30 July 2012

The Hobbit: There and ... Somewhere Entirely Different?

After news broke of Peter Jackson’s confirmation of a third ‘Hobbit’ film, the Internet was abuzz with fans expressing either their excitement about another trilogy, or fears that Peter Jackson has “sold out” and is going to ruin The Hobbit.

First of all, I’ll admit that although Professor Tolkien himself stated that The Lord of the Rings is an “unfilmable” book, Peter Jackson and his team did a great job bringing such a massive story to life on the big screen. Sure, it was by no means perfect – how could it be, given that so much was skipped over or simplified to appeal to those who hadn’t read the books? But it was a respectable attempt, and I think most of us can understand (and hopefully) forgive Jackson, who by now is considered the king of making lengthy films, for leaving certain things out.

I had just finished reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings about a month before The Fellowship of the Ring was released in theatres, so I never followed any of the news regarding the “making of” the films. I went into the theatre with an open mind and eager eyes.

With The Hobbit films, however, my perspective has already become slightly tainted. I am already aware of a female presence – which, by the way, I’m not happy about. I have no problem with a film including a strong female character or role model, but let’s be honest: Tolkien’s stories are mostly male-dominated. And there’s nothing wrong with the lack of a female presence. I’ve never heard anyone say, “You know, when Bilbo was off on his adventure, I always hoped he’d meet the love of his life and live Happily Ever After.”  Maybe that’s because in my experience, the Tolkien Community seems to have a higher ratio of male to female fans. In any case, it’s obvious that Peter Jackson and Co. are trying to appeal to both genders and ensure that Tolkien’s world is enjoyable to all audiences. But does that make it necessary to write in new characters?

Of course, this isn’t the first time Peter Jackson has exaggerated the role of a female character in Tolkien’s world (see Arwen), but at least in those cases he was using characters already in existence. If certain bits need to be cut out of a film to make it flow more smoothly and fall within a certain time limit, why waste that precious time writing in a completely new character? (And don’t even get me started on the Elf-Dwarf romance…)

My biggest concern, however, lies with the addition of a third film. The Lord of the Rings, a three book volume, rightly deserved three individual films (one could even argue that they deserved more). The Hobbit, a three-hundred page children’s story, can maybe get away with being split into two films. But to prolong the story telling over a span of three movies? Especially in what seems to be an afterthought? Forgive me for not seeing the possible justification in that one.

Sure, audiences who loved the Lord of the Rings films would love to see another epic action/adventure film from the director who proved that Middle-earth could, in fact, be brought to life on the big screen. And sure, there’s no better person for the job. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a job worth doing. Yes, Peter Jackson and his team are undoubtedly passionate about Tolkien, but at the same time, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” I personally see this as a matter of knowing when to step away.

If you liked what you saw in The Lord of the Rings films and want to learn more about the characters within, you should probably read the books. The experience becomes richer if you allow your imagination to guide you through the journey; why let someone else define the characters and locations of Middle-earth for you? The films are just an interpretation of Tolkien’s stories – much in the same way that songs and artwork “inspired by” Tolkien are – but they do not tell the whole story.

Peter Jackson Confirms THIRD Hobbit Film

Peter Jackson just announced via his Facebook page that the rumours of a third Hobbit film are, in fact, true.

"We know how much of the story of Bilbo Baggins, the Wizard Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur will remain untold if we do not take this chance," he explains. "The richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the part he played in the sometimes dangerous, but at all times exciting, history of Middle-earth."

Sir Ian McKellen even confirmed this on Twitter, simply stating: "Two HOBBIT films will become THREE."

What do you think of all this? Comment below or join the discussion on my Facebook page!

UPDATE: According to Deadline NY, the third Hobbit film will be released in summer of 2014.

FURTHER UPDATE: The third 'Hobbit' film will NOT serve as a bridge film, but will instead help to tell the story of The Hobbit in three parts.

29 July 2012

Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” - A Review

With J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit celebrating its 75th anniversary this September and the first of Peter Jackson’s two-part film adaptation arriving in theaters in December, audiences are likely to find themselves overwhelmed with books on both Tolkien’s version as well as Jackson’s. The films will likely inspire many fans to either read The Hobbit for the very first time, or go back and re-read it again to refresh their memory before December 14. In any case, trying to decide which books to read and which ones to avoid can be a daunting task. If you only read one book on The Hobbit, let it be this one.

