When Peter Jackson’s long-awaited “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” comes out December 14, Bilbo Baggins will more than have his work cut out for him. It will be the first time we’ll see J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved Middle-earth characters back on the big screen since 2003.
The three “Lord of the Rings” films that precede it have grossed more than $1 billion combined in the U.S. (near $3 billion worldwide) and have won 17 Oscars.
The films, which cost between an estimated $200-315 million each will have to perform at least as well as their “Lord of the Rings” (LOTR) predecessors to break even.
(Bear in mind, the total estimated budget for the original three films is set at $281 million.)
The film has a lot riding on it, not only for Jackson with two sequels ready to roll out subsequently in 2013 and 2014 respectively, but also for the back-from-the-dead MGM.
Will the hundreds of millions of dollars be worth it?
The Numbers Speak For Themselves
Worldwide Gross Opening Weekend
“LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring“: $871.5 million $47.2 million
“LOTR: The Two Towers“: $926 million $62 million
“LOTR: The Return of the King“: $1.1 billion $72 million
If we strictly go according to “The Lord of the Rings” grosses, “The Hobbit” should be set. Higher ticket prices and inflation aside, each film in the series built upon the last. And, with members of the cast returning (Christopher Lee as Sauron, Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf, the gruesome Gollum, even Orlando Bloom is making an appearance as Legolas), that familiarity with beloved characters is an instant drawback for fans.
However, can the franchise sustain nearly a decade break from the big screen?
Photo: Warner Bros. / MGM
The Immense Popularity of “The Hobbit” “The Hobbit” is a children’s book.
Not only has it sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, but it’s also a requirement in most school curricula to at some point partake in the misadventures of Bilbo Baggins.
With that in mind, it’s more than likely that this film may have a bigger audience reach than LOTR not only because it’s the return of the franchise; however, because it’s also a book in which younger children have an interest.
Like “The Avengers,” “The Hobbit” lends itself toward more of a family-friendly film. The demographic won’t be solely for fans of the original series, but also for youngsters wanting to view their imaginings of the Lonely Mountain on the big screen when all their teachers have to offer is the much outdated 1977 cartoon adaptation of the book.
And, with that …
It’s a children’s book.
On the flip side, “The Hobbit” is a children’s book, less dark than some of the creatures encountered in LOTR (the Nazgûl/Dark Riders), despite the Orcs and giant spiders featured in “The Hobbit” (nothing that “Harry Potter” couldn’t conjure up).
In the end, we think this is only something that will help the series, rather than hinder it because of the added demographic.
The One Book Argument Since the announcement at the end of July that “The Hobbit” film will be three films, Jackson has been criticised for trying to stretch the success of a 272-page book into a trilogy.
Part of why the LOTR worked was because it was three films made from three separate books with no gimmicky break in the final film.
We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again. Sure, there are break points in the book to split up the film into thirds; however, this isn’t a storyline that needs more than two movies to put the story to bed.
Jackson promises that the use of an 125-page appendices included in “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” will deliver more than enough material for the impending franchise.
“In the novel, Gandalf disappears for various patches of time. In 1936, when Tolkien was writing that book, he didn’t have a clue what Gandalf was doing. But later on, when he did The Lord of the Rings and he’d hit on this whole epic story, he was going to go back and revise The Hobbit and he wrote all these notes about how Gandalf disappears and was really investigating the possible return of Sauron, the villain from The Lord of the Rings. Sauron doesn’t appear at all in The Hobbit.”
While we’re excited for a more direct link between the LOTR and its prequel, we think Jackson’s main challenge is seeing whether or not you can successfully turn a one-trick pony into a three-ring circus without it feeling too drawn out.
Regardless, we’re thinking Jackson can make up for that with his ability for …
One of the many reasons we go back to watch Jackson’s return to Middle Earth is because of the quality of the films.
Similar to Rowling with “Potter,” Jackson makes us believe in the reality of a fictional universe.
From the New Zealand hills of Hobbiton, down to the hair and makeup that make the dwarves themselves, the director makes the set come alive and it shows.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, there are people on set who solely work on hair and hobbit feet.
Each of the dwarves has six wigs and eight beards (for the actors, stunt doubles, and stand-ins) all real human hair imported from Russia.
And, though he’s not in the film, actor Sean Astin shared at New York Comic Con that even the Hobbit shoes have been reimagined since the first series of films and are extra cozy. (Apparently, they weren’t all that comfortable to get around in during the LOTR due to a simple latex and foam build.)
Of course, Jackson’s not the first, and certainly not the last director, to put meticulous detail in everything down to the props, but his attention enchants us regardless.
But, what about the 48 fps? When Peter Jackson announced he planned on filming the “Hobbit” prequel in 48 frames-per-second (the norm is just half of that at 24 fps), it sounded sort of cool, until the critiques came back and people were up in arms.
After 10 minutes of the footage was shown earlier this year at CinemaCon, critics were divided between calling the footage “smooth” and impressive, to calling it “too clear” and comparing the look to that of a soap opera.
Warner Bros. decided the world wasn’t ready for this, as “The Hobbit” will only be available in limited release at select theatres including IMAX.
However, when it comes down to it …
Jackson has taken a gamble before and succeeded. We can sigh and grunt (or applaud) the inclusion of a third “Hobbit” film; however, Jackson’s always one to deliver when it comes to giving us lengthy 2+ hour feature films.
Jackson originally went over the 160 minute call for “King Kong” by 20 minutes. Instead of cutting the film, Jackson exceeded Universal’s expectations. The addition cost the studio a reported extra $20 million in production, of which Jackson paid half.
So, when Warner Bros. shells out hundreds of millions for a Jackson film, we can probably count it’s going to pay off, trilogy or not.
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