Given the vast success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, it wasn’t surprising that a film series based on The Hobbit was to follow. The Hobbit was writer JRR Tolkien’s first major published work about Middle Earth, and is one of the most-loved fantasy books of all time. Although there was huge interest amongst fans of Jackson’s films to see that story tackled in a similar way, the journey to the screen was not smooth.
Things started badly when in 2005 Jackson sued New Line, who produced the Lord of the Rings movies, for revenue he felt he was owed from those films. It took two years for that lawsuit to be settled, at which point it was announced that Jackson would co-write and produce two Hobbit movies for MGM, with Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo Del Toro helming. For many fans this sounded like a match made in movie heaven, two of fantasy cinema’s greatest visionaries collaborating on one of the genre’s most famous books.
Sadly it wasn’t to be. Problems with the script and financial issues at MGM led to production to be delayed, and in May 2010 del Toro left the project after two years of extensive pre-production work. In October it was announced that Jackson would take over as director, and the first Hobbit movie started production in 2011. Even at this stage the intention was still to make two movies, but ultimately the modest 300-page novel was spread out across three long films, with the scripts written once more by Jackson, and his Lord of the Rings collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.
But for all the struggle to get The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to the big screen, there’s little denying that it paid off at the box office when it released in December 2012, with a $1.02 billion worldwide gross. While reviews weren’t as strong as for the Lord of the Rings films, Jackson skillfully slotted fans back into a familiar world, with a mix of returning actors and new faces, and once more using the spectacular landscapes of New Zealand to stand in for Middle-earth.
As with the earlier films, the Hobbit movies have been released on Blu-ray in special editions packed with bonus features. We’ve been back through the extended edition of An Unexpected Journey and checked out the behind-the-scenes material, including a commentary from Jackson and Boyens. So here are some fascinating facts, references, and Easter Eggs about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And once you’ve read this, check out our guides to all the things you missed in The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.
1. It was important to start with Bilbo
Jackson knew that some viewers might be watching An Unexpected Journey unaware of the order of the movies and assumed that it was a sequel to the Lord of the Rings. So he decided to open on the older Bilbo, played once more by Ian Holm, then flashback to the adventures of the younger version, played by Martin Freeman.
2. Jackson refrains from showing us Smaug
Jackson said he deliberately “hinted and teased” Smaug as he attacks Erebor and Dale at the start of the movie. He didn’t want to fully reveal the dragon until the second movie.
3. Andy Serkis was heavily involved behind the camera
Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and this movie, was second unit director on all the Hobbit films. He shot a lot of the destruction of Dale.
4. Thorin is younger in the movies
Thorin, played by Richard Armitage, is a lot younger than he is in the book. While Jackson initially envisaged an older actor, Walsh argued that they needed someone younger. She said it would make less sense to see an old man inheriting the throne, as the audience might not think he had very long to rule before someone else took over.
5. Hobbiton was rebuilt in the same location as in Lord of the Rings
Hobbiton was constructed once again in Matamata on New Zealand’s North Island. The original Lord of the Rings set had been entirely dismantled in the intervening years and the area returned to farmland, but this time the crew rebuilt the town with permanent material, allowing it to remain there. Today Hobbiton is a popular tourist attraction.
6. Ian Holm filmed all his scenes in the UK
Ian Holm was too old to travel to New Zealand, so the scenes inside Bag End between Bilbo and Frodo were filmed in London, and are among the only scenes in all six movies that weren’t filmed in New Zealand. For the subsequent shots outside Bag End, Elijah Wood filmed his part on the Hobbiton in Matamata, while Holm was in front of a green screen in the UK. The footage was then composited together.
7. Balin was meant to have a mustache
Balin actor Ken Stott wanted the audience to see his mouth while he talked, so at the last minute he persuaded Jackson to let him remove the ‘tache from his costume.
8. Bag End was expanded for this movie
The pantry and drawing room in Bag End are never seen in Lord of the Rings, so they had to be designed and built for The Hobbit.
9. The dwarves fall into Bag End to speed to movie up
Boyens states that it would’ve taken too long to introduce every dwarf one-by-one, so after the initial dwarf characters arrive, the rest simply fall into Bag End as a group.
10. This scene was incredibly complicated to shoot
The scene of Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves moving around Bag End was a single, lengthy shot that was very difficult to shoot. It had to be filmed with computer-controlled cameras, as Gandalf, who needed to appear much taller than everyone else, would be composited into the shots in post-production. Jackson stated that was the only time in his career he spent an entire day on set without getting any usable footage, and he eventually sent the crew home because everyone was so “tired and stressed.” He eventually got the footage the following day.
11. Jackson wanted a lot more songs in the Hobbit movies
Although Tolkien wrote songs throughout his books, Jackson felt they wouldn’t suit the tone of the Lord of the Rings movies. However, he knew they would work much better in the Hobbit, so that’s why there are several songs in the film. In the song ‘Blunt the Knives,’ all the dwarf actors are performing their own vocals.
12. Ian McKellen found these scenes difficult to shoot
The scenes with the dwarves were McKellen’s first days on the movie, and he wasn’t on the Bag End set at all. The actor shot all of this footage in front of a green screen as he had to appear much bigger, so wasn’t interacting with the other actors at all. Jackson admits McKellen was very frustrated by this process and found it hard to get back into the character having not played Gandalf for 12 years. Jackson had to assure him that it wouldn’t be like that for the whole shoot.
13. Gimli met his dad this day
John Rhys-Davies, who played Gimli in the Lord of the Rings, visited the set the day this scene was shot. Jackson said it was the “perfect day,” as he got to see all the dwarf actors in costume and also “meet his father,” namely Gloin, Gimli’s dad, played by Peter Hambleton.
14. These ponies are horses in disguise
In order to give the impression that the dwarves are riding small ponies, the crew “disguised” full-size horses. They gave them shaggy hair and long mains, so they contrasted with the horse that Gandalf is riding.
15. The movie had a code-name
All the scripts for An Unexpected Journey had the title “Little Rivers” on them. The fake title came from this montage, and Jackson stated that he deliberately tried to come up with as boring a name as possible, so no one would pick the script up and start reading if they weren’t involved with the film.
16. This location has been seen before
The battle between Azog’s orcs and Thrór’s dwarf warriors in this flashback is set in the same location outside the mines of Moria, where the Fellowship escape to after Gandalf is taken by the Balrog in Fellowship of the Ring.
17. Gandalf is forgetful for a reason
When Gandalf says he has “quite forgotten” the names of the two Blue Wizards, this is actually an in-joke. The studio didn’t own the rights for any of Tolkien’s Middle-earth material outside Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, and those obscure characters were not named (as Alatar and Pallando) until the posthumous Unfinished