‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing the Film

Published 2 years ago by , Updated December 8th, 2012 at 2:26 am,

The Hobbit SDCC Poster The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing the Film

It’s been nine years since the final Lord of the Rings film hit theaters, but the time has finally come to return to Middle-earth. Much will be the same, but there have also been some big changes happening during director Peter Jackson’s 266 days of filming on the Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the novel puts the focus on the character of Bilbo Baggins, the uncle of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) in LotR. In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first part of Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, a much younger Bilbo (played by Martin Freeman) is recruited by Gandalf the Grey (again portrayed by Ian McKellen) to join 13 dwarves – including the warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) – for an adventure filled with Goblins, Orcs, Wargs and more.

In honor of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’s December 14th debut, Jackson, producer Philippa Boyens, visuals effects supervisor Joe Letteri, cast members Freeman, Armitage, McKellen, Wood and motion-capture actor/second unit director, Andy Serkis (Gollum), came out to discuss the thrill of revisiting the beloved world, changes Lord of the Rings fans can expect and more.

Get the need-to-know information from the New York City press conference, below:

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1. THERE IS ENOUGH MATERIAL FOR 3 MOVIES

The Hobbit Book Cover2 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing the Film

It’s one thing to adapt a three-volume piece of material into three separate films, but a roughly 300-paged (depending on the edition) tale divided up into three movies? Jackson admitted, “We were originally doing two films,” but pointed out, “It’s a misleading book. It’s written at a really breathless pace. Pretty major events of the story are covered in two or three pages.” He even goes as far to liken it to a child’s bedtime story. While this might make it sound as though The Hobbit is even less suitable for a three-film adaptation, Jackson notes that making this film called for some serious character development and conflict.

Armitage used the dwarves as an example. “The dwarf characters, for instance, in Tolkien’s book, they’re very thinly sketched and actually they’re a bit of an amorphous group whereas [in the film] every single dwarf you will get to know throughout the course of this journey.” He continued, “As you’ve seen from the first film, the grand themes are feathered into the texture of it and in order to do that fully and allow each character to have their moment and to play their part in those themes, you will absolutely need three films to do it properly.”

the hobbit movies The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing the Film

McKellen was a bit more blunt about it, explaining, “Anyone who thinks Peter Jackson would fall for market forces rather than artistic imperative doesn’t know the guy and hasn’t examined the body of his work.” He joked, “If we just had made one movie of The Hobbit, the fact is that all the fans, and I’m thinking of the eight, nine, ten-year-old boys and girls, they would watch it 1,000 times. Well, they’ve now got three films they can watch 1,000 times.”

In all seriousness, Jackson pointed out, “We also adapt the appendices from The Return of the King,” which tacks on about another 100 pages of material. The goal was to use that material to expand The Hobbit while also connecting it to The Lord of the Rings.”

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2. IT HAS A MORE COMEDIC TONE

The Hobbit Dwarves Poster The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing the Film

While there were some lighter moments in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson stressed that the nature of The Hobbit is quite different, specifically highlighting, “There was a lot more comedy in The Hobbit than there was in The Lord of the Rings films, and it’s comedy of a fish out of water, actually.” That fish, of course, being Bilbo on his big journey.

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3. IT’S THE DEBUT OF HIGH FRAME RATE 3D

Not only did Jackson take on the monumental task of transporting us back to Middle-earth and shooting three massive productions at once – he also challenged the norm of shooting a film at 24 frames per second. The Hobbit is shot at 48 frames per second, and while non-film nerds may be thinking, “24? 48? What’s the big deal?” it is a big deal, and it has the power to completely alter the viewing experience.

The Hobbit Unexpected Journey HFR Poster The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing the Film

Now the question is: was taking the 48 fps plunge worth the risk? Jackson pointed out that most moviegoers under the age of 20 don’t really care and “they often just say the 3D looks really cool.” As for Jackson himself, he said, “I think 3D at 24 frames is interesting,” but it’s the 48 fps that actually allows the 3D to look life-like.

The real benefit (for all you 3D haters out there) is that, according to Jackson, 48 fps 3D makes things “more comfortable to watch,” with Jackson specifically citing less eye strain and a sharper picture.

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4. THERE’S A LACK OF LADIES

Cate Blanchett The Hobbit The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing the Film

We’ve got Bilbo, Gandalf, and 13 dwarves, but where are The Hobbit ladies? Some are coming – just not in An Unexpected Journey.

Boyens fielded this question, admitting, “I love 13 dwarves and they’re all gorgeous, but you do feel the weight of that lack of femininity.” She also pointed out that, oddly enough, Tolkien wrote brilliantly for women. “He had a real respect for women, and the most powerful being in Middle-earth at this time as he wrote was Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). And so we have her story as it develops, as he wrote it, as it informs the whole.”

