By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist November 29, 2010 at 3:20AM
After something of a roller coaster year, with an endlessly sliding start date, the bailing of director Guillermo Del Toro, and nearly losing preferred lead Martin Freeman, "The Hobbit" is finally gearing up to shoot in the new year, with Freeman joined by new cast members like Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt and Aidan Turner, as well, possibly, as the rumored likes of David Tennant, Michael Fassbender and Saoirse Ronan.
As we get closer to production, more and more tidbits will start to leak out, and several broke over the weekend. Firstly, fansite The One Ring pointed out that actor Ian McKellen, who starred as benevolent wizard Gandalf in the original "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, has recently updated his website to seemingly confirm that he'll be involved in the shoot over 2011, which the site says will kick off in February. While McKellen's involvement was never really in doubt, and we still await an official announcement, it's good to know that he's looking locked-in: Michael Gambon can only take over playing so many famous wizards you know...
The more surprising news, on one level at least, is that Jackson will shoot the film on EPIC, the new digital cameras from RED. The company, founded by Oakley millionaire Jim Jannard, has been making waves in recent years with the first 'affordable' high-resolution camera -- the RED ONE, their first camera, records 4K images at a relatively low cost, and has been championed by the likes of Steven Soderbergh, who shot "The Informant!" and "Haywire" with the cameras, and David Fincher, who used the format exclusively for "The Social Network."
Jackson has a long history with the cameras, shooting a short with them shortly after their release, "Crossing The Line," and using them for much of "The Lovely Bones" (and Neil Blomkamp used them also for most of "District 9," which Jackson produced), so it's not hugely surprising that he's turning to the format, particularly with the desire to film in native 3D making it impossible to shoot on film, as the original pictures were.
According to a press release obtained by Engadget, Jackson will actually be the first to use RED's new cameras, the EPIC, buying up 30 units at a cool fifty grand each. The new cameras are able to shoot up to 120 frames a second at a resolution of 5K, while still being smaller and lighter than the original version, and he seems excited, saying that "The Epic not only has cutting edge technology, incredible resolution and visual quality, but it is also a very practical tool for film makers." However, as unsurprising as the move is, we're not convinced it's the wisest idea.
The results we've seen on Red cameras to date are undeniably impressive (although to our eyes, we've found the format better suited to the chilly, steely looks of films such as "The Social Network" and "Winter's Bone" than anything with a warmer color palette), but they're notoriously tricky to deal with on set -- this writer has seen entire takes wiped from existence at random on the format.
We're not the only ones to be unconvinced -- Rian Johnson wrote a lengthy take-down of the format a few years back, while Werner Herzog, who used RED on "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done," recently told the DGA that "it's an immature camera created by computer people who do not have a sensibility for the value of high-precision mechanics, which has a 200-year history. It's terrible: Whenever you have to reboot the camera, it take 4 1/2 minutes or so. It drove me insane."
Indeed, Soderbergh was meant to be the first to use the new RED format, also shooting in 3D, on "Contagion," but, as we reported a few months ago, the director was unhappy with some last-minute glitches on the new cameras, and so decided to stick with the RED ONE, ditching the idea of filming in 3D. We imagine the problems have been worked out by now, or Jackson wouldn't use the EPIC, but it's still a risk, considering the lengthy delays the production has already suffered, to shoot on a brand new system from a company already well-known for technical issues.
In one final tidbit for the film, Australia-based British actor Shane Briant told the Bram Stoker Horror Film Festival Whitby Hammer Convention and Exhibition a few weeks back that he was up for a role in "The Hobbit," a role which The One Ring suspects is either the Mayor of Michel Delving, or the Mayor of Lake Town. It's all a bit thin, but we figured we'd pass it on while we were here. With shooting now only a couple of months away, and the release of Part One tentatively planned for December 2012, we're sure more news will be along shortly.