and you can read about it all over the internet.

But actually: While Astin did cut his foot, nobody was able to find the sharp object. (For those of you who live in New Zealand, what an opportunity this gives you! If you can find the object in question, you’ll have a great piece of film memorabilia. Maybe Mr. Astin will even sign it for you.) In his book, There and Back Again: An Actor’s Tale, Astin talks about what happened: “When the crew prepared the lake for this scene, they ran a rake along the bottom to smooth and make sure nothing was there. Unfortunately, they might have churned something up that was buried. Also, I was putting such force into the way I was marching into the water, while wearing just my hobbit feet, that anything with a sharp tip was going to do some damage.” While we’ll probably never know what the object really was, Astin has speculated that it might have been a branch – something the crewmembers might have overlooked before and after the accident in their search for a something sharp.

9. The myth: New Line Home Entertainment ripped off the fans by releasing two different DVD sets for each LOTR film.

Why we think it’s true: After we all bought the first DVD set, New Line released a better one.

But actually: New Line released the DVDs in a very fan friendly way

People are still mad about this one. The most popular review of The Hobbit on DVD and Blu-ray at amazon? A two star rating berating Warner Brothers: “As with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Warner Bros. is trying to stick it to the consumer again by hoping people will buy both versions.”

Setting aside that Warner Brothers had nothing to do with The Lord of the Rings extended editions, let’s take a look at what actually happened:

Back in 2000 and 2001 two things happened simultaneously: DVD players began sweeping over the world, replacing video cassette recorders, and Jackson’s first Lord of the Rings film was taking shape. Jackson and New Line Cinema looked at the situation and, in an epiphany, realized that they were now going to be releasing The Lord of the Rings films into two different markets with two different sets of demands.

For the theater, pacing and running time are vital to success, because there’s no pause button and it’s important for the film to have a flow that keeps people into the story as it moves from scene to scene. It’s also important to remember that theatrical audiences are sitting in foreign chairs, sipping their sodas, waiting to eventually use the bathroom and go home. But maybe even more importantly, the shorter a film’s running time, the more opportunities it has to make money, since it can play more times each day.

For DVDs, it’s a different ballgame. Pacing is less of an issue, because people often watch them in parts, almost like reading a book, and people are watching from their comfy chair or couch, taking bathroom breaks whenever they like. With no pressures limiting the running time, the director can let his hair down and tell the story in a different way with more details and more character development: and fans love it. Just as importantly (and unlike video cassettes), DVDs offer a chance for commentaries and bonus features you could never have in theaters.

So in late 2001, New Line decided there would be two versions of The Fellowship of the Ring. Their first order of business was to manage the theatrical cut and theatrical run, so it wasn’t until 2002 that they mapped out a DVD strategy. But when they got around to it, their idea was impressive: the theatrical cut would be released on DVD along with all the bonus material they already had in the can (trailers, tv specials, and anything else that didn’t require any work) and an “extended edition” would be released with new scenes (requiring new effect shots) and new bonus material assembled specifically for the set. Because the theatrical set was basically just an assembly of ready material and the extended set was something that need to be developed nearly from scratch, the two sets were going to be ready at different times.

All fine and good, you might say, but why didn’t New Line Home Entertainment tell people about the extended edition before people ran out and bought the theatrical cut?

They tried!

They issued a press release and personally shared the information with us here at TORN. It was exciting news! If you were a huge fan, you could get the theatrical set and the extended set, and you’d get both versions of the film and all that bonus material. The two sets worked well together, because they contained no overlapping material and gave you the most bang for your buck. On other hand, if you were just interested in the extended edition set, you could skip the theatrical set and save some money. And if you weren’t a big Lord of the Rings fan, but you liked the movie in theaters and just wanted to pick up a cheap DVD with the theatrical cut, you could buy the theatrical set. It seemed like New Line had covered all the bases and found a way to please everyone.

We posted all these exciting details on TheOneRing.net for the world to see, including a list of specific features on each DVD set, but the problem was the world didn’t see it.

