A Return to Middle-earth
Peter Jackson takes an unexpected journey with The Hobbit
Ten years after wrapping up the Lord of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The movie opens on Friday and it's a prequel to the Lord of the Rings movie. Actually, it's the first of three prequels. The book The Hobbit, written by author J.R.R. Tolkien, has been broken up into three parts.
The title of the movie refers to the adventure that Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) goes on with the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) to help a group of dwarves reclaim their homeland. But An Unexpected Journey could also refer to the Jackson's adventure of making the movie.
Jackson directed the first three movies in the Lord of the Rings series: Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, Return of the King. So when producers began talking about making The Hobbit into a movie, they figured Jackson was the perfect person to bring the book to life.
Jackson didn't agree and decided not to direct The Hobbit. "I thought I'd be competing against myself," he said at a press conference in New York last week.
Guillermo del Toro was selected to make the movies instead. But after numerous production delays, del Toro dropped out. This gave Jackson a second chance at The Hobbit — and he took it.
"I came to realize that there's a lot of charm, a lot of humor, that Lord of the Rings didn't have," Jackson said. "This gives me an opportunity to do something a little different."
The Hobbit might have a lighter tone and more jokes than the previous Lord of the Rings movies, but some things have stayed the same.
For example, the story is still serious. A group of 13 dwarves, along with Bilbo and Gandalf, set out on a quest to kill an evil dragon that has destroyed their kingdom. The characters get into battles with orcs and goblins and encounter many nasty creatures along their journey.
Also the same? It's setting. Jackson's native New Zealand is once again used as Middle-earth. And the cast and crew spent a lot of time there making the three Hobbit movies. It took 266 days — more than eight months — to shoot the trilogy.
"These are really long stamina jobs," Andy Serkis explained. Serkis plays Gollum in the Lord of the Rings series. He was also the second-unit director on The Hobbit. "It's like being pushed out to sea on a very rocky boat, and all agreeing to get on that boat, and seeing a big, big stormy sea ahead of you for a long time and knowing you can never get off it."
Serkis pauses for a brief second, then added, "In a nice way."
A New Way to Watch Movies?
But there is one big difference between The Hobbit and the other Lord of the Rings movies: how it looks.
Most movies are made by shooting action at 24 frames per second (24 fps). This means one second of a movie is made up of 24 individual images. So when you watch a movie that's 90 minutes, you're really watching 129,600 unique images. (There are 60 seconds in one minute, so there are 5,400 seconds in 90 minutes. And if a 90-minute movie is made at a rate of 24 fps, there are 129,600 frames in the movie.)
Movies have been made at a rate of 24 fps for more than 100 years. But Peter Jackson decided to do something different. He made The Hobbit at 48 fps. This meant that Jackson was shooting twice as many images at twice the speed than most movies.
Jackson said he made The Hobbit this way so that the 3D becomes more immersive, the images look richer, and the movie feels more real.
"For me, fantasy should be as real as possible," he said. "I don't buy into the notion that because it's fantastical it should be unrealistic. I think you should have a sense of believing the world you're going into."
The technology behind making a movie in 48 fps is so new that not all movie theaters can project it that way. But the people who have seen The Hobbit shown at 48 fps have mixed reactions. Some find the look stunning and immersive. Others say it makes them feel sick and makes the movie look too much like a video game.
"It's not an attempt to change the film industry," Jackson said. Instead, his goal in making The Hobbit this way was to bring the audiences back into the movie theaters.
"As a filmmaker, I feel the responsibility to say, 'This is the technology we have now, and it's different. How can we raise the bar?'" Jackson said. "I don't want kids to see The Hobbit on their iPads."
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