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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Hobbit

CinemaCon: Footage of 'The Hobbit' draws mixed reaction

April 24, 2012 |  3:14 pm

Preview of "The Hobbit" shown at CinemaCon
Last year at the theater owners' CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas, James Cameron put together a lengthy presentation touting the virtues of faster frame rates. This year, exhibitors were able actually to see the new technology put to the test in a feature film with 10 minutes of footage from Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

Jackson has shot the new film, due out in December, at 48 frames per second. For roughly 80 years, the standard industry frame rate -- the frequency at which images are projected -- has been 24 frames per second (Hence the name of this blog). Cameron, incidentally, has vowed to shoot the sequel to "Avatar" at an even quicker rate of 60.

In a filmed video message from New Zealand shown to exhibitors Tuesday, Jackson implored theater owners to project his new film at 48 frames per second. The new speed, he said, gives the "illusion of real life, where movement feels smoother, and you're not dealing with strobing."

Indeed, the footage shown did seem hyper-realistic. An opening aerial shot of dramatic rocky mountains appeared clearer than the images in most nature documentaries. But the effect was different when applied to scenes with actors dressed in period costume, whose every move -- and pore -- was crystal clear. Such realism put off some trade show attendees, who complained the footage didn't feel enough like a traditional film.

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2012: From 'Hobbit' to 'Hunger Games,' seven stories to watch

January 3, 2012 |  7:00 am

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games."

The year that past was full of unexpected turns, from the ill-advised remarks of one Lars von Trier to an R-rated marital comedy, "Bridesmaids," that swept the nation. The year ahead promises even more juicy story lines. Here are seven to watch:

'Dark Knight' Rising.There was already anticipation galore for "The Dark Knight Rises," Christopher Nolan's final film in his Batman trilogy that hits theaters July 20. But the Christian Bale-starrer became an even greater object of fascination when Nolan was revealed to be filming near Occupy Wall Street — and a trailer showed that the film had the income gap and other hot-button economic issues on its mind.

Land of Lincolns. Considering how prominent a role he played in American history, it's hard to believe how few depictions there have been of Abraham Lincoln in recent years. (A Gore Vidal-derived TV movie comes to mind — a movie that aired in 1988.) That changes in 2012: June brings the release of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," in which Benjamin Walker plays a leader intent on rooting out the bloodsuckers. Next December, Daniel Day-Lewis gets his turn: The Oscar-winner plays the 16th president in Steven Spielberg's reconstruction of the final, critical months of Lincoln's life.

'Prometheus' ' fire.It was an "Alien" prequel, then it wasn't. Either way, Ridley Scott's new futuristic film, due June 8, about extraterrestrials seeking life on Earth, is one of the director's most anticipated in years. The presence of Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace doesn't hurt either.

'Hobbit' habit. The backstory to Peter Jackson's two "Hobbit" films may be more compelling than many films' actual story lines, what with all sorts of financing drama and Jackson stepping in to direct the film after Guillermo del Toro spent years developing it. We get the first of Jackson’s new pair of Tolkien adaptations — subtitled, fittingly, "An Unexpected Journey" — on Dec. 14.

Floating 'Battleship'? Maybe the only film whose pre-production news coverage rivaled "The Hobbit" was "Battleship," the Peter Berg-directed film based on the classic children's game. Aliens, spaceships and big effects will be in the offing when the movie comes out May 18. So will a reported $200-million budget, as the Hollywood and its toy- and game-obsession gets a key test.

'Hunger' pangs."The Twilight Saga" will come to an end in 2012. But another popular genre-based young-adult series begins its march to the big screen on March 23, with Jennifer Lawrence inhabiting Suzanne Collins' Katniss Everdeen. Fans will be watching the Gary Ross film carefully. So will the studio Lionsgate, which is eager to fill the void that Summit’s “Twilight” is leaving behind.

Christmas cheer.It seems like we're barely through this past holiday season. But next Dec. 25 is already looking like an auspicious date, particularly for those interested in U.S. period tales: it marks the release of Quentin Tarantino's slave story "Django Unchained" and Baz Luhrmann's 3-D reintepretation of "The Great Gatsby."


2011: Seven film stories we never saw coming

Nolan's 'Dark Knight Rises' dons Occupy garb

Hunger Games: Complete coverage

Carey Mulligan: 'The Great Gatsby' gets me nervous too

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games." Credit: Lionsgate

'The Hobbit' trailer starts a Peter Jackson countdown [Video]

December 21, 2011 |  9:56 am

There's a lightness to the opening of the trailer for Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey": a sun-drenched field and a bit of name-themed comedy. It's of a piece with the book, which is deemed just a bit lighter than J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Then, of course, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the "Hobbit" gang get down to more serious business: Questing, sword-fighting and high-stakes intonations ("Can you promise that I will come back?" "No. And if you do, you will not be the same.") All of which will no doubt continue stoking the appetite of "Hobbit" fans, who eagerly await two films that Jackson is shooting back-to-back in New Zealand.