Back from 2001 to 2003, before social media like Facebook and twitter, there was a definitive dichotomy for the public’s appetite for LOTR movie news: a season and an off season, so to speak. If we posted a story in December or January, it was big news. Fans would talk about it on message boards, the media would pick up the story and include it in newspapers, and everyone seemed to be in the loop. On the other hand, if we posted a story in May, June, or July, it was more likely to fly under the radar. People were out and about enjoying their summers (or winters in the southern hemisphere), and they certainly weren’t checking iPhones or iPads for the latest news. So the details of the DVDs went unnoticed (and unpublished by most newspapers, which didn’t really care), and after fans rushed out to buy the theatrical DVDs when they were released in August, they were quite angry when they found out there would be a better DVD set released later. (We could say that what we’ve got here is failure to communicate.)

As a postscript, it’s worth mentioning that the home video market has changed since the time of The Lord of the Rings movies. The emphasis now is to get the movies into stores as cheaply as possible, which is why The Lord of the Rings Blu-ray sets have no new bonus features. It’s interesting to note that if The Lord of the Rings had been released five years earlier or five years later, we probably wouldn’t have gotten the magnificent extras that are now part of posterity.

10. The myth: The Two Towers music wasn’t eligible for the Academy Award for Best Score

Why we think it’s true: The media widely reported it, and most fans still believe it today.

But actually: It was declared eligible.

The music of The Lord of the Rings is timeless and one of the greatest aspects of the stunning trilogy. The Fellowship of the Ring was nominated for and won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. The Return of the King was nominated for and won the same award. The Two Towers? Nothing. Not even a nomination. What the heck?

Ask a knowledgeable fan and he’ll tell you. “It wasn’t eligible because of a silly rule at the time.” In fact, it still says as much on Howard Shore’s Wikipedia page:

“Shore’s score for The Two Towers was deemed ineligible for submission to the Academy, due to a new rule that disallowed the submission of scores which contained themes from previous work.”

More accurately, Shore’s score was submitted but subsequently called into question due to the new rule; as TORN and newspapers throughout the world shared with everyone. Unfortunately, most people missed the follow-up story where the Academy said it was indeed eligible.

“The music branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences moved Friday to deflect a brewing controversy by postponing a ruling that would have disqualified for nomination a popular musical score. [Howard] Shore… was notified Friday afternoon that ‘The Two Towers’ will remain eligible after all for this year’s Oscar. Said Charles Bernstein, music-branch governor: ‘Due to the lateness of the date, and the crunch that takes place at the end of the year, the committee felt that it would be much more fair to leave this year alone and apply the rule in a more clearly articulated form next year.’”

Of course, The Two Towers was still not nominated, but that was due more to stupidity than rules.

So there you are. Ten myths cast into Mount Doom. Now I just have to find a way to start a TV show called “Middle-earth Mythbusters” where I do cool experiments to confirm or bust the things we’ve learned from The Lord of the Rings. Can you really reforge a sword? Is it really possible to toss a Dwarf 15 feet? Can you really forge a Ring that turns you invisible? Tune in next time and find out!

Posted in DVDs, Lord of the Rings, LotR Cast News, LotR Movies, LotR Production, Movie Fellowship of the Ring, Movie Return of the King, Movie The Two Towers

Tolkien Manuscripts to be Shown to Public

Marquette Libraries’ Department in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has been home to the original manuscripts of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings since the late 1950s. In exciting news, the department is hosting several public showings of selected original manuscripts on certain Friday afternoons this year and next. These showings are open to the public, and no reservation is necessary. The presentations will take place at 2:30pm (Central Time) on the following dates:

May 17, 2013
July 19, 2013
September 13, 2013
November 15, 2013
January 17, 2014
March 7, 2014
May 16, 2014
July 11, 2014
September 12, 2014
November 21, 2014

The presentations will be held in the Prucha Archives Reading Room (3rd floor, Raynor Library) and will run approximately 45 minutes. For more information on the archive and presentation, you can visit the J.R.R. Tolkien Collection’s website.

Posted in Hobbit Book, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, LotR Books, The Hobbit, Tolkien

J.W. Reviews The Hobbit Chronicles II Book

This month on J.W. Braun’s Bookshelf, J.W. takes a look at The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles II: Creatures and Characters by Daniel Falconer and Weta Workshop. Meanwhile, he announces a new contest and answers your questions in the mailbag section below.

