Midtown Manhattan became Middle Earth today as the cast and crew of 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' came to the Waldorf=Astoria hotel (yes, that weird equals sign is the correct way to spell it.) Film writers, bloggers and gurus were in attendance and ready to hear the well-rehearsed marketing messages from Peter Jackson and Warner Bros. Luckily Sir Ian McKellen was there to liven it up.
Yes, This Needs To Be Three Movies
Some may question if a 300-page kid's book needs to be three films, the first of which clocks in at nearly three hours.
HHIC (Head Hobbit in Charge) Peter Jackson was quick to point out that J.R.R. Tolkien's original work is a misleading book that moves at a breathless pace. He also added that they are incorporating elements from the appendices from 'Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.'
Co-writer/co-producer Philippa Boyens cited the tremendous depth of storytelling in Professor Tolkien's book. (PS - I started an unofficial 'Hobbit' drinking game wherein you do a shot of miruvor each time Boyens called Tolkien "professor.") She also added that the book does not end where a "normal" children's book should end, going quite dark. Spoiler alert?
'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' is the first feature film to be shot and presented in 48 frames-per-second. It's certainly been a controversial move, but Jackson was unafraid to defend it.
When CDs first came out, many people argued that it threatened the sound of vinyl, Jackson recalled. Some said that you'd never be able to listen to The Beatles, that you'd hear every imperfection and it wouldn't work. He called the resistance to new technology "hysteria." He is not, however, trying to change the film industry and sees shooting in a higher frame rate as "a choice." He also understands that it is only human nature to have resistance to something new. (Also: young people seem to really love it, he noted.)
He fell in love with 48 fps seeing 'Star Tours' and a New Zealand tourism film, and feels that it gives an immersive reality that really helps you "leave your seat."
Jackson then laid into 3D at 24 frames-per-second, bemoaning the darkness issue and the problems of strobing. He did add that those days will soon be at an end and that "laser projection" is on the way.
The production delays on 'The Hobbit' have been well-reported, starting with MGM's financial issues, Guillermo Del Toro's departure as director and problems with New Zealand's labor unions. Jackson described how, with just six weeks prior to commencement of principal photography, they still didn't have a lead actor.
They had met with Martin Freeman previously and absolutely loved him, but the delays didn't jibe with his schedule shooting on 'Sherlock' for the BBC. In an act of masochism, Jackson spent one of his sleepless nights watching 'Sherlock' episodes. He realized that he was the only one who could do justice to the part of Bilbo Baggins and decided the production would bend over backwards to fit him in with his prior commitments.
Turns out the need to take an eight-week break was actually a "civilized" way to shoot a movie of this scope, allowing time to get into some of the editing.
Sir Ian McKellen Has No Time For B.S.
When some press stooge asked how Sir Ian McKellen approached playing Gandalf again after all these years, the actor looked as if he were about to give a thoughtful answer, then took a deep breath and confessed, "Oh, I dunno, I just played him the same way, didn't I?"
He then admitted that there is a difference between Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White -- the Grey is more fun, a guy you can have a smoke with, and more appropriate to join Bilbo on this adventure.
Sir Ian McKellen Really Loves The 'Lord of the Rings' Films
When another cast member dared use the F word (franchise), mighty Gandalf interrupted. "This is not a franchise! These are films!" After a beat he winked, "Not like 'X-Men.'"
On the topic of three full-scale epics being a bit much for this story, McKellen was quick to remind people that the fans will watch 'The Hobbit' one thousand times. So why not give them three movies to watch one thousand times? These films are made with great craft and have artistic aspirations. He implied that we should just imagine what fans, particularly young ones, might be watching instead!
He also had a hell of a time on set, with his assigned personal manservant, a mysterious man named Steve. He was a driver, a cook and a masseur. "I miss Steve!" McKellen cried out to great laughter. (No sex, though, Steve's straight, McKellen added.)
The Serkis Is In Town
Andy Serkis isn't just back as Gollum, he's also the 2nd Unit Director. On some movies this means filming inserts of hands or sunsets or people opening doors, but on something this big it can, from time to time, mean actually directing actors. He described the experience of the massive 18-month shoot as being on a small boat in a rocky sea, knowing you couldn't get off the boat. (The more epicurean McKellen described it as a luxury cruiser.)
There was also much talk of how this time the Gollum scenes were shot with live motion capture. In the past films (which McKellen describes as looking like a "glove puppet") Serkis would be on the set merely to aid the other actors. His performance capture was done after the fact. Crazy modern cameras are now able to do the thing where Serkis wears ping pong balls while in the middle of a scene with Martin Freeman. Technology!
Lastly, Gollum is a mere 560 years old in this film, as it is a prequel. "He's much hotter, young girls will love it."