There’s also Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel, but she’ll have to wait until the second movie, The Desolation of Smaug. However, Boyens did toss in, “It’s gonna get good for the girls, I think.”

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NEXT PAGE: Gollum, Gandalf, and Production Details…

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5. GOLLUM IS BACK & LOOKING BETTER

Gollum The Hobbit The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing the Film

Yes, we were all rooting for our main man, Frodo, in the Lord of the Rings movies, but the one who made the greatest impression was certainly Andy Serkis as the ground-breaking motion-capture character, Gollum. If you’ve seen The Hobbit trailers you already know that Gollum makes a return in An Unexpected Journey (albeit briefly), in a very pivotal sequence which helps foreshadow the events depicted in Lord of the Rings.

Way back when, while working on The Fellowship of the Ring, Letteri remembered thinking, “Gee, if we could just capture what Andy’s doing directly.” Serkis was originally brought on only as a voice actor. Letteri explained that at the time, they conceived of the role as a standard cartoon animation. “You record the voice and you go back and you key frame in, but we saw what Andy did as an actor and we just thought, how do we bring that energy to the screen?” In came motion-capture.

While Serkis was always on set to perform with Elijah Wood and Sean Astin, Jackson recalled, “On Lord of the Rings, Andy would form Gollum on a motion-capture stage – sometimes six months, sometimes a year after the live-action was shot.” He also pointed out, “He was all by himself having to recreate the energy of the first time around.”

However, so many years later, the technology has improved immensely – so much so, it permitted Jackson, Serkis and Freeman to film an entire scene in one shot with no need for Serkis to re-film his material solo in post. Jackson said, “When Andy and Martin were acting together, Martin was being filmed with the cameras, Andy was being captured by the motion capture cameras.”

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6. RE-CREATING GOLLUM WASN’T EASY FOR ANDY SERKIS

Bilbo and Gollum Andy Serkis in The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing the Film

For Serkis, it was this much more integrated method of filming that made becoming Gollum again quite easy… at least technically-speaking. “Returning to the character 12 years later, that wasn’t an issue because we were just able to play our scene out and performance capture happens at exactly the same time.” This came in handy during the aforementioned scene with Freeman because, “it was the first thing to be shot on the movie as an entire chamber theater piece, which lasted about 12 minutes, and Pete wanted to do that so that we could really investigate that scene and allow Martin to experiment with the character.”

However, there was one thing that made playing Gollum in The Hobbit a little more difficult than in Lord of the Rings. Serkis pointed out, “These characters have been absorbed into public culture to such a high degree and there really was a sense of wanting to do an impersonation of a character.” But that’s where Freeman made a big impression; Serkis notes how quickly and easily he began engaging with Martin as Gollum.

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7. SERKIS ALSO DIRECTS 

With Gollum’s screen time far reduced in The Hobbit, Serkis had a lot of time on his hands – that is, until Jackson asked him to pull double-duty. Serkis was ready for a two-week stint bringing Gollum back to life, but just four weeks before going to work, Jackson asked Serkis to be his 2nd unit director. Serkis recalled, “I was utterly thrilled.”

andy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing the Film

He continued, “Pete’s known I wanted to direct for quite some time. It goes back even as far as Lord of the Rings.” While Jackson’s proposition came with the guarantee of having fun, going bold and supporting the actors, Serkis knew the job would be quite the undertaking – whether he was a first time 2nd unit director or not. “2nd unit, on a project of this scale,” he explained. Forget aerial shots and pickup shots; Serkis was going to have to shoot material with high performance levels.

But he was ready, because he’d learned from the best. “I’ve always absolutely adored Peter’s way of shooting and keeping the camera moving, and the way that he intensifies moments. And so he was an amazing mentor, amazing teacher and was very generous. At the same time as directing The Hobbit, he’s teaching me and that really speaks to what an incredibly, hugely enabling person he is.” 

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8. THE PRODUCTION TOOK AN EXTENDED BREAK 

The Hobbit Peter Jackson The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing the Film

First off, there aren’t many franchises that opt to shoot films back to back to back. And secondly, diving into a 266-day production schedule is just crazy. However, it turns out Jackson and co. weren’t working for 266 days straight, thanks to Martin Freeman.

Jackson knew he wanted Freeman for Bilbo, but because of “the MGM situation,” The Hobbit didn’t have a green light and, therefore, Jackson couldn’t have Freeman sign on the dotted line. During the 18-month waiting/development period, Freeman booked Sherlock. Jackson explained, “[Martin] shot the first season, but the second season of Sherlock was gonna fall right in the middle of our shoot.” Rather than let Freeman slip through his fingers, Jackson, with the studio’s blessing, found a way to accommodate Freeman’s shooting schedule. “We did something very unusual, which was we started shooting The Hobbit, we shot for about four or five months and then Martin had to go do the second season of Sherlock so we literally stopped the shoot for two months, eight weeks, and then when Martin came back, we carried on again.”

Turns out, this little scheduling blip was a blessing in disguise. Jackson continued, “I got time to edit the first four months of shooting, we got time to prepare for the next batch of shooting.” He added, “That little break was actually very welcomed.”

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9. GANDALF GREY VS. GANDALF WHITE

Gandalf The Hobbit1 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing the Film

For those of you who are Tolkien newcomers or aren’t on top of the universe rules, Gandalf isn’t just Gandalf; he’s either Gandalf the White or Gandalf the Grey. Lord of the Rings fans remember those epic saves that Gandalf the White pulled off – but in The Hobbit, the younger (relatively speaking) version of our favorite wizard isn’t necessarily so famous and powerful (yet).

McKellen explained, “Gandalf the White, who’s in the second of the Lord of the Rings movies, is on a mission and he has to save the world or help save the world, and so he’s cut his beard down to size, and he’s gone white in the process.” He continued, “But that’s the story of where the hero doesn’t make it back home. Bilbo gets back home because he’s on an adventure. It’s different.” McKellen also joked, “He doesn’t need Gandalf the White to look out for him. He needs the Grey, like he can have a smoke with him or a drink with him, and can tick him off, maybe.”

When one reporter questioned McKellen on his preference between the two, the actor replied, “There’s a bit more range for the actor in Gandalf the Grey and that’s selfishly why I prefer doing him.”

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10. SOME OF THE ACTORS GOT DIGITAL BOTOX

frodo bilbo the hobbit The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Seeing the Film

Actor Elijah Wood talked about how they altered his appearance in the film for his brief scene as Frodo Baggins: “I was actually digitally de-aged in this film. They softened my face.” Presumably, this technique was used on several of the Lord of the Rings actors who appear in The Hobbit as younger versions of the respective characters.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be in theaters on December 14, 2012.

Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.

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  1. “The Hobbit ladies? Some are coming” :)

  2. Cool article! Very interested to see the 48fps version. I hope I like it. :)

  3. Yes, good article, and good justification for the trilogizing.

  4. Great article! Very informative for newcomers to the LotR world…

    I’m still ticked off that I won’t be able to see 48fps for myself, but if it’s good, hopefully it’ll catch on and more theaters and movies will start using it.
    I for one certainly want a sharper, clearer and more comfortable image if the theaters are gonna make people watch in 3D.

    • @ The Avenger
      Have you had the chance to read The Hobbit yet?
      I remember a while back you mentioned you hadn’t had the chance yet…
      If you did, what did you think?

      • I’ve read the Hobbit two times (I haven’t read LotR yet though – pretty sure that’s what your thinking about – or maybe it was someone else).

        But yeah, The Hobbit is a great, great book IMO. Thanks for asking! :)

  5. ‘The Hobbit’ just one week away! Been looking forward to this for a long time. Great article Perri.

  6. 1 week to go!!!
    I can’t wait… :)

  7. 1 more thing, the majority of goblins are cgi opposed to costumed actors.

    Something worth knowing before seeing the flick.

  8. Perri, I disagree with what you wrote about Gollum. While he’s obviously, integral to lotr, I didn’t make a great impression on me.

    • I can understand that. A bit of a VFX nerd here, so I’m taken by the motion capture more than anything. Dying for the day a motion capture performance earns a Best Actor/Actress nod.

      (@ Everyone – thanks for the kind words. Glad you all enjoy the piece!)

      • that’s fair. motion capture is awesome.

      • I think motion capture has its place, but I loathe the idea that it seems to be inching its way towards “we’ll just do it in motion capture”. I think there is something about an actor in a great prosthetic that gives more weight to a character and a performance. For example, I don’t think movies like Hellboy or Pan’s Labyrinth would have been nearly as engaging without Doug Jones’(or Ron Perlman’s) brilliant, in-make-up performances. I think that more often than not an all-CG character loses what might have made it more “real” when we dismiss the heft of an on-screen performance and the actor simply becomes a voice. Gollum is an exception, of course- but you have a different situation with Gollum in that he is a rare case where the character and material are SO beloved by the film makers and actors that they would be ashamed to give them anything less than the utmost respect they deserve. I disliked Avatar for this very reason. It felt like I was watching a cartoon that was made to be nothing more than eye-candy, albeit purty eye candy. I didn’t find it to be as mind-blowing as many others did. I am looking forward to seeing Gollum, but I dread motion capture being used as a shortcut in the future. Long live non-computer VFX artists!

  9. Freudian slip: he, not I. DAMN. I’m going to call my shrink…

  10. McKellen was a bit more blunt about it, explaining, “Anyone who thinks Peter Jackson would fall for market forces rather than artistic imperative doesn’t know the guy and hasn’t examined the body of his work.”

    I respect Sir McKellen on many levels but unfortunately he is blinded by either being too close to the project or is unfamiliar with the book itself. Jackson very much interjected things because of market influence.

    Turning Thorin into a Dwarf at the prime of his life (and looking like the most handsome Dwarf EVAR) instead of a grizzled, over the hill old Dwarf (like he should have been) and having Kili look more like Aragorn than a Dwarf are both to appeal to the female demographic so they had a couple of heartthrobs to swoon over.

    • You are under the assumption, of course, that Jackson hired the actors playing those parts for their looks and NOT their acting talent. Even if PJ DID make the characters younger- so what. I don’t see how this ultimately damages the production. I have been very pleased, thus far, with PJ’s creative choices(more Arwen, More Galadriel), and I do not for a moment think he makes those choices lightly. Besides, a dwarf is still a beer-swilling, meat-fisted manner of tree stump, no matter how “pretty” they may look!

    • You’re making the massive assumption that they were hired for looks rather than talent.

      Also, it’s simply not feasible in an action movie to have characters who are that old. Do you really think the actors could deal with that if they were that old?

  11. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the following occurred:

    A horse named Shanghai was hobbled (his legs were tied together so that he couldn’t move) and left on the ground for three hours because he was too energetic for his rider. Afterward, in order to hide his rope burns for filming, his legs were covered with makeup and hair. Hobbling is an outright violatio…n of the American Humane Association’s (AHA) guidelines.
    One horse was killed and another horse was injured after being placed with two highly strung geldings, despite concerns that the geldings would be too aggressive.
    Another horse was killed after falling off an embankment in a severely crowded paddock.
    When the horses were moved to the stables, another horse died after being fed large amounts of food that he wasn’t used to. The horse had shown signs of colic, an extremely painful illness.
    When the horses were moved back to the paddocks after this incident, another horse had the skin and muscles of her leg torn away by wire fencing.
    Several goats and sheep died from worm infestations and from falling into the sink holes that covered the farm.
    Numerous chickens were mauled and killed by unsupervised dogs or trampled by other animals when left unprotected.
    How can something like this happen when the unit production manager was warned and the production was monitored by the AHA?! Furthermore, this movie was directed by Peter Jackson, a master at computer-generated imagery (CGI). In a movie that features CGI dragons, ogres, and hobbits, CGI animals would have fit in perfectly. Jackson could have made The Hobbit without using a single animal—and he should have.

    • Sandy,
      According to the production crew and the AHA that supervised the filming, there were no injuries on set during the production. This would, I think, include the hobbeling of a horse. Perhaps you should check your sources before posting accusations that are un-proven.

    • Who gives a hoot about chickens living on a farm in New Zealand? Aren’t you just the righteous avenger for all animal kind to “blow the whistle” on the films’ crew. Here, I’m posting on the internet, as of now, that I am an astronaut, and I have stepped on the moon. Is that enough proof for you? People need to stop believing everything they read on the internet. It’s not as reliable a source for actual, verifiable information. That is a true story.

  12. This is definately one of the better written articles. Good job, to whoever wrote it, lol :)

  13. Having read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings 45+ years ago, and then re-reading the books several times since, I’ve found that as I matured as an adult, my insights and take-aways also changed, hopefully even matured. The evolution of my appreciation of Tolkien’s books leads me now to The Hobbit, which I have not yet seen (1.1.13).

    I am extremely interested in the 48 frame technology, and also in the quality of The Hobbit as compared with LOTR. I’ve received very mixed reviews from friends who were careful to avoid spoilers, so I am primed and ready to see The Hobbit within a week or so.

    I’m very glad that Andy Serkis has gotten a chance to direct. I’ve followed his career for several years as well, and I believe he is a unique talent who has just begun to come forward in filmmaking. Best wishes to Andy and the entire crew of The Hobbit!

  14. I’m just saying: Read the book… Haven’t even seen the movie yet.

  15. Much more enjoyable if you have read the book first.

  16. there really isn’t enough material, the book is slight and they stretched the hell out of the first film.They completely changed the tone so it would be more “rings like”. this is gonna be a disaster