Fifty one year-old Peter Jackson, New Zealand film director, producer, actor, and screenwriter is in New York to promote the The Hobbit:An Unexpected Journey, adapted from the novel by JRR Tolkien.
Jackson won international attention early in his career with the horror comedy Bad Taste in 1987, before coming to mainstream prominence with Heavenly Creatures in 1994, for which he shared an Academy Award for Best Original screenplay nomination with his partner, Fran Walsh. His other films include The Frighteners, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, The Lovely Bones and The Adventures of Tintin.
So how would you pitch the film to fans of Lord of the Rings?
The answer to that really is to just look at the history of it. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as a children’s book in 1937. At that time, his kids were young, and he was telling bedtime stories to them. Gradually he sort of developed it into the story of The Hobbit and wrote the novel.
It’s written in an episodic way, very much like reading one chapter to a child each night before he or she goes to sleep. It was very successful when it came out, and the publisher asked him to write a sequel straight away. He started penning a new story which 20 years later became The Lord of the Rings. In the intervening years obviously the Second World War happened.
He had been struggling with this book and it turned into this massive, big, darker, kind of adult story. The Lord of the Rings is much more adult. But some of the events of The Hobbit do continue.
Bilbo giving the ring is the catalyst for The Lord of the Rings story, but The Hobbit in itself is a separate story with the dwarves reclaiming their homeland. So this is a long answer to your question, (laughs) but I am just trying to give you some background. So yes, as a filmmaker, I wanted to walk the tightrope, honour the slightly lighter, more comical children’s origins of The Hobbit and at the same time have a unity with The Lord of the Rings.
So that in a few years time when people have these six movies on their shelf and want to watch them all as a run, there will be a progression, unity and style that will make total sense. It can start in a slightly humorous way with more comical characters and then eventually become Lord of the Rings.
Talking about characters, which is closer to you, Bilbo or Frodo?
It’s an interesting question. I’d say Bilbo. I just like his comic streak. I mean Frodo (Elijah Wood) was terrific, but he was literally carrying the weight of the world around his neck with the ring and he was a tormented character obviously as The Lord of the Rings progressed. I think the gentle comedy that Martin Freeman brings to the character of Bilbo is what’s funny. He is absolutely brilliant at it.
The Hobbit is a short book. What was the challenge for you to try and make a trilogy?
Interesting question. I mean, it surprised us, the book is written for children, so there’s no real development in it. It’s written at a very fast pace, so in the movie you want to just have characters and some conversation. There are things as filmmakers that you want to have developed and tell the story in a filmic way. We also had access to other Tolkien materials, because he had developed a lot more ideas for story lines around the events of The Hobbit and that material was published in Return of the Kings.
So in The Hobbit, for instance, Gandalf disappears for 30 or 40 pages, two or three times and there’s no explanation particularly for where he’s gone. Many many years later Tolkien started to think about what Gandalf was doing during those breaks and he wrote ideas accordingly and we had access to all that material as well. So we were able to expand The Hobbit with Tolkien’s own material to flesh it out. The three movies are a combination of all these things.