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Posted in Books Publications, Hobbit Movie, Merchandise, The Hobbit, WETA Workshop

Nine Absurd Ideas for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (That Were Actually Considered)

Thomas Edison once said that to truly reach your potential, you must consider all ideas before discarding the poor ones and developing the good ones. (Actually, I just made that up. But it’s an internet tradition to attribute your own beliefs to a famous person to give your thoughts validation and respect. By the way, did I mention Tolkien wants you to buy my book?)

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Posted in Hobbit Book, Hobbit Movie, Lord of the Rings, LotR Books, LotR Movies, The Hobbit

J.W. Reviews The Hobbit Chronicles Book

This month on J.W. Braun’s Bookshelf, J.W. takes a look at The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles: Art & Design by Daniel Falconer and Weta Workshop. Meanwhile, in his mailbag feature below, he shares another riddle and answers your questions about Peter Jackson’s cameo in The Hobbit, the first Hobbit movie’s Oscar that’s not really an Oscar, and more.

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Posted in Books Publications, Hobbit Movie, Merchandise, The Hobbit, WETA Workshop

Nine Mind-Blowing Reasons We Are Able to Enjoy The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Books and Movies

You’ve probably heard of J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson. You might think they’re the reason we can all enjoy The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books and movies. Well… okay, they are. But you might not know how close you were to never being able to enjoy the adventures of Bilbo and Frodo in the way you know them, save for some other amazing factors. What am I talking about, you ask? Well hang on to your magic rings; it’s time to look at nine mind-blowing reasons we are able to enjoy Tolkien’s books and Jackson’s movies.

#1: A 10-Year-Old’s Book Report

Today there are many different options for writers searching for a way to share their work with readers. You can self-publish, write an e-book, post something on a website, etc. (You could even be a dinosaur like me and actually go through a publisher.) Back in the 1930s, however, Tolkien had only one real avenue to share The Hobbit with a wide audience: George Allen & Unwin, a publishing firm. One of Tolkien’s students had recommended the story to a friend who worked there, and the firm took a look at the manuscript. When I say they “took a look”, you’re probably thinking that some English literature expert carefully examined the work before reporting to a committee for a discussion and a decision. But actually what I mean is, “One of the guys gave the manuscript to his 10-year-old son and told him to write a book report on it.”

That’s right. The Hobbit – and by extension The Lord of the Rings, all the movies, TheOneRing.net, and the distribution of billions dollars – ultimately had their fate decided by a 10-year-old (Rayner Unwin) and his pencil. Now, I don’t know if you have children, but my wife’s a schoolteacher, and according to some of her students’ book reports, The Hobbit is about “Bible the hobo who chases dragonflies.” Thankfully, Rayner did a better job, although the heck of it is he wasn’t overly impressed with Tolkien’s work. The 10-year-old gave The Hobbit a backhanded compliment, saying it “should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 to 9.” His praise, however, was enough for his father, and the book was published.

Rayner’s importance doesn’t end there. In 1951, he began working for Allen & Unwin as an adult, and one of his first tasks was deciding what to do with Tolkien’s next manuscript, The Lord of the Rings. Upon reading that one, he had two thoughts: first, it was a work of genius, and second, it was going to cost more to publish than the firm would ever make on its sales. He published anyway. (Aren’t you glad he did?)

#2: Fritz the Cat (1972)

Based on the comic strip of the same name, Fritz the Cat was an X rated animated film directed by Ralph Bakshi, When the film ran into financial trouble, Bakshi convinced a record producer named Saul Zaentz to invest in the project in exchange for the rights to distribute the soundtrack. The movie (released well before anime overexposed the idea of naughty cartoons) went on to become a box office sensation and made Zaentz a fortune.

Flash forward a few years: Bakshi is working on a film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings for MGM when there’s a change in executives, and the new guy wants to kill the project. Who does Bakshi ask to help bail him out? Saul Zaentz, who had begun to dabble in films. At the invitation of Bakshi, Zaentz acquired most of the rights for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and produced Bakshi’s animated Lord of the Rings.

I can hear it now. “Okay, Bakshi and Zaentz made a crappy Lord of the Rings film. Big deal! Maybe it would have better had there been no Fritz the Cat then.”

