Top 10 Things You May Not Know About the Making of The Hobbit

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Recently the final installment in the epic Middle Earth saga was completed, with the release of the third movie in The Hobbit trilogy. While the movie was highly anticipated, many people were concerned about the deviations from the source material, especially considering the decision to turn one book into three movies. Of course, many of these complaints stem from the fact that the way the director interpreted the story didn’t jive properly with the interpretation of the viewer. Unfortunately, due to differing perspectives, it’s hard for any adaptation to ever please the true die-hard fans. While some people may be able to find anything to complain about, the truth is making a movie saga as epic as The Hobbit required an incredible amount of work, and creativity.

10. Ian McKellan Almost Quit Acting During Filming

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While The Lord of the Rings trilogy did certainly make use of special effects, it also received praise for the large amount of work done using more traditional means, as well. However, due to many different technical limitations based on the story he was doing this time, as well as the age of the actors in question, Peter Jackson used a fair bit more CGI in his screen adaptation of The Hobbit. In particular, telling the tale of The Hobbit requires regularly showing 13 dwarves on screen, interacting with other people who often tend to be either way shorter — or more often than not — way taller. Due to obvious limitations in casting, using actors who already fit the right size profile would have been a likely insurmountable hurdle.

To deal with this, Peter Jackson used regular sized actors for the dwarves, but had to get a little creative when filming them with Gandalf — because of the height difference between the characters. This meant that Ian McKellan had to film his scenes in front of a green screen, without talking to the dwarves, or anyone at all for reference. He had a terrible time during the early days of the shoot, and considered quitting the film and acting altogether — he felt that perhaps he should step aside from the profession if he couldn’t meet the modern day demands. Fortunately for LOTR fans, McKellan managed to make it through filming, and still delivered a stellar performance as Gandalf.

9. It Was Almost Directed By Guillermo Del Toro

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Many people don’t realize that The Hobbit was nearly an entirely different movie. To begin with, the plan was first to make it just two movies, and the director was going to be Guillermo Del Toro of Pan’s Labyrinth fame. While it’s hard to say for certain how they would have turned out, it is likely Del Toro would not have spent as much time deviating from the source material, and the overall feel would certainly have been different. Of course, this is not something that Peter Jackson had any problem with — Del Toro directing The Hobbit was originally Jackson’s idea — the problem was actually with MGM, the studio in charge of producing the film at the time.

The studio was having financial difficulties, and the film kept getting delayed over and over, which is what led to Del Toro’s departure from the helm of the project. While we may wonder what the films would have been like with him in charge, he still had a very big influence on the final product. He spent two years working on ideas for the films before he quit, and he still helped co-write the entire series, so it is likely many of his ideas made it into the final product.

8. Tauriel The Made Up Female Elf

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Some fans of the series have been more than a little upset at the inclusion of a female elf character named Tauriel that appears in the screen adaptation of The Hobbit. Many fans are okay with a large number of liberties that Peter Jackson takes, mainly because much of it is in the Silmarillion, or at least somewhere in the Lord of the Rings mythology. However, what has many of the fans hopping mad is that Tauriel literally never existed in any of the lore — Peter Jackson admits openly to completely making her up for the film. People have also criticized the dwarf-elf romance angle, much for the same reason — it never happened.

Of course, while it wasn’t in the book, Peter Jackson does have a defense for why he included her and his reasoning is fairly strong. In the novel the dwarves do run into the wood elves, and they are imprisoned for a time under the orders of the elf king. Thranduil. Legolas himself is not mentioned in The Hobbit, because Tolkien had not invented him yet, but he is the son of Thranduil and so his inclusion is completely understandable. Peter Jackson explained that he wanted to flesh out the storyline involving the wood elves, but he needed at least three elven characters for a full story arc. He decided that the film didn’t have any strong female characters – apart from a brief scene with Galadriel — and created a new wood elf to drive the story along more smoothly.

7. Battle Fatigue

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While those who like action movies often feel put off when they enter a theater and find that the exciting trailer disguised a movie that was more exposition than anything else, the final installment in The Hobbit trilogy is almost exactly the opposite. In fact, the movie has an incredible amount of action, with the last forty five minutes of the film essentially amounting to one gigantic battle scene. This is not something that film audiences or directors usually tend to deal with, if for no other reason than that huge battle sequences tend to be very expensive to film. In order to avoid something that Peter Jackson referred to as “battle fatigue” he decided that they should not do more than two to three shots of anonymous people before focusing the camera once again on the named characters. It was his hope that by keeping focused on the main characters, that people would sustain their interest throughout the entire sequence.

6. Charges Of Animal Cruelty

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If you stick around to watch the credits, you will often see a message from the American Humane Association stating that they monitored a film, and didn’t see any animals hurt during filming, if the film used live animals in filming. However, despite the best efforts of watchdog groups, there are still incidents of animal deaths, many of which go unreported. In recent years there have been several cases where animals faced serious danger during filming, and the movie went on to critical acclaim regardless. During the filming of Life of Pi, a tiger nearly drowned. While many people may not be particularly bothered if the animal ended up okay, the attitude of the watchers is troubling.

It turns out that the person who helped smooth the incident over the most was the actual representative who was watching the whole thing happen. It turns out that dismissive behavior from the American Humane Association is fairly common. During the filming of The Hobbit, some reports say 27 animals died of various complications including dehydration and drowning. When someone blew the whistle and informed the AHA, they were told that despite being able to physically locate the bodies of the animals, that if the deaths didn’t actually happen on the set, there really wasn’t anything they could do. To get around the fact that there were animal deaths — just not onscreen — the AHA crafted a statement filled with weasel words that essentially said there were no animal deaths or injuries during filming.

