Today in New York the junket was held for "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the first in the new trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkein-based films from "Lord of the Rings" mastermind Peter Jackson. A sweeping fantasy epic that takes place above and below Middle Earth, featuring heroes both new and familiar, 'The Hobbit' is made even more audacious and mind-boggling by Jackson's insistence in shooting the movie in 48 frames per second, which gives the 3D some much-needed oomph and, honestly, might make you a little bit sick (more on that in a minute).
During a press conference today, Jackson addressed the task of turning what was a relatively slim children's book into his second set of trilogies (the second film, 'The Desolation of Smaug,' opens next Christmas, with the third, 'There and Back Again,' to follow in the summer of 2014), the differing reactions to the new 48 frames per second technology, the possibility of losing star Martin Freeman, who plays the young Bilbo and how the Star Tours ride at Disneyland partially inspired his decision to shoot in a high frame rate.
That's a good question. It kind of surprised us a bit too. We were originally doing two films. It's really a question of what you leave out. It's misleading book, because it's written at a very breathless pace. Major events happen over two or three pages, it's like a children's story. So once you start to develop the scenes and you do a little bit more character development than the book, plus we can adapt the appendices, which is 100 odd pages that Tolkein developed that takes place around the time of the 'The Hobbit.' And Tolkein himself wrote that to tie into 'Lord of the Rings.' So all those factors combine and give us the material to do it.
How they always wanted Martin Freeman for the lead role
Martin is the only person we ever wanted for the role. And that was before we met Martin. We knew him from "The Office" and "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." We felt he had qualities that were perfect for Bilbo - that very essential fussy English quality. He's a dramatic actor who has a rare comedic skill. So that was going to be important. There was a lot more comedy in 'The Hobbit' than in 'Lord of the Rings.' It's comedy of a fish out of water nature. It's Bilbo reacting in a reluctant way to the adventures. We met him early in pre-production and we really locked into him for the role. And the delays that happened, mostly due to the MGM financial situation, we couldn't offer the role to anybody and we couldn't do anything contractually.
How they almost lost Martin Freeman and had to look elsewhere for someone to play Bilbo.
By the time we offered him the role he had already accepted the "Sherlock" TV series and by that time the first season had shot but the second season was going to be right in the middle of 'The Hobbit.' And he said, "Look, I can't do it." We were in trouble. I was panicking. We looked at other actors but unless we got this bit of casting right we knew we were going to be in enormous trouble. I was having sleepless nights.
We were about 6 weeks away from the beginning of the shoot and I was tormenting myself by watching “Sherlock” on an iPad at 4 o'clock in the morning. I was sitting there and looking at Martin and thinking there is nobody better, this is a nightmarish situation. When I got up that morning I called Martin's agent and asked if we could accommodate Martin's schedule for "Sherlock" within our shoot would Martin still be interested. Fortunately, the answer was yes. What we did with the studio's approval, we started shooting 'The Hobbit' for 4 or 5 months so we stopped the shoot for 8 weeks and then when Martin came back we carried on. It was a blessing for us, too, because I got to edit the first four months of shooting, I got to prepare for the next batch of shooting and that little break was very welcome. It was quite a civilized way to make a movie at the end of the day, plus we got Martin.