Calm down, Chief. There’s more.

To begin with, the animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings is significant for introducing a certain 17 year old Kiwi to the wonders of Middle-earth. Sitting in his seat at the Wellington Plaza, Peter Jackson was so fascinated by what he saw he ran out and bought the book with the movie’s tie-in cover art. You can argue that even had he not seen the film, he might have read the books and become a fan anyway, but consider this: Jackson isn’t one of those Tolkien-obsessed fans who grew up reading the books over and over. He saw the Bakshi film, read the books once, and that was it… until he became interested in making his own film adaptations.

But there’s also this: Zaentz never sold the rights and still holds them today – having recently celebrated his 157th birthday. This is an important point, because you have to understand that most people in the industry do not act like Zaentz (who is slightly looney and once sued John Fogerty for plagiarizing himself.) For Zaentz, making movies has been more of a hobby than a business. Since 1972 he’s produced ten of them – with three winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Had the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings been in other hands, it’s likely we would have seen a far different “Tolkien movie” history. Would we still have Hobbit and LOTR films? Sure. We’d probably have more of them, with some studio doing a reboot of the franchise every few years like The Incredible Hulk or Star Trek. We might even have some lousy TV movies mixed in there as well. (Maybe even a Saturday morning cartoon show called “LOTR Kids” about the nine fellowship members sharing adventures together as children and overcoming the bullying of kiddy Sauron.)

I for one am happy that instead of countless crappy adaptations, we got nothing for twenty years and then were given three blockbuster Lord of the Rings feature films. So let’s give Fritz some thanks, even if he gives us the finger in return.

#3: The English Patient (1996)

You’re probably familiar with the movie The English Patient. It’s that 90s film starring Lord Voldemort that won a bunch of Oscars. What you might not know is that without the movie we probably wouldn’t have The Lord of the Rings movies (which did not star Lord Voldemort but did win a bunch of Oscars.)

The English Patient was produced by a guy named Saul Zaentz and was supposed to be made for Twentieth Century Fox, the studio footing the bill. Fox, however, backed out at the last minute, and Zaentz was left with a cast and crew in Italy and no money to shoot the movie. Almost immediately, however, Harvey Weinstein stepped in and acquired the project for his studio, Miramax (named after his parents, Mira and Max) and saved the day. Zaentz was grateful and promised to return the favor if ever an opportunity presented itself.

Meanwhile, a pair of filmmakers named Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh were working on post production for The Frighteners (1996). Jackson suggested the two might want to do a fantasy film next, and Walsh asked if it were possible to do The Lord of the Rings. Jackson assumed the rights were unavailable or tied up, but he figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask – so he went to the studio he was working with and said, “Hey, do you think Fran and I could make The Lord of the Rings?” That studio was Miramax, and the guy he was talking to was Harvey Weinstein, who loved the idea. Weinstein contacted Zaentz and called in his favor to get an option to make the movies, and Jackson was on his way to making Middle-earth magic.

#4: Ken Kamins’s Ingenuity

It’s 1998. (It’s not, but pretend it is.) Peter Jackson is summoned to a meeting with Miramax in New York. The studio has a great new idea: it’s going to make The Lord of the Rings as one film. They have a whole new approach to the story: The Mines of Moria? Skip them. Saruman? Gone. The Battle at Helm’s Deep? Gone. Gondor and Rohan? Merge them and make Boromir and Éowyn brother and sister. Maybe kill off some redundant hobbits.

I do have to mention here that Miramax wasn’t intentionally trying to be stupid. The problem was the budget. They had $75 million to spend on The Lord of the Rings and that was it. Given the choice between two low budget films or one with a modest budget, they chose the latter under the premise that it was most likely to make money. (After all, there’s a reason the film industry is called an industry and not “charitable contributions to the arts.”)

Jackson, of course, was horrified and said he couldn’t write and direct what they were proposing. Miramax, however, held firm and said, “Take it or leave it.” Jackson and Walsh talked about the ultimatum privately and then decided to say no and move on to other things. They asked their agent to tell Miramax they were out, and they figured that was that.