It’s not every day one finds a companion volume as captivating and enjoyable as Professor Corey Olsen’s Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”. A perfect combination of academic insight as well as personal opinions, Olsen invites the casual reader and the enthusiastic scholar alike to experience J.R.R. Tolkien’s popular children’s story on an even deeper level by showing readers “the stories within the story.”

Olsen is known as “the Tolkien Professor” for his eponymous teaching website and podcast series, both of which are extremely popular within the Tolkien community. In addition to having a PhD in Medieval Literature, he teaches courses on Tolkien at Washington College and last year began offering online courses via the newly founded Mythgard Institute.

Years of experience reading and teaching Tolkien have more than qualified Olsen to write a book on the late Professor Tolkien’s classic children’s story; unlike many other books which aim to analyze or critique the writings of JRR Tolkien, Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” reads more like a literary discussion among friends. Olsen’s personality and passion are engaging, and he writes just as he speaks: in a way that is both relaxing and relevant to all audiences, from longtime Tolkien fans to those reading The Hobbit for the very first time.

“The main thing I hope to do,” Olsen writes, “is to slow things down enough to be able to see more clearly what is unfolding in the story as we go” (5). And by examining The Hobbit chapter by chapter, he does just that.

Olsen’s approach to studying The Hobbit provides in-depth analyses of important characters (most notably the nature and transformation of “burglar” Bilbo Baggins); explores significant and recurring themes (such as the role luck plays in The Hobbit); and makes note of other details readers might have overlooked during a first – or even second – reading. “No matter how many times I read [Tolkien’s] books,” Olsen explains, “I find there are always new discoveries to make” (1).

In order to understand the various characters and races in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Olsen allows the poetry to do much of the talking. Acknowledging the fact that many of his students tend to skip over the songs and poems, he pays a great deal of attention to them – going through them line by line – to uncover the deeper natures and desires of each race.  In doing so, he notes that the merry songs of the elves of Rivendell, though strange at first, are remarkable, given the “majesty and sorrow of their history” (61); that the dwarves and goblins, as it turns out, have more in common than they might like to think; and that the songs of the men of Lake-town reveal their “foolish excitement,” leading to an inclination to celebrate before a task has been accomplished (187).

Though he does not focus too much on the history behind the writing of The Hobbit, Olsen does discuss some of the changes Tolkien made once he began writing The Lord of the Rings – most importantly, the major links between the two stories: the ring, which would eventually play a greater role in the grand scheme of Middle-earth; and Gollum, who was not quite as wicked, but instead “fair and even decent” (89) in the first edition. Olsen reveals just enough to compare and contrast the two versions of The Hobbit, but his sole focus is on examining this story as a standalone book; he does not devote any time to explaining its context in the greater timeline of Middle-earth.

Whether you are reading The Hobbit for fun or for academia, Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” is an excellent resource in learning how to study and truly appreciate this classic novel, making it the perfect companion volume. Though there will be a number of books on the horizon as The Hobbit celebrates its 75th anniversary and makes it to the big screen, finding a trustworthy companion volume will no longer seem like a daunting task once you’ve read this book.

Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' will be available on September 18, 2012. You can pre-order it now on Amazon.com!

25 July 2012

Could ‘The Hobbit’ Films Become a Trilogy?

While attending Comic Con earlier this month, director Peter Jackson commented on the possibility of shooting a third “Hobbit” film, joking that, “I’m not good at making short movies, unfortunately. It’s a skill I’ve never mastered.”

At first, the comments seemed nothing more than a joke or wishful thinking. But since the panel at Comic Con, talk of a third film has accelerated, though a deal has yet to be made.

There are a number of factors which complicate the deal-making process, including negotiating new deals with actors and other involved parties (such as MGM), something that previously had to be done when “The Hobbit” was split into two films.

Though a spokeswoman for New Line declined to comment, one knowledgeable individual said that Jackson might combine material already filmed with new footage, some of which could come from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings.

All participants would stand to gain monetarily, as three “Hobbit” films would be a guaranteed box office success. For Warner Bros., a third “Hobbit” film would be another driving franchise for the studio, especially where many of its other moneymaking franchises – such as the “Harry Potter” and “Batman” films – have concluded.

Aldasaga: JRR Tolkien and Old Norse Influences

Last week, I had the pleasure of being invited onto Brent Landon's Aldasaga podcast, which primarily focuses on the influences (literary, linguistic, and mythological) of Old Norse on the writings of JRR Tolkien.

