Count the new Bilbo Baggins among the first-timers who are inevitably blown away by the size and scope of Comic-Con International.
“I’ve never been to Comic-Con before. It was lovely, fulfilling my expectations and exceeding them as well,” raved Martin Freeman, who stars in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. “I was struck by how emotional people were, talking about the film and anticipating the film. With each question, there came a preamble about what the films meant to people’s lives. All clichés aside, it’s a really nice thing to be a part of something that genuinely touches people.”
After meeting with 6,000 of their closest friends in Hall H, the cast and crew – director Peter Jackson, co-writer Philippa Boyens, and stars Freeman, Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield) and Andy Serkis (Gollum) – took the time for a smaller Q&A with journalists.
Jackson was asked why he made the decision to shoot The Hobbit in a faster 48-frames-per-second rate, as opposed to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was shot in the normal 24-frames-per-second.
“We have to provide a theatrical experience to bring audiences back to the cinemas,” he said. “We’re at an age where there’s dwindling attendance, particularly among younger people. We have to look to the technology we have to make this cinematic experience more spectacular, more immersive. Forty-eight frames per second has the potential to be quite important for the film industry.”
Earlier this year, Jackson screened 10 minutes of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at CinemaCon. The 48-frames look drew mixed reviews.
“I’ve seen a lot of 48 frames over the past year and a half. It’s fantastic, it’s an incredible thing,” he said. But I didn’t want to repeat the CinemaCon experience … where literally people see this reel and all they write about is 48 frames a second. It doesn’t do us any good, it doesn’t do 48 frames any good. To accurately judge that you have to sit down and watch the entire film. That opportunity comes in December. I wanted to focus on the footage, the characters, the performance and not the technical stuff.”
Despite his wish to avoid a focus on “the technical stuff,” the conversation kept drifting that way.
“We filmed in 3D, we’re not doing a post-conversion,” Jackson said. “That’s a much more realistic 3D. It’s been surprisingly easy, with the cameras and rigs available to us, even though they were prototypes when we first began, they haven’t slowed us down at all. The 48 frames per second, it takes away the artifacts that we’re used to seeing in cinema that people are used to; we’re used to seeing strobing, a panning shot that is like a still frame — it shudders along. You don’t get that at 48 frames. The fact you also don’t get motion blur makes it feel quite sharp. You get something akin to shooting on 65mm.”
He said he wanted to shoot The Lord of the Rings in 65mm as well, but it would have been logistically impossible to ship the negatives from New Zealand to the United States for processing.
“I now finally get to shoot my 65mm-quality film,” Jackson said with a smile.
McKellen marveled that many in the Hall H audience didn’t have the opportunity to see The Lord of the Rings in theaters, because they were too young.
“We’ve all got 8-, 9- 10-year-olds who watch Lord of the Rings at home,” he said. “What is going to happen to their heads when they take their parents to see (the movie in) 3D and 48 frames a second? It’s much, much, much bigger and astonishing.”
Jackson laughed and said the effect he hopes for is to get more kids asking their parents to take them to the movies, getting them away from their iPads.
“People say we don’t need 3D, we’re used to 2D. Bollocks! 3D is life,” McKellen continued. “The brilliance about 3D is it doesn’t come out, you go into it. You enter, you look around the corner. You go deeper in and try to find your way out. That’s the effect. Those little kids … I’m so thrilled.”
Jackson was asked whether The Hobbit will have more of a children’s fairy-tale feel than its predecessors.
“I do want to make these movies run together, so if any crazy lunatic wants to watch them all in a row, there will be a consistency of tone,” he said. “I don’t want to make a purely children’s story followed by The Lord of the Rings. We are providing a balance. A lot of the comedy and the charm of The Hobbit comes from the characters. You are dealing with Bilbo Baggins, who is a little more reluctant to go on an adventure than Frodo was. Dealing with Dwarves, who have a personality and a camaraderie all their own … there’s a lot of humor and a light touch to be gained from those characters. … But there are still some serious themes involved. Hopefully the Hobbit films will comfortably straddle both worlds.”
Asked which character was easier to portray, Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit or Arthur Dent from Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Freeman replied, “It’s even more green screen with Tolkien than with Adams. They’re very different apart from the fantastical element and I’m playing adaptations. … They’re literally different worlds. The experience is genuinely unlike anything I’ve ever done and unlike anything I’m likely to do again. — just the breadth of scale and time, being in a different part of the hemisphere than I’m used to. It’s a whole different experience. The budget makes it different. You’re constantly walking onto sets and soundstages where, what you’re acting on would take up the entire budget of any other film I’ve done. So just the scale, is quite phenomenal. For me they’re incomparable.”
Andy Serkis, who portrayed Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, talked about the opportunity to step behind the camera for The Hobbit.
“I’ve been wanting to direct film for quite some,” he said. “During Lord of the Rings I directed some short films, and then video games. Peter was aware that that was an area I wanted to move towards. It really was a last-minute thing, I thought I was going to be away for two weeks for the role of Gollum. … Literally a month beforehand I got the most amazing call, the most amazing opportunity. Peter asked me to be second-unit director.”
Serkis said his opportunity on The Hobbit was unlike any other second-unit director’s, in that the scope is so large, as well as shooting 48 frames per second.
“We wanted someone who would take care of the performance as much as the technical side,” he said. “We would lay out a plan, Peter would give me notes, and it was always good to be a sounding board for Peter. I went into it not with any grand designs that I’d be shooting my version — I went in absolutely expecting to be Peter’s eyes and ears. And I was satisfied with that.”
Finally, McKellen talked about the age difference in Gandalf between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, which takes place 60 years before the original trilogy.
“When you’re 7,000 years old,” he said, “60 years doesn’t make much of a difference.”
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens Dec. 14, followed by The Hobbit: There and Back Again on Dec. 13, 2013 and the as-yet-untitled third film in summer 2014.
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