Jackson’s agent was Ken Kamins, and he did make the call, but with a wrinkle: he reminded them that this whole project began with Jackson and Walsh and asked if the two writers could find another studio to buyout the project and do it the right way. And that’s exactly what happened. In fact, that leads us to…

#5: Jim Carrey

Back in the early 90s, Jim Carrey was known as that weird guy on “In Living Color.”

That all changed in 1994 when he was transformed into a bankable Hollywood star thanks to Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber, and The Mask. The latter two were brought to us by New Line Cinema. This maverick studio was great at finding new stars and making and distributing hits; they just had trouble with sequels. Remember how funny Carrey was in “Dumb and Dumber 2” and “Revenge of the Mask”? Of course you don’t! Because he wouldn’t do them. Instead he went on to make big money for other studios. So we got new actors in Dumb and Dumberer and Son of the Mask – which, quite frankly, were terrible. Back in 1998, New Line executives were concerned about this problem, and one of the execs joked that they should just start shooting sequels to their blockbusters before they were finished shooting the blockbusters.

At just about this time, New Line was contacted by a guy named Peter Jackson. He said he had this Lord of the Rings project he was working on and was wondering if New Line would be interested in acquiring it from Miramax. “They’re only willing to make one film out of it,” he explained, “but we feel the only way to do it right is to do two films at once.”

New Line: “Two? Just two? Why not three?”
Jackson: “As I was saying, three films. We feel the only way to do it is three films.”
Christian Rivers: “Isn’t it a little late in the process to…”
Jackson: “To find myself a new Beacon keeper? No.”
Rivers: (silence)

What New Line Cinema didn’t know was had they turned Jackson down, Miramax was ready to fire Peter Jackson, replace him with John Madden, and make the one film version described above.

Thank you, Jim Carrey. Thank you.

#6: Sean Connery’s Confusion

Think about all the scenes in The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies with Gandalf. Now think of all of them without Ian McKellen and with Sean Connery in his place.

“Shauron is coming for the Ring, my boy. Keep it shecret, keep it shafe.”

(That’s my Sean Connery impression. Thank you, I’m here all week! Try the veal.)

One of the big concerns New Line Cinema had about The Lord of the Rings was whether or not the films would have the star power to get the casual filmgoers to buy a ticket. So they wanted Connery. And they wanted him badly. How badly? They would have ended up paying him about $450 million to play Gandalf.

Connery turned down the part because he didn’t understand the script. Years later, he reflected upon the story after reading the books and seeing the films: “”I read the book. I saw the movie. I still don’t understand it.”

He did add something that we can all agree upon: “Ian McKellen, I believe, is marvelous in it.”

#7: Harry Knowles

It’s easy to sit at home on the couch and fantasy-cast movies. “Dude, they should make a movie out of that “Smoking Cactus” book and cast Sam Elliott as the Texas Fryfish.” Heck, I’ve fantasized about the girls from Happy Hobbit playing damsels in distress, whereupon I rescue them and they begin fighting over me. But perhaps that’s taking the “fantasy” in fantasy-casting too literally. The point is, it’s fun to match up actors and characters. But how many times have you approached the actor and told him about the character… and then approached the director and told him about the actor?

In 1998, supergeek Harry Knowles had a cameo in the movie “The Faculty”. Here’s what happened in Harry’s own words:

“I remember, I was sitting on the steps of THE FACULTY’s set where Elijah [Wood] is going to be running from Robert Patrick. There was a break in shooting, because as Robert was running with the steadi-cam, he slipped and fell and they were checking all the equipment out. Elijah joined me on the steps and asked how things were going. It was mid-afternoon and I told him that I had spoken on the phone with Peter Jackson that day. That Peter was going to try and make THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Elijah had never read that book, but he had read the Hobbit, and loved that. That’s when I looked at him and told him he would be perfect to play Frodo.”

Wood, of course, then went on to make his own audition tape in his own makeshift Hobbit costume.

Meanwhile, Harry went on to have more discussions with Peter Jackson, including Q&A’s which he shared on his website. Jackson told Harry about his plans: he was going to cast an unknown British actor as Frodo. Harry had an idea of his own and said so: cast Elijah Wood!