Although the "Hobbit" story takes place about 60 years before the "LOTR" trilogy begins, the trailer also includes the much-discussed Frodo connection, which Jackson has inserted into the "Hobbit" to connect the film to his previous franchise.

"My dear Frodo, you asked me once if I had told you everything there was to know about my adventures," an elderly Baggins tells Elijah Wood's character in the film's frame story. "Well, I can honestly say that I told you the truth. I may not have told you all of it."

The trailer first appeared on Facebook, where Warner Bros. has been making promotional bits available. The movie is scheduled to hit in just about a year.


"The Hobbit" finally close to greenlight

Is using Frodo to create an "LOTR"-"Hobbit" connection a good idea?

Saiorse Ronan on "The Hobbit": "Hopefully they have a part for me"

-- Steven Zeitchik

Saiorse Ronan on 'The Hobbit': 'Hopefully they have a part for me'

March 25, 2011 |  7:40 pm


Production on "The Hobbit" is already under way in  New Zealand with a diverse cast. But don't rule out the possibility of a star of a previous Peter Jackson film winding up in the two-part epic.

Saiorse Ronan, the breakout "Atonement " actress who worked with Jackson on the 2009 spiritual drama "The Lovely Bones,"  says that while her much-rumored casting in the fantasy franchise isn't "confirmed," she's optimistic that she'll be starring amid the dragons and wizards.

"Pete is adding a lot of characters in the film adaption," she said. "Hopefully they have a part for me."

The 16-year-old, whose action thriller "Hanna" comes out  April 8 (more on her and that shortly), declined to reveal what part she'd play in "The Hobbit." Instead, she offered that "on IMDB they say I'm playing an elf [specifically Itaril, a character not in the novel that was described in casting reports as a young female fighter who falls in love with an elf lord]. "We’ll just have to figure it all out."

Speaking in Los Angeles, Ronan said that the primary reasons she'd want to be involved in the films is Jackson and chance to return to New Zealand, where "Bones" was shot.

"It would be great to go back. I love Pete," she said. "It’s such an amazing family unit down here because it's such a small country, and they use a lot of the same crew [for each film]." (Ronan is currently traveling to promote "Hanna" but could easily jet down to New Zealand once her tour is over.)

Ronan said she hasn't yet read the "Hobbit" script but did read the J.R.R. Tolkien original and found herself enraptured.

"It’s magical and it’s a fantasy, but the characters in this story are also so real," she said. "Bilbo’s such an insecure man. He’s comfortable in his life but he’s kind of reaching out for something else even though he won't admit it."

She expects Jackson to bring a different touch than with his previous Tolkien adaptations. "It's a little bit lighter than 'Lord of the Rings,' and Pete is quite a lighthearted man," she said. "He likes to have fun."

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Sairose Ronan in "The Lovely Bones." Credit: DreamWorks


The Hobbit gets close to greenlight

The Hobbit escapes the trolls

Is using Frodo to create a Hobbit-LOTR connection a good idea?

Is using Frodo to create a 'Hobbit'-'LOTR' connection a bad idea?

January 7, 2011 |  7:28 pm

This afternoon the studio behind "The Hobbit" confirmed that (and the Lord of the Rings fan site The One Ring explained how) Elijah Wood will reprise his Frodo role for a small part at the beginning of Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit," which centers on Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins.

According to the J.R.R. Tolkien mythology, the fictional "Red Book of Westmarch" tells the story of both "The Hobbit" and "LOTR." Frodo is an author on the book, and he'll appear in "The Hobbit" (which takes place about 60 years before the "LOTR" trilogy begins) setting up the story that happened lo those decades before. "The fictional book, and either the telling from it or the reading of it, will establish Frodo in the films experiencing Bilbo [Baggins'] story," says The One Ring.

This might all seem like Jackson is tossing a little something to the devotees, an Easter egg for those initiates who see Tolkien's worlds as connected.

But in reality it may well be the opposite: this is a move aimed mainly at the average moviegoer. "Lord of the Rings" was hugely popular even among people who'd never read a word of Tolkien, so a little link to the original trilogy, the thinking seems to go, wouldn't hurt to get audiences into the two "Hobbit" films.

