Peter Jackson’s much anticipated Hobbit will hit theaters on Christmas 2012. It seemed like a natural leap from Lord of the Rings to the Hobbit, but Jackson needed some coaxing to dive back into Middle Earth.
On a sloping slab of artificial woodland surrounded by enormous green screens stands an old wizard and 13 elaborately bearded dwarves. Bilbo Baggins — played by Martin Freeman, known to American audiences as Watson in the BBC’s Sherlockand, before that, the lovelorn salesman inRicky Gervais‘ original The Office — eavesdrops from behind a tree as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) scornfully denounces him for deserting his comrades in arms. “We will not be seeing our hobbit again,” sneers Thorin at Gandalf (Ian McKellen). “He is long gone.” At an imposing 6-foot-2, Armitage doesn’t look especially dwarfish, but it’s only late July. By Dec. 14, when The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey unfolds on the big screen, Armitage and the others will look appropriately small thanks to a bag of old and new cinematic tricks.
Watching on a monitor, tucked out of sight, is Peter Jackson, the magician of Middle Earth. He had to overcome many reservations and obstacles before occupying the director’s chair on this massive project, among them the challenge of competing against himself. The Lord of the Rings trilogy grossed nearly $3 billion, and the final installment, 2003’s The Return of the King, swept up 11 Oscars, including best director and best picture.
If ever a wager on a project seemed like a safe bet, The Hobbitwould be it. Otherwise, no studio would have found the will to tackle the enormous problems involved in getting these movies made. (Originally intended to be two, now there will be three.) Not only was Jackson long unwilling to commit, but the rights to the material were bound in a decades-old Gordian knot. Getting it all sorted out involved epic battles matching any spectacle that Jackson previously had put on the screen — if you substitute executives and lawyers for elves and orcs.
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