Maybe Wood would have been cast as Frodo without Harry’s heads up or help. Either way, Harry’s championing of Wood as Frodo – going all the way back to 1998 – gives him plenty of Geek-Cred in my eyes. (I actually had a shirt once that said, “I have Geek-Cred.” Unfortunately, my wife accidentally spilled something on it. The gasoline probably would have come out in the wash, but my wife also accidentally set it on fire. But I digress.)

Then again, perhaps the real hero of the story is Robert Patrick’s clumsiness. Who knows? Had he kept his footing, the butterfly effect might have led to Dustin Diamond playing Frodo. And that’s even scarier than being chased by a Terminator.

#8: Jar Jar Binks

Yousa probably wondering if mesa gone coo coo here. (Happened long ago.) Sure, on the list of “Reasons Star Wars Rocks,” Jar Jar ranks at roughly 4,285,433 – just ahead of Princess Leia’s Life Day song.

But here’s the thing: while the people working on The Lord of the Rings were having all kinds of trouble with Gollum, George Lucas was busy making dozens of breakthroughs in CGI to bring Jar Jar to the screen. Jackson decided from the beginning that Gollum would be CGI, but by 1999 it was beginning to look like the impossible dream. Thankfully, Lucas was happy to help out Weta, and thanks to Jar Jar breaking new ground, Gollum did not end up as a man in a suit.

#9: Gray Horsfield

Quick question: who defeated Sauron? Was it Frodo? Aragorn? Gandalf? No, it was Gray Horsfield, a real name that’s so awesome, no fiction writer would have the cojones to use it.

Back in the early part of the last decade when Weta was working on the final Lord of the Rings film, they were in a jam: they needed to show the destruction of Sauron’s tower (Barad-dûr) but it wasn’t physically possible to blow up the model, and it probably wouldn’t give them the look they were hoping for anyway. At this point most films would have gotten together a team of digital artists and given them a month to work on doing it CGI. Weta didn’t need a team, however, because one guy did it himself. In two weeks. While everyone was on vacation. Gray Horsfield basically worked 20 hours a day everyday while everyone was on break blowing up Barad-dûr and blowing away everyone from Weta Digital when they returned to work. Frodo may have failed, but Gray sure didn’t.

So there you go. From a ten year old’s book report to Gray Horsfield’s dedication, that’s nine pieces of the puzzle that fell into place to give us some great books and movies. Doesn’t it make you feel like you won the lottery and didn’t even know it?

(I can’t believe you actually read this whole thing.)

- J.W. Braun

J.W. Braun is a Tolkien scholar and author of The Lord of the Films, published by ECW Press in 2009. You can find out more about J.W. at jwbraun.com

Posted in Lord of the Rings, LotR Movies, The Hobbit, Tolkien

J.W. Reviews The Hobbit Visual Companion

This month on J.W. Braun’s Bookshelf, J.W. takes a look at The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Visual Companion by Jude Fisher and also gives away a couple of prizes. Meanwhile, in his mailbag feature below, he shares a riddle and answers your questions about Tolkien rewriting The Hobbit and the scriptwriters messing up a quote in The Lord of the Rings movies.

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Posted in Books Publications, Hobbit Movie, The Hobbit

JW Reviews The Hobbit Soundtrack

J.W. Braun here. Readers of my book, The Lord of the Films, sometimes comment that I must have a musical background and that it’s obvious I’m a big fan of Howard Shore’s music for The Lord of the Rings. Well, both are true! I play the violin, viola, and piano, and I think The Lord of the Rings score is the greatest score of all time.

Today, the soundtrack for the first Hobbit film has become available in a two disc set. While it will probably take me months to truly appreciate it, here are my track by track thoughts today.

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Posted in Hobbit Movie, soundtrack

A Look Back at Important Hobbit Dates

These two have said it all:

“This thing all things devours: Birds, beasts, trees, flowers.” – Gollum

“The times they are a-changin.” – Bob Dylan

Whether you’re male, female or a mountain, time stands still for no one, and we are only here for a brief moment enjoying our small fraction of eternity. December 14, 2012 will be a special day, and I can’t help but feel blessed to be here for it. As I wait here, ticket in hand for a midnight showing of The Hobbit, I can’t help but think back to December 19, 2001; it seems like yesterday! That was a Wednesday, and the day The Fellowship of the Ring movie finally came out. I’ll never forget the experience.