I was away on vacation when the episode on which I was speaking aired, but for those who may be interested in hearing it, visit the Aldasaga website or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes. While you're there, take the time to get caught up on the previous episodes. Brent is a phenomenal podcaster and his knowledge and passion for Old Norse language and literature is immediately apparent; you'll be glad you tuned in!

(Also, be sure to follow Brent on Twitter and 'like' him on Facebook!)

16 July 2012

"Hobbit" Films "Like a Home Movie," Says McKellen

Prior to the screening of about 30 minutes of new and behind-the-scenes "Hobbit" footage at Comic-Con, cast members Sir Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, and Richard Armitage spoke with MTV News about returning to Middle-earth.

"Much of it is the same,” said McKellen of returning to Middle-earth nearly a decade after “The Lord of the Rings” films were released to film a story which took place 77 years prior. “If you've got 900 people working on the set one day, we'll probably know them all by sight, and you [Serkis] probably know everyone's name. I'm not as diligent as that, but the new people are the actors, so a lot of new actors, but they're not new to us because we've know them of old, from back home in the U.K. It feels very much the same but a little bit different. A little bit more streamlined.”

"We're all a little bit older, and there are more children about on set," Serkis added. "The crew is fantastic. Literally, it is a bit of a time warp actually, isn't it? Because they're exactly the same people doing exactly the same jobs. Apart from that, the energy and the feel of it is pretty similar."

Armitage, new to Comic-Con, said his experience joining the “Hobbit” cast has been “awesome, and coming here today and seeing the way the fans are expecting the film, it's really exciting, because you see that expectation and the love for the books and the trilogy, so that's been great."

The crew, according to the actors, has become like a family after spending a year and a half shooting the two “Hobbit” films.

“It basically feels like a home movie,” McKellen explained, “because Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh live together, and they live next door to Phillipa Bowens, who is the third screenplay writer. And we all live within five minutes of their houses. And we tumble out of beds — our separate beds — and then go over the hill to work.

“That's almost unique in filmmaking and everywhere in the world. It just feels as if it's sort of grounded. When you leave the studio behind and go back home, it's over the hill, but next door to you are your colleagues, and I like that feeling.”

15 July 2012

Peter Jackson Discusses the Possibility of a Third ‘Hobbit’ Movie

By now, you may have heard the rumours of a third Hobbit movie, potentially the initial “bridge” concept linking The Hobbit films to the Lord of the Rings. With principal photography on both Hobbit films complete, Peter Jackson discussed the possibility of a Hobbit trilogy:

“We’ve been certainly talking to the studio about some of the material we can’t film. And we’ve been asking them if we can do a bit more filming next year. Which I don’t know what would come of that, whether that would be extended additions or not. But those discussions are ongoing [...] I’d like to shoot a bunch more material that we can’t shoot. There’s so much good stuff in the appendices that we haven’t been able to squeeze into these movies. That’s a discussion that we’re having.”

During the film’s press conference at Comic Con, he clarified this statement, saying:

“It’s very premature. I mean we have an incredible source material with the appendices because ‘The Hobbit’ is obviously a novel but we also have the rights to use this 125 pages of additional notes where Tolkien expanded the world of ‘The Hobbit’ published at the end of ‘Return of the King’ and we’ve used some of it so far (and just in the last few weeks as we’ve been wrapping up the shooting) and thinking about the shape of the story. Fran and I have been talking to the studio about other things we haven’t been able to shoot and seeing if we could persuade them to do a few more weeks of shooting. Probably more than a few weeks actually, next year, and what form that would actually end up taking. The discussions are pretty early. So there isn’t really anything to report but there’s other parts of the story that we’d like to tell that we haven’t been able to tell yet.”  

09 July 2012

LEGO ‘Hobbit’ Figures to Be Revealed at Comic-Con

At this week's Comic-Con, held in San Diego, LEGO will be unveiling its ‘Hobbit’-themed sets and figures, which will launch on December 1 – just in time for the film’s December 14 release.

Photo: The Hollywood Reporter

USA Today also reported that those attending the San Diego convention will have the opportunity to check out two life-sized LEGO models – one a 6 foot tall, 100 pound Bilbo (Martin Freeman) consisting of 21,112 LEGO bricks; and the other a 170 pound, over 6 foot Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) comprised of 34,307 bricks.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Secret to Playing Smaug

To prepare for his role as Smaug the dragon in The Hobbit films, Benedict Cumberbatch visited London Zoo to study some of their reptiles.

