It’s over. After 266 days, principal photography for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” has ended in New Zealand. And now begins the anticipation for the upcoming release of the Lord of the Rings prequel series.
Following the same path he did a decade earlier for the three Lord of the Rings films, director Peter Jackson shot both Hobbit films — based on the book from J.R.R. Tolkien — back-to-back. It comes with a total price tag of $500 million, or about $250 million each, and carries with it the pressure to out-perform the Oscar-winning trilogy that helped push high-end fantasy offerings back to the forefront.
That’s a far cry from what the original trilogy cost, about $300 million, making each film cost about $100 million.
The shoot, however, is grueling along Hollywood standards. Typical films, even action films, can be shot in three months or less. The Hobbit films went on for nearly nine months. However, that was far less than the original trilogy, which was filmed over 438 days beginning in October 1999 and ending in December 2000, a year before the first film was released.
The first Hobbit film will not get as much post-production time as it’s set to premiere Dec. 14, although “There and Back Again” will have another year before it’s released.
Warner Bros. is already expecting both films to be a huge success despite its price tag. The studio used its New Line Cinema unit, which during the Lord of the Rings days was just a sister studio before being merged in 2008. Also on board is Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which owned the rights to “The Hobbit” after acquiring the original rights holder, United Artists.
That was just the beginning of issues plaguing the film behind-the-scenes. MGM was set to contribute to the production budget like New Line, but its ongoing financial troubles led to bankruptcy near the end of 2010, which put the film on hold.
At the time, Guillermo del Toro was set to direct the two films, with Jackson offering to serve as second unit director. If all had gone as planned, filming would have been done by the end of 2010, However, MGM was not the only stumbling block — the script was not finished in time, which pushed production back as well. That meant the original first film release date of December 2011 would have to be missed, and instead, Warner Bros. would have to look at the next year.
By May 2010, however, the delays were too much, and del Toro had to step down from the project. With “The Hobbit” in a tailspin, Jackson stepped in and decided to direct these two films, like he did the trilogy, and the two films quickly went back on track.
Jackson has his own big shoes to fill. The first three films grossed just under $3 billion worldwide, and he’ll have to top the likes of “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises” to maintain the box office respectability of the films.
“The Hobbit” films star Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey and Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, Also coming back in smaller roles are Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis and Hugo Weaving.
Also coming back is Christopher Lee, who is now 90 years old, and remains the only person in the cast who actually knew Tolkien. Lee originally was not going to be a part of the film, despite a desire to do so, because of the difficulty of traveling at his age. However, it’s believed that Jackson made accommodations to allow Lee to participate without having to make the trip to New Zealand.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” premieres Dec. 14 worldwide.