When you think about it, of course, much has changed since then. If you’d have said twitter or Barack Obama to me in 2001, I’d have thought you were talking about a bird and someone from the Middle East. And that’s just going back 11 years! There are some fans out there, such as my friend and TORN colleague Quickbeam, who will never forget November 27, 1977. That was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and it was the day the animated adaptation of The Hobbit first aired on NBC. Just imagine trying to explain to someone from that time how much the world would change in the next 30 years! (They probably would have been blown away by the idea of an ipod.)

And what about September 21, 1937? That was a Tuesday, and there are faithful readers here at TORN who were around back then – the day The Hobbit was published. Talk about a different time – there were still people around then who remembered when the American Civil War was happening and when Abraham Lincoln was alive.

Today I thought it would be fun to take a nostalgic look back, and see how the world has a’changed – even in the last eleven years. So hop in the DeLorean with me and let’s take a look together at what the world was like way back when – and what’s it like now, which as I’m writing this is December 6, 2012.

World Population:

1937: 2.2 billion
1977: 4.3 billion
2001 6.2 billion
Today: 7.1 billion

These are, of course, estimates. And it was especially ridiculous to talk about the “sixth billionth” or “seventh billionth” baby, since the number of people in the world, due to deaths and births, is a fluid number always bouncing around. But it is said that somewhere in the world, a woman is giving birth every second. (Personally, I think we should find this woman and stop her.)

U.S. Population:

1937: 129 million
1977: 220 million
2001: 285 million
Today: 312 million

As Ben Franklin wrote, “tis the Duty of the first and great Command of Nature, and of Nature’s God, Increase and multiply.”

The Pope:

1937: Pius XI
1977: Paul VI
2001: John Paul II
Today: Benedict XVI

Interestingly, John Paul II became the pope in 1978 just before the animated Lord of the Rings movie was released and died in 2005 just after the extended edition of The Return of the King came out. So he’s our LOTR movie pope, I guess. (It’s also curious that Hobbit movies were made just before and just after his time as pope. Maybe there’s some spiritual significance to it all.)

Ages of Christopher Tolkien, Christopher Lee, and Dina Manfredini:

September 21, 1937: 12, 15, and 40 years old
November 27, 1977: 53, 55, and 80 years old
December 19, 2001: 77, 79, and 104 years old
Today: 88, 90, and 115 years old

Christopher Tolkien, as you probably know, is the youngest son of author J.R.R. Tolkien. Christopher Lee, of course, plays “Saruman”. Dina Manfredini is just an Italian woman from Iowa. The interesting thing about Dina is that she was born in the same decade as Professor Tolkien. To put it in perspective, she was 66 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated and was 66 when the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show – older than both Kennedy and Sullivan. Dina, who was old enough to be a grandmother when The Hobbit was originally published, is still with us, which makes me think she is very determined to see a live action Hobbit movie. Here’s hoping she gets to see all three.

World Leaders:

1937: FDR, Hitler, Chamberlain, Stalin
1977: Carter, Callaghan, Brezhnev, Trudeau
2001: Bush, Blair, Chrétien, Putin
Today: Obama, Harper, Putin, Cameron

I voted twice for one of these people. (No, it wasn’t Hitler.)

Those whacky Europeans

1937: The Nazis rule Germany out of Berlin, and the Russians have renamed Saint Petersburg “Leningrad” to avoid a lawsuit with Florida.
1977: The Nazis no longer rule Germany. Berlin is now two cities in two separate countries, thanks to the Russians and Leningrad.
2001: Berlin is back to being one city in one country, and Leningrad is back to being Saint Petersburg. (Am I the only one with “Istanbul Not Constantinople” in my head?)
Today: Thankfully everything is the same as 2001, which hopefully means we’re not going in circles.

The average cost of a movie ticket in the United States:

September 21, 1937: 23 cents
November 27, 1977: $2.23
December 19, 2001: $5.65
Today: $8.00

We won’t even talk about the popcorn.