Not only will he be providing the voice of the dragon, but he will also be using some elements of motion-capture to really breathe life into the dragon.

“It’s an extrapolation of a performance into something other than an actor,” he told the British edition of InStyle magazine. “But essentially, you're still doing a scene.''

Cumberbatch also cites his professionalism as being a big contributor to his ongoing success:

''I grew up surrounded by professional actors so it stood me in good stead. I know what a sin it is to be late, I'm really hot on those sorts of things.

''It's very easy to burn bridges and many actors don't think it matters, but it does because people end up saying, 'Yeah but you don't want to work with him because he's a pain in the ass.'''

07 July 2012

Exclusive 'Hobbit' Comic-Con Poster

Earlier this morning, Peter Jackson posted this photo on his Facebook page:

If you're one of the lucky ones attending Comic-Con 2012 next week, first of all, I am insanely envious. Second, keep an eye out for one of these posters!

Mondo to Release Poster Series for Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’

Moviegoers who purchased a ticket for Mondo’s Mystery Movie X (held at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar in Austin, TX) were in for a real treat this past Thursday, July 5, when the mystery movie – which special guests Elijah Wood and Justin Ishmael, creative director at Mondo, had initially tricked the audience into believing was the 1996 film Flipper – turned out to be Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King. Even better, those in attendance received a limited edition LOTR print designed by Aaron Horkey, which came in two variations:

Source: Collider

If you weren’t in Austin and missed your chance to grab one of these prints, don’t fret! Alamo and Mondo announced that this is just the first in what will become a series celebrating Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films.

This series will include posters drawn up by various artists, and like most of Mondo’s pieces, there will be two editions: the regular edition, which consists of 260 pieces, while the other variant has 125. Both posters run at a scale of 19.25 by 39.

04 July 2012

10 New 'Hobbit' Photos from Entertainment Weekly

Entertainment Weekly has released ten new photos from the highly-anticipated Hobbit films, the first of which is due in theatres on December 14. In addition to a few more photos of Bilbo and Gandalf, we also get another glimpse of the Dwarves (including Thorin with Orcrist), as well as Galadriel, Elrond, and Gollum. 

Hugo Weaving on 'The Hobbit' and 48fps

In a recent interview with Collider, Hugo Weaving described his experience filming the two Hobbit movies.

“In some ways, it was a lot of fun to go back and be on a Rivendell set again with Ian McKellan,” he said of rejoining several former Lord of the Rings cast members. “It was really lovely to see some old friends and old faces again, and to go back into a similar world, which is tonally a little bit different. You’re in the same world, but the story has a different tone. Peter [Jackson] and Fran [Walsh] are just lovely people, and there’s a particular frustratingly wonderful energy about working on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The project is so massive and there are so many people. It makes it frustrating for everyone because things just take time and you don’t know what’s happening. You don’t know what’s going on, despite all the best intentions, but the people are so lovely that you just accept, “Well, this is the way this particular world is.” You live from day to day and from moment to moment, doing the best you can. There’s a delightful atmosphere there, so it was lovely. I’ve literally just come back from there a couple days ago, having done post-production on that, so it was really nice to see everyone again.”

He also commented on filming at 48fps:

“I think the 3D will work incredibly well for The Hobbit. I don’t think it does for everything, and I don’t think it should for everything. To some extent, 3D is just a gimmick, but sometimes it works wonderfully well. With something like Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the Werner Herzog film, you think, “Why is this in 3D?,” but it’s actually wonderful in 3D. It’s a documentary, but it works incredibly well. And then, there are some other films where you think, “This might be in 3D, but the way in which it’s been put into 3D or the way in which it’s being used is too obvious or it seems gimmicky.” I don’t get a lot from the 3D experience, generally, but for certain films, I think it works really wonderfully well, and I suspect The Hobbit will be one of them. For that particular world, I think it’s probably a really fabulous natural exploration of it. With some other things, the 3D doesn’t work so well.”

Possible ‘Hobbit’ Role for John Rhys-Davies?