For Tolkien devotees, though, the news may be less exciting. Frodo doesn't appear before the "Lord of the Rings" so the cameo could be considered unnecessary. And in fact, putting characters into a context where they never existed before could ruffle feathers.

On the whole this seems like a harmless indulgence, and Peter Jackson has earned the trust of Tolkien purists.

Still, the Tolkien-loving public has an all-seeing eye, and expectations from the franchise can be as daunting as, well, the burden of the ring itself.

--Steven Zeitchik and Jevon Phillips


Photo: Elijah Wood as Frodo in 'Lord of the Rings.' Credit: Warner Bros.

Labor peace comes to 'The Hobbit'

October 20, 2010 |  5:36 pm

"The Hobbit" is back on track.

After a rancorous few days of posturing that threatened the New Zealand location -- and possibly the release dates -- of the two "Hobbit" movies, there is labor peace for the fantasy epic.  

As my colleague Richard Verrier reports on our sister blog Company Town, the Screen Actors Guild is lifting its do-not-work order for performers on the two films, clearing the last major obstacle in shooting the movies. Production will now move forward in New Zealand for the films' releases in December 2012 and December 2013.

Director Peter Jackson has been especially biting in his comments in recent days, saying that he wanted to move the production. But a meeting between producers, the actors' guilds and even the government proved fruitful, with the sides this afternoon issuing a statement that "The parties have agreed to work together to update the conditions of engagement for performers in the New Zealand screen production industry."

-- Steven Zeitchik


More trouble in the land of 'The Hobbit'

October 20, 2010 |  1:04 pm

Just when you thought all was well in the Shire...

With "The Hobbit" looking last week like it was over its most significant hurdles, the rhetoric on the labor front is intensifying and once again threatening the production.

Deteriorating relations among several performers' guilds, who have called for a boycott of the production, have prompted director Peter Jackson to say that he would move the production out of New Zealand even if the boycott is lifted. The director-producer and fellow producer Fran Walsh told local outlet The Press that they would move regardless of the boycott status. "The damage inflicted on our film industry by [the actors unions] is long since done."

The decision on where to shoot both "Hobbit" movies will ultimately be made by those financing the pictures -- which include Warner Bros., its New Line cinema unit and MGM -- but with heavy input from Jackson, and none on the studio side are ruling out the possibility that the productions would need to relocate.

If there is a move to another country, the question for filmgoers is whether it would set back production or even release dates. The movies, for now, are set for December 2012 and December 2013.

-- Steven Zeitchik

'The Hobbit' finally escapes the trolls

October 15, 2010 |  7:26 pm

It's taken a long time -- longer than it takes most movies to be shot, released and come out on DVD  -- but "The Hobbit" is now a real film. A pair of them.

After being widely known for weeks that a deal for to finance the Peter Jackson-directed 3-D franchise was coming together, as my colleagues Claudia Eller and Ben Fritz at Company Town have been reporting, the news came officially this evening via press release from New Line and MGM that the movies were going forward (pending a labor dispute between Jackson and performers' unions).

Production on the first film starts in February in New Zealand (again, pending that labor issue). The second gets shot right after, or even overlaps a little with it, and the movies would hit theaters in December of 2012 and 2013.

“Exploring Tolkien’s Middle-earth goes way beyond a normal film-making experience,” Jackson says in the release. "It’s an all-immersive journey into a very special place of imagination, beauty and drama." (And, he might have have added, an all-immersive journey into the vagaries of film financing.)

There are questions both creative and marketing around the next pictures to be adapted from a J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy novel. The technological scope of Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy was groundbreaking, but in a post-"Avatar" world, that bar is now much higher.

And while fanboys will scrutinize the movie with their own lens, the reception among the critics and awards community will be almost as interesting. After all, the third "LOTR" swept through the Oscars, but it took goodwill accumulated from the two previous movies. Will the first "Hobbit" get to build on that or will it need to start from scratch?

There also will be an interesting race to the multiplex between "The Hobbit" and "At the Mountains of Madness," another large-scale fantasy project, this one from the man who for a long time was going to direct "Hobbit," Guillermo Del Toro. Both movies are expected to start production at roughly the same time, and comparisons and what-ifs inevitably will follow.

Today, though, the fans are simply breathing a sigh of relief. Or maybe just fainting.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Peter Jackson and Miranda Otto on the set of "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King." Credit: New Line


The Hobbit movies ready to go, pending labor resolution

Finance and fan boys: How the Wall Street crisis hit Guillermo del Toro's 'The Hobbit'

May 31, 2010 |  9:35 am

If there's one message that "Inside Job," Charles Ferguson's new documentary about the financial crisis, imparts to audiences, it's that even the most far-flung factors can give rise to serious real-world consequences.