The cost of a U.S. postage stamp:

September 21, 1937: 3 cents
November 27, 1977: 13 cents
December 19, 2001: 34 cents
Today: 45 cents

It’s going to be 46 cents by February. But it won’t be long anyway before teenagers ask their parents, “What’s a stamp?”

Dow Jones Industrial Average:

September 21, 1937: 157
November 27, 1977: 844
December 19, 2001: 10,070
Today: 13,074

The Dow Jones is a stock market index. Created in 1896, it spent its first eight decades creeping up to 1000 before things got a bit crazy in the 1980s and 1990s (when it went from about 1000 to 11,000.) In 2008 it crashed, and while we’ve since repaired most of the damage, we’re now stuck in a holding pattern.

Average price of a gallon of gas in the U.S:

September 21, 1937: 20 cents
November 27, 1977: 62 cents
December 19, 2001: $1.15
Today: $3.38

It’s not enough that it costs more for a movie ticket, it also costs more just to get to the theater! I just wish my salary had tripled in the last eleven years as well.

U.S. National Debt:

September 21, 1937: $37 billion
November 27, 1977: $718 billion
December 19, 2001: $5.7 trillion
Today: $16.3 trillion

It’s amazing what tax cuts, increased spending, and job losses will do. Interestingly, I hear that Minas Tirith had a surplus under King Elessar’s rule. But then that was a monarchy and he didn’t have to deal with Congress.

Films that just opened:

September 21, 1937: One Hundred Men and a Girl
November 27, 1977: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
December 19, 2001: Vanilla Sky
Today: Silent Night

One Hundred Men and a Girl was a musical comedy starring Deanna Durbin, who is still around actually. And Close Encounters is one of my favorite films.

Popular formats for buying music:

1937: 78 rpm records
1977: 33 and 45 rpm records
2001: Compact discs
Today: Digital downloads

I bought all the Lord of the Rings soundtracks on compact disc, but I’ve since transferred them to my ipod and I’ll just download the Hobbit soundtracks.

Hit Songs:

September 21, 1937: “One O’Clock Jump” (Count Basie)
November 27, 1977 “You Light Up My Life” (Debbie Boone)
December 19, 2001: “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” (Alan Jackson)
Today: “Diamonds” (Rihanna)

The thing about music is, the people who spend the most money on it are the young. So that’s who the industry targets. As such, the older you get, the worse you think the music is getting. (Unless you’re weird, you weirdo.)

TV Show Debuts:

Fall 1937: “The Disorderly Room” (UK)
Fall 1977: “The Love Boat”
Fall 2001: “24”
Fall 2012: “Guys With Kids”

The American television industry had not yet taken off in the 1930s, but when The Hobbit was published, Professor Tolkien could have watched several English shows, including “The Disorderly Room” (if he had had a television.) I’m not too sure he would have enjoyed “Guys With Kids” though.

Events:

September, 1937: The Chinese Revolutionary Army defeats the Japanese in the The Battle of Pingxingguan
November, 1977: British Airways begins London to New York service aboard the supersonic Concorde
December, 2001: China is granted normal trade status with the United States
December 2012: The UN General Assembly approves a motion granting Palestine non-member observer state status

Popular Baby Names:

1937: William, Donald, Mary, Betty
1977: Steven, Jeffrey, Amanda, Jennifer
2001: Tyler, Jacob, Madison, Hannah
Today: Liam, Mason, Olivia, Ava

I’ve always found the change in the popularity of names to be an interesting area of study. If I were to say the names “Elmer” and “Mildred”, you’d think of a couple of grandparents; yet there was a time when these were new and hip baby names. It’s fascinating to look at how names come in and out of style, and what names become dated while others become timeless.

Deaths:

October 17, 1937: J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of Titanic and survivor of the sinking
December 18, 1977: Cyril Richard, voice of Elrond in the animated adaptation of The Hobbit
December 29, 2001: Brian Bansgrove, chief lighting technician for The Lord of the Rings films
Today: Alice Harden, Mississippi Senator

And with that, it’s time to return to the present and prepare to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It won’t be too long before we look back at 2012 and marvel at how much has changed. Enjoy the moment, and enjoy the film!

- J.W. Braun, December 6, 2012

Posted in The Hobbit