Following previous speculation regarding how many original Lord of the Rings cast members would return for The Hobbit films when the first stages of filming began, John Rhys-Davies had adamantly denied any involvement:

“I've already been asked and to be honest with you, I wouldn't. I have already completely ruled it out. There's a sentimental part of me that would love to be involved again. Really I am not sure my face can take that sort of punishment anymore.”

But the rumours have begun once again, first when Rhys-Davies visited the Hobbit set in New Zealand, and again when one Reddit user spoke with him at a convention about his involvement. That person writes:

“So I just spoke with John at a convention. I asked him point blank about a possible cameo in the Hobbit. At first he denied it, but after a little pressing he smiled really big, laughed, winked, and said that maybe it was possible. His smile... his laugh... I'm taking this as a pretty big indicator that he will be involved in some small way. Can't wait to see it!”

While this by no means serves as solid confirmation of involvement, it seems likelier that Rhys-Davies, who not only portrayed Gimli in The Lord of the Rings films, but also offered his voice for the character Treebeard, may be returning to Middle-earth after all.  

Exclusive 'Hobbit' Content at Comic-Con

Entertainment Weekly reported some of what can be seen at this year’s Comic-Con (12-15 July), for which some of The Hobbit cast will be in attendance: exclusive images, on-set scoops from the two movies, and an interview with Martin Freeman, Sir Ian McKellen, and Sir Peter Jackson.

Of the two-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous novel, director Jackson says, “In the movie we want these characters to have story lines and a little more substance than they do in the book.”

“Almost everything we’re doing is from Tolkien somewhere, whether it’s in the book or the subsequent development that wasn’t published in The Hobbit itself.”
McKellen added that, “A lot of people weren’t even born when we were filming Lord of the Rings and only know the movies from watching them on DVD…. They’ll see Middle-earth on the big screen in The Hobbit, and I guarantee there will be a lot of minds blown wide apart.”

01 July 2012

The Fellowship of the Ring in Concert July 5-7

The National Arts Centre Orchestra, conducted by Erik Ochsner, will be performing for the first time the projection score of The Fellowship of the Ring on July 5, 6, and 7 at Southam Hall. Featured in these three performances will be soloists Nancy Allen Lundy, Matthew Kronber, and the 130-voice Lord of the Rings chorus (directed by Laurence Ewashko).

Howard Shore, the original composer of the Lord of the Rings score, said that about 140 orchestras around the world have caught on to the global trend of performing the Lord of the Rings music – the score has been performed in Russia, Japan, New Zealand, Europe, Australia, the US, and Canada.  

“Lord of the Rings was written for large forces,” says Shore. “It has a large symphonic orchestra, a large chorus, a large children’s chorus. ... Add the imagery from the screen and the story and you are taken to Middle Earth. ... As long as you’re willing to be transported.”

He describes himself as a serious Tolkien fan, stating that he has tried to preserve much of the music from the books in his film scores. “I love Tolkien. I read a bit almost every day. […] I tried to put back into the films the songs and the poems that were so much a part of the book.”

Shore made use of a variety of choirs to give voice to Tolkien’s languages – for Moria, which is home to Orcs and Dwarves, he used a men’s choir; he used a women’s choir to represent the Elves; for Hobbits and the Ring itself, he used a children’s choir. Additionally, he has brought in instruments from diverse cultures and locations, such as Ireland, northern Europe, Africa, Japan, and India.

“The greatness of Tolkien is that he shows you the four points of the compass,” he explains. “What I tried to do was show, in music terms, a world that was 5000 years old, at the very beginnings of music. That’s why the voices were so central.”

Shore’s work on The Lord of the Rings films, which took three years and nine months of continuous work to complete, earned him three Academy Awards, an Oscar for Best Original Song (The Return of the King’s “Into the West,” performed by Annie Lennox), and worldwide recognition.

In August, he will begin recording the score for The Hobbit films, the pressure of which will prevent him from attending the Ottawa performance. Regarding his approach, he is careful not to give anything away, other than to say that, “If you like the scores to the other films, you’ll like the way I’m approaching The Hobbit.”

He was coy when asked if some of the music for The Hobbit will hint at The Lord of the Rings.

“I have crafty little ways of dropping bits here and there. There are characters that are in both, Bilbo, Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond. It’s so connected to The Lord of the Rings.”

Tickets for The Fellowship of the Ring in Concert are currently on sale via Ticketmaster and the NAC’s website (www.nac-cna.ca) for $75, $90, and $115.