I am by no means an aficionado of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work (or Professor Tolkien as Peter Jackson so lovingly refers to him) but that does not mean that I cannot appreciate the majestic beauty the author’s amazingly complex mind has manifested. In addition, Peter Jackson’s work on the four Tolkien films so far is a stunning achievement in cinema, one that is as monumental in scope as technologically possible.
With the next film in The Hobbit trilogy on its way December 13–subtitled The Desolation of Smaug–let’s take a guided trip through Middle-Earth with Peter Jackson to help steer us through his special, extra 13-minute cut. Here are a few things I learned from listening to Jackson’s musings on arguably his greatest undertaking as a director.
1.) The City of Dale Was The Biggest Set on The Hobbit
Dale is one of the more important settings in the story of The Hobbit as it’s the scene where pivotal battles are taken place in the tome of Tolkien. It is also, according to Jackson, the biggest set they had to build for the filming of The Hobbit. Another fun fact: the place where they built the city is also the same place in New Zealand where Jackson built the big wall for his King Kong remake.
2.) Magneto Was Having Some Issues
File this under “thrown-under-the-bus”, but when you have an actor with the caliber of talent as a Sir Ian McKellen, you give the man some leeway when it comes to performance issues. That is unless your name is Peter Jackson.
In that case, you just tell the audience that Gandalf had problems getting back into character, found himself lonely and out of his element in green-screen environments, and was just having a rough go-of-it during the initial stages of filming. Good thing for Jackson that Ian McKellen doesn’t have the patience for three hour-long commentaries otherwise he might find himself on the wrong end of a brutal coin trick (X-Men: First Class reference).
3.) Andy Serkis is Peter Jackson’s “Bobby Deniro”
Scorsese had Robert Deniro. Jackson has Gollum. Calling second unit director and motion-capture actor (among other trades) Andy Serkis his “Bobby Deniro”, it’s clear that Jackson values the actor/director hybrid more than anyone can imagine. Serkis is magical as Gollum and to this day sets the tone for just how realistic and artistic mo-cap acting can be (of course this has been stretched even further in films like Avatar, but for the sake of this piece lets just call Serkis the godfather of mo-cap).
You can catch Serkis diving deeper into the waters of film directing with his first directorial effort coming in the form of a film adaptation of George Orwell’s beloved Animal Farm next year.
4.) Hugo Weaving is Bad Ass at Speaking Elvish
As if we didn’t need another reason to hate Agent Smith, the bastard has to go and make everyone look bad on the set of The Hobbit by picking up his Elvish like no one’s business just a mere 10-12 years after The Return of the King. Weaving has quietly starred in some of the biggest films of the past 15 years and continues to do so with a sort of self-congratulatory demeanor that bodes well for his smug characterizations.
5.) Andy Serkis Broke Martin Freeman In
When we first see Martin Freeman in The Hobbit, it’s opposite a towering, pipe-smoking Gandalf. But this was not the first scene that Martin Freeman, who plays the titular Bilbo Baggins, filmed for The Hobbit.
His first scene was opposite Andy Serkis in the pivotal meeting between the two main characters that serves as the crux of the film. Freeman, who had not yet acclimated to the role of Baggins, got to have quite the feeling out process with Andy Serkis in the first days of shooting, which Jackson claims to have had quite the positive effect on Freeman’s portrayal of The Hobbit.