On Sunday an object lesson in that truism hit the film world, as fan boys and the rest of us suddenly found ourselves the unexpected victims of Wall Street woolliness.

For the last two years, Guillermo del Toro had been keen to direct "The Hobbit," the much salivated-over two-picture adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's mystical epic -- so keen that he uprooted his family and life for it. Del Toro turned down every other film and spent nearly two years prepping a shoot that was to begin later in 2010, for a pair of movies that would be released over the holidays in 2012 and 2013.

On Sunday, that all changed -- or, rather, a change that had been brewing for months finally bubbled to the surface. What seemed like so much doomsday speculation last year, back when it first became apparent that co-financier/co-producer MGM was hitting the rocks, became a very tangible reality. It didn't happen with high drama -- MGM didn't pull the plug on a "Hobbit" movie the way venture-capital projects were suddenly stopped in their tracks by the credit and investment freeze. It didn't have to.

The current incarnation of MGM was formed six years ago thanks to an influx of Wall Street money and lending that was rampant at the time. Several private equity groups, along with Sony and Comcast, sank in hundreds of millions of dollars, and rich credit facilities with the likes of J.P. Morgan Chase were set up.

But six years later, MGM now labors under nearly $4 billion in debt, which has both hampered its ability to finance new productions as well as made the company unattractive to prospective buyers. (For a complete examination of where the situation at MGM currently stands, check out this excellent story from my colleagues Claudia Eller and Ben Fritz.) So deep is the uncertainty (and the debt) that the studio's production schedule has been significantly slowed -- so much so that, on Sunday, it finally caused del Toro to walk away.

“In light of ongoing delays in the setting of a start date for filming ‘The Hobbit,’ I am faced with the hardest decision of my life. After nearly two years of living, breathing and designing a world as rich as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, I must, with great regret, take leave from helming these wonderful pictures," del Toro said in a posting on Tolkien fan site TheOneRing.net.

It shouldn't have been a complete surprise. MGM has been clinging to "The Hobbit" like a last-ditch lifeline even as its other projects have skittered away. The 23rd James Bond movie went from an MGM-centric enterprise with a big directorial name (Sam Mendes) to a film that was indefinitely on ice. A movie that had already been completed and earning high test scores, "The Zookeeper," was handed over to Sony. Several other development projects were frozen in place. It was only a matter of time before some kind of unfortunate fate hit "The Hobbit." And while technically neither MGM nor co-financier and co-producer New Line was shutting down production, few could blame del Toro, watching all of this happen and feeling like his own production schedule was clouding up to the point of murkiness.

The world of independent-film financing has until now born the brunt of the crisis, as those less expensive, one-off pictures are, paradoxically, the ones that needed the cash from this more slippery world. With this news, one of the most anticipated and reliable franchises -- a Tolkien adaptation from an A-list group of creators -- is getting hit too.

Some would say that it's all a little unfair. MGM's business plan was a long-term one, a plan that required the development of franchises; the "Hot Tub Time Machine's" and "Valkyrie's" of the world were never going to be enough. If it was to succeed, it would need to take control of James Bond and, especially, "The Hobbit." There's truth to that, but there's also a kind of karmic fairness to how this all has gone down. MGM was created as part of the financial froth of the mid-2000s. And if there's one thing the last sobering 18 months has taught us, it's that if you live by the bubble, you die by the bubble.

No one knows what kind of "Hobbit" del Toro would have made, or if the years the eminently talented director dedicated to it would have been worth the films he wasn't working on during this time. What we do know now is that we'll get a chance to see the other side of that coin. There could be some significant del Toro output over the next few years. The "Hellboy" and "Pan's Labyrinth" director, after all, has plenty of options -- he's kept some development irons in the fire and pretty much every studio is chomping to get him. (More on his possible new directions in a later post.)

Meanwhile, Peter Jackson and the others developing the tale of Bilbo Baggins say that it will continue to move forward. It's hard to imagine how that happens with the same intensity. Even if the financial and scheduling issues somehow begin to clear up -- almost overnight, like a mystery rash -- there's still the small matter of getting a top-flight director who isn't spooked by the same things that scared del Toro. And then there's the question of whether said director picks up where del Toro left off (unlikely for anyone of a certain stature) or starts over from scratch. That could take even more time, enough time for MGM to have found its way out of trouble -- or for a new bubble to burst.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Guillermo del Toro. Credit: Miguel Villagran / Associated Press

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