Hollywood Reporter on The Hobbit: Peter Jackson's "$1bn gamble"

by Toby Manhire / 18 October, 2012
Backstage with "the magician of Middle-earth" - and a legal battle with the Hobbit "mockbusters".
The scale of international media excitement at news of a few commemorative Hobbit coins was a little puzzling - contrary to the impression given by many of the scores of stories, spare change in New Zealanders' pockets will not sport Bilbo's image: the things cost, at the cheapest, 70 times their face value.

What the heck - it's all good publicity for the films, and by association handy for New Zealand tourism. And momentum is clearly gathering, with international interest on the rise two weeks out from the world premiere of the first Hobbit film in Wellington and less than a month till the global release.

This morning comes a big cover special in the heavyweight Hollywood Reporter. A recent visitor to our shores to explore the story of, ahem, New Zealand Resident Kim Dotcom, this time the Reporter heads for Wellington, and hangs backstage with Jackson and the cast.

"How director Peter Jackson moved heaven and Middle-earth to bring Bilbo Baggins - and all his Hollwyood baggage - to the big screen."

Kim Masters's piece is a good breakdown of the internal political upheavals, including the departure of the original director of the films, Guillermo del Toro, and reveals that two of the stars, Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen almost didn't make it.

There is also mention, albeit surprisingly fleeting, of one part of heaven and Middle-earth that Jackson moved, in the shape of the "Hobbit law" and the protracted debate around it in New Zealand.

Anyhow, here are the opening paragraphs of the main feature, headlined "Inside Peter Jackson and Warner Bros' $1 Billion Gamble":

On a sloping slab of artificial woodland surrounded by enormous green screens stands an old wizard and 13 elaborately bearded dwarves. Bilbo Baggins - played by Martin Freeman, known to American audiences as Watson in the BBC's Sherlock and, before that, the lovelorn salesman in Ricky Gervais' original The Office - eavesdrops from behind a tree as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) scornfully denounces him for deserting his comrades in arms. "We will not be seeing our hobbit again," sneers Thorin at Gandalf (Ian McKellen). "He is long gone." At an imposing 6-foot-2, Armitage doesn't look especially dwarfish, but it's only late July. By Dec. 14, when The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey unfolds on the big screen, Armitage and the others will look appropriately small thanks to a bag of old and new cinematic tricks.

Watching on a monitor, tucked out of sight, is Peter Jackson, the magician of Middle Earth. He had to overcome many reservations and obstacles before occupying the director's chair on this massive project, among them the challenge of competing against himself. The Lord of the Rings trilogy grossed nearly $3 billion, and the final installment, 2003's The Return of the King, swept up 11 Oscars, including best director and best picture.

If ever a wager on a project seemed like a safe bet, The Hobbit would be it. Otherwise, no studio would have found the will to tackle the enormous problems involved in getting these movies made. (Originally intended to be two, now there will be three.) Not only was Jackson long unwilling to commit, but the rights to the material were bound in a decades-old Gordian knot. Getting it all sorted out involved epic battles matching any spectacle that Jackson previously had put on the screen -- if you substitute executives and lawyers for elves and orcs.

Read it in full here.

There's an interesting online sidebar, too, on the legal efforts to stop a "mockbuster" from using the "Hobbit" name.

Inspired by the Hollywood Reporter story, The Week rounds up 10 other ridiculous "mockbuster" efforts.
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