Director Peter Jackson revolutionized fantasy cinema with his epic adaptation of J. R.R. Tolkien‘s Lord of the Rings trilogy, a monumental task, in spite of the author’s insistence that it could never be filmed. Given the phenomenal success with which Jackson pulled that off, how well would he tackle Tolkien’s earlier saga of Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit? San Diego Comic-Con Hall H fans found out earlier today with the panel for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Moderator Chris Hardwick(The Nerdist podcast) kicked off the Warner Brothers/Legendary Pictures panel with a surprise, by pulling open curtains across the back of the hall to unveil projection screens double standard size, larger than I’d ever seen in Hall H history. Over these screens they displayed a collage of images from the film, which gave fans a hint to the epic scale of the panel to follow. Then, they screened a behind-the-scenes reel of footage documenting the exhaustive 266-day production shoot, including some of the amazing epic sets and characters of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
Hardwick introduced director Jackson who greeted the con audience and thanked them for coming. He was holding a minicam said he was shooting footage for a blog entry for people who couldn’t be at the con and asked the audience to shout “Hi, from Comic-Con!” for his camera.
Then Jackson introduced co-producer Philippa Boyens and announced he was going to play an extended clip of footage with temp music (as composer Howard Shore hasn’t recorded his score yet), and temp sound effects, but also said the footage would include scenes from There and Back Again, the second installment of the Hobbit saga, so fans were getting an extra special peek.
When the house lights came back up after the footage, Jackson said his film was made by fans for fans, as he introduced to the panel actors Andy Serkis (Gollum), Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield), Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins), Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf), and Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins).
Hardwick commented how “stunning” the 12 1/2 minutes of footage we just saw was, as he opened the panel up to questions from the con floor.
A panelist asked Jackson where he will show up in a cameo for this film (an ongoing tradition in his films), and Jackson responded that he hadn’t actually shot his cameo yet, and when he does, it’d be a surprise.
Boyens was asked what kind of role Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) would play in the film, to which she said they really wanted to explore her backstory and at the same time bring some female energy to the story. Adding to that energy would be a new character, Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly (LOST), who Boyens said fans should fall in love with.
A Frodo-dressed fan asked if the prosthetics, models, and costumes posed a particular challenge to the cast. Freeman said his Hobbit feet at first felt like a fledgeling duck’s, but later he grew accustomed to them. Armitage said working with prosthetics means he had to work his face harder to convey expressions, and managing the heat and sweat of sweaty dwarves was a challenge.
Jackson was asked if he had plans to adapt The Silmarillion, to which he joked that he wasn’t planning to live to be 120 years old, referring to the fact that The Silmarillion is totally owned by the Tolkien estate (as opposed to the LotR saga), and the Tolkien estate aren’t big fans of the current films, so the chances are not likely.
Freeman was asked if he felt intimidated to join such an already legendary and established property, to which he replied that after meeting Jackson and Boyens, he was comforted because they really wanted him to play Bilbo, and he couldn’t focus on “big picture” pressures like that during day-to-day shooting, or it’d make him lose focus. He said that Wellington, New Zealand is its own world, and Bilbo was a character he had to discover for himself along the way.
Wood said he was blown away from the footage he’d just seen in relation to the relative short time (about a week) he’d worked on the film reprising his role as Frodo.
Jackson was asked what his process was to select scenes to either be in the theatrical cut or the extended cut. He said he typically writes the script as they’re shooting, it’s a very organic process and it’s only in the editing process that they find the repetition in the storytelling and scenes that need to be cut. When they cut scenes out that have nice character moments, they eventually like to include them back into the extended versions.
Serkis said he was only supposed to come back for two weeks to play Gollum when producer Fran Walsh asked him if he’d like to direct 2nd unit photography for a year and a half, to which he was stunned, but heartily accepted. He found the process and grueling schedule to be an incredible film education, by a true master (Jackson), and was honored by the opportunity.
Hardwick egged Serkis on to do Gollum’s voice, which he did in responding, “For fuck’s sake!”
Martin was asked what his motivation was for portraying Bilbo’s fear in undertaking his journey. he said that fear was a universal concept, and his job was to be a relatable surrogate for the audience to follow.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens Dec 13th, 2013.