Set Visit: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

1. INTRODUCTION

This one has been a long time coming. Almost twenty years ago in fact, back in the mid-1990s, was when New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson and his wife and producing partner Fran Walsh expressed interest in adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy classic “The Hobbit” into a feature film. At the time it was hoped it would be the first in a trilogy, with the next two instalments being based on “The Lord of the Rings”.

Unfortunately the production and distribution rights to “The Hobbit” were already tied up and out of reach, so Jackson forged ahead instead with a trilogy adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings”. Seventeen Oscars and nearly $3 billion in global box-office later, the fantasy trilogy is still widely considered one of the most ambitious, most acclaimed and most successful film series ever created. After the last film came out in 2003, everyone wondered whether a film based on “The Hobbit” would finally be made and if so, would Jackson be the one to direct it.

Nine years later and here we are, a little under two months away from the worldwide release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. The first in an ambitious new trilogy of films, this return to Middle Earth will be a quite different journey to our previous trip. Penned back in 1937 as a children’s book, “The Hobbit” has a much lighter and more humorous tone than the ‘Rings’ stories. The cast of characters is tighter, the sense of adventure more wild and playful, and the scale not as vast but still epic.

In June this year I, and several other online journalists, went down to Wellington for a few days to visit the set of the trilogy and talk with everyone involved. It was an extensive trip, we went through the various departments and conducted many interviews with the focus predominantly on the first film (the first of two at the time). Below is the result of that trip, a guide to the making of these films that should answer various lingering questions you might have about where the initial film in this new trilogy is going and what to expect.