Peter Jackson knows what you’re thinking. Again with Gandalf and dwarves and Middle-earth? The original Lord of the Rings trilogy grossed $2.9 billion and won a total of 17 Oscars when it was released over the course of three years. And now Jackson is doing it again with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — the first of three films, already in theaters, except this time he’s working from one slim volume instead of three fat books and the novelty has worn off.
The director is familiar with the sentiment, especially after Guillermo del Toro ( Pan’s Labyrinth), who was originally signed to direct the first Hobbit movie, left the project after 18 months of pre-production delays and problems and Jackson replaced him.
“I wanted to be involved as a producer and screenwriter at the very least, because I wanted to put my stamp on the movie,” he says. “I felt a little protective of it. But I initially didn’t want to direct it because I felt like I would be competing with myself to some degree with the previous films. Having Guillermo in the mix solved that, because we’d have a fresh director with a fresh eye. I really enjoyed working with him and started getting into Tolkien all over again. When Guillermo left, I understood The Hobbit more. We weren’t just copying The Lord of the Rings. It’s largely new characters with a different tone — even comedic at times — so I decided to grab it for myself.”
He also came up with some new cinematic toys to make sure The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey looked like no other movie before it. The Miami Herald talked to Jackson and screenwriter Philippa Boyens about the technological difficulties the project presented, the changes and additions they made to the story and their decision to expand what was originally going to be two movies into a trilogy (at a total cost of $500 million).
MH: Philippa, you spent a lot of time working on the screenplay when del Toro was going to direct. Did you have to start from scratch when Peter took over?
PB: We did in some ways have to start over. Guillermo is an incredible wit and so funny, and he helped me fall back in love with Middle-earth. We were writing a film for him, and it would have been a great film, and I would have loved to seen it. But when Peter took over, we started with fresh ideas, because we were writing for a different filmmaker.
MH: How did it feel to return to a universe you had already explored so fully over the course of three films? Did you suffer any Tolkien fatigue?
PB: I wasn’t reluctant, but I wasn’t eager. I’m a huge fan of Tolkien, which is how I became a part of this project in the first place. But there was a part of me that felt like I had already done this, and there were a lot of other stories I wanted to tell. Then you start to work on it and it feels like an old love — a familiar place you haven’t visited in a while. That’s what I wanted to convey to the fans: Something that is well loved and known but still filled with surprises.
MH: Peter, some people have interpreted the decision to stretch the book out into three films as a cash grab. How do you respond to that? PJ: I understand why people might think that. Because Tolkien wrote it for children, it’s told at a very breathless pace. It’s a series of episodes of a fast-paced adventure. It’s a very different book from The Lord of the Rings. Once you adapting it into a screenplay, you want to make sure the movie feels like it came from the same author as the previous ones. So you have to add things here and there. You’re also dealing with a book that hasn’t been out of print for 75 years. You have to make a decision of what you’re going to be leaving out, and you’d have to leave out some very iconic parts. At first we still thought we could do in two films.