The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition features over 4 hours of behind the scenes extras, and is exclusively on iTunes (you can download it here). This article is first in a series on the Extended Edition extras and discusses the long and winding road back to Middle-earth.
Chapter 1: The Journey Back to Middle-earth
August 8, 1999 – Peter Jackson’s cutting room in Wellington, New Zealand, in the early stages of filming The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Peter, reclining on a sofa, tells the editors in the room, “This is a very complicated movie, times three, all at once. This is going to be the hardest thing I ever do in my life, and I will never…i’ve actually had enough, really, of these complicated things, and my next movie is going to be really simple. Whatever it is, it’ll be as simple as hell.”
We now know that his next movie, King Kong, was not exactly simple, however it must have felt like it compared to the 18 months it took to film The Lord of the Rings trilogy! “When we made The Lord of the Rings I was absolutely sure that was going to be a once in a lifetime experience”, Peter says.
Cut to February 24th, 2004: TheOneRing.net’s historic Oscars party, where Peter declares (amidst the chanting of ‘Hobbit!’ from the partygoers), “Let’s not shut down TheOneRing.net down just at this moment!”
Screenwriter Phillipa Boyens explains: “The idea of doing ‘The Hobbit’ was always there, in terms of the fact that The Lord of the Rings trilogy had been so successful. The studio was keen to do it, but there were rights issues which were quite complicated.” One of the big hurdles was that Warner Brothers did not own all the rights to The Hobbit; they were shared between Warner Brothers and MGM, so that would need to be sorted out before a film (or films) could be greenlit. Not to mention that Peter was not interested in directing it. During the filming of the LotR trilogy, Elijah Wood asked Peter if he thought he might like to do The Hobbit someday, and Peter was quick to answer “no”. Peter said his idea had been that if it did get made, he, Fran Walsh, and Phillipa Boyens would write the script and produce it, and someone else would direct.
An early favorite of the writers was Guillermo del Toro, who had directed ‘The Devil’s Backbone’, ‘Hellboy’, and ‘Blade 2’. When he was offered the job, Guillermo enthusiastically said yes. In May 2009 he told TOR.n staffer Quickbeam, “I am exploding with the desire to show everything! It’s fun, but it’s challenging, and it requires you to have your stuff together..you have to do your homework everyday.”
Studios MGM and Warner Brothers would now need to work out a deal where they would share in the production and distribution of The Hobbit. Even before the films got a greenlight from the studios, the writers and Weta Workshop were able to do quite a lot of work, including writing the script, production design, building armour and character maquettes. It took quite a while for MGM and Warner Brothers to work out a deal, but just as they got close to finalizing, MGM faced some financial issues which caused additional delays and pushed the start date of filming even further back. Guillermo had other films that he wanted to do, and had to decide if he wanted to wait another few months for a possible start date. In early 2010, after a year and a half of pre-production, he made the decision to step down as director. “I remember the meeting where he announced he had to leave”, conceptual artist John Howe recalls, “and he was very clearly heartbroken.”
Peter, however, didn’t instantly step up as a replacement. “At the point that Guillermo left, a substantial amount of money had been spent, and a huge amount of work had been done. And we (the production team) talked about it and said, well do we now find somebody else who would like to make The Hobbit, and so essentially start that journey again, or do we help the studio in a very difficult situation and do I step in and do it?” The studios were hesitant to greenlight a film without a director. It took some time, and some persuasion from the other producers to convince Peter that if the films were going to get made, he would need to step back in as director.
After months of legal wrangling, The Hobbit finally got a greenlight to start production. However, Peter would have a lot less time to prepare for The Hobbit than he did for The Lord of the Rings. “On The Lord of the Rings, I had two, two and a half years to prepare three movies. And on The Hobbit, I had about 5 months to prepare.”
The next step was to figure out what ideas from the pre-production under Guillermo del Toro would stay, and what would need to be changed. It was decided that, although del Toro’s designs would be great in a del Toro film, it wouldn’t be right for a Peter Jackson film. Peter explains,”What I thought I had to do at that point was to say ‘Okay, you’re the guy that made The Lord of the Rings; get back into that zone, get back into that head space.'” Once they sorted out designs, the filmmakers were able to start casting the roles and set a new principle filming start date of February 2011.
“There was quite a long period in the years between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and Fran and I just took the attitude of, ‘Well, if we do The Hobbit that’ll be because, you know, that is where fate has pushed us….so i’ve sort of done the once in a lifetime twice in my lifetime, but not a third time, there won’t be a third time!”
The cast was assembled and were brought down to New Zealand; Weta was busy with set, costume, and makeup designs. But there was still one more hurdle left before filming started: on January 26, 2011, just a few days after the first script read through with the cast, Peter is rushed to the hospital with a perforated ulcer, delaying filming yet again. Although he was still able to do a little work from his sick-bed, he would not return to the set until March 3rd. Principal photography finally began on March 21st, 2011.
To be continued…