5. Peter Jacksons’ Arachnophobia

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It may be surprising considering that he made multiple movies which contain extended scenes with terrifying, giant spiders, but Peter Jackson is himself an arachnophobe. It is exactly this fear though, that he attempted to harness when working on the spider scenes for the Lord of the Rings and later for the scenes with multiple spiders in Mirkwood for the filming of The Hobbit. Of course, being a stickler for getting things exactly right, Peter Jackson didn’t rely on his own experiences with spider terror and his eye for directing to get things the way he wanted. He enlisted the help of special effects designers who went above and beyond the call of duty to make the most realistic giant spiders possible.

While many people might have just made some simple, over-sized cgi spiders, Peter Jackson and his designers wanted something that could be believable as truly realistic and truly ancient and terrifying. In order to accomplish this, the designers looked at various spiders through an electron microscope, so that they could include realistic details that only an entomologist could possibly know are correct without the aforementioned microscope. Aside from making sure they were as realistic as possible anatomically, the designers also made sure to give the creatures that “lived-in” look from lurking in the dark of Mirkwood for ages, making some of the most disturbing spiders ever to appear onscreen.

4. It Stimulated New Zealand’s Economy

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Peter Jackson is well known as the director of the entire Middle Earth saga, but many people don’t realize that he is a Kiwi, and that most of the filming for all six of the films was done in New Zealand. Apart from showing the world how breathtakingly beautiful his country’s landscapes are, he has also done something else for New Zealand — he has stimulated his country’s economy in a very measurable way. Just for starters, Peter Jackson brought an incredible amount of jobs to his home country by way of numerous film projects, and has also built several film related companies that employ many New Zealanders. Not only that, but people looking to see the scenery in the movies have increased tourism in New Zealand by almost 90% since the release of the first film.

Of course, Jackson may be done with The Hobbit movies, but he is not done continuing to push for increased filmmaking in New Zealand. And as always, he is ready to put his money and efforts where his mouth is. He has no future plans for other Middle Earth related material, and instead intends to focus on telling stories about New Zealand. Peter Jackson clearly has goals beyond simply telling stories. He hopes to put New Zealand on the map when it comes to filmmaking in a big way, and he has already made a great start.

3. The Importance Of Martin Freeman

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When it became known that Martin Freeman would play the role of titular character Bilbo Baggins — perhaps the most important character in the stories, since he came closest to representing Tolkien himself — many people were overjoyed at the choice. What many don’t know however, is that not only did Peter Jackson agree that Martin Freeman was perfect, he literally had no one else in mind and wanted him desperately to play the role. The problem was, as we explained earlier when it came to Del Toro, that there were constant delays in the filmmaking schedule. What this meant is that Peter Jackson had long ago decided he wanted Freeman and spoken with him even, but due to the delays, Freeman ended up signing on to do Sherlock instead.

Peter Jackson described himself as coming closer to filming, still not knowing who else to use instead, and kind of starting to panic. Luckily for everyone, he found a way to accommodate Freeman’s schedule, who was happy to do both projects at the same time if he could. In order to accomplish this, Jackson actually halted filming for multiple months while he waited on Freeman to be available again. While this move may seem rather odd to ensure the use of just one actor, he is the most important character in the film, and Freeman does do an incredible job. Peter Jackson knew what he needed, and did whatever it took to make it happen.

2. Andy Serkis (a.k.a. Gollum) Helped Direct

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Many people know Andy Serkis as the man who used motion capture to create such a realistic Gollum that he might as well be a real creature simply captured on camera. Serkis has also used motion capture to play Caesar — the head chimpanzee in the new Planet of the Apes series — and was taped for an as-of-yet unknown role in the upcoming Star Wars movie. His talent at using motion capture to create realistic CGI characters is excellent, but he is skilled at far more than just that. Serkis actually is fascinated about the technology because he has always been interested in directing himself, and has actually directed short films in the past.

This meant when it came time to choose a 2nd unit director — someone who does battle scenes and other types of action shots — Peter Jackson chose Andy Serkis for the position. As it turns out, the work that Serkis did on the second LOTR movie series was mostly directing, with very little time spent on Gollum in comparison. Serkis is not done directing either. Soon he will have his own production company, and he intends to make a screen adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

1. Benedict Cumberbatch (a.k.k. Smaug) Really Got Into His Role 

While The Hobbit has been criticized for possible overuse of CGI, their use of special effects has also been consistently pioneering. There was possibly no greater challenge for the special effects team than to create an intelligent, talking dragon that was realistic enough, despite dragons not being real, that people could find believable and truly threatening. In order to take on this task, Peter Jackson first enlisted the help of veteran actor of screen and voice, Benedict Cumberbatch. Many fans were thrilled upon hearing the news – Cumberbatch is an extremely skilled voice actor, and a talented dramatic actor as well.

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While many parts of the films have been criticized, most people have been quite pleased with the way Smaug appeared on the screen. Part of the reason why he appears so real isn’t just because Cumberbatch has such a great talent for voices (he also voiced the Necromancer), but because he made great use of cutting edge CGI technology. To make Gollum realistic, Andy Serkis used a motion capture suit. This allowed his expressions and body language to be used for the designers generating the character. In the same vein, Cumberbatch didn’t just voice Smaug, he created the character. He donned a motion capture suit and crawled on the ground like a dragon as he did the voice work. He believed that this helped him really get into the role, but it also created incredibly lifelike movements and facial expressions for the design team to use when creating the visual representation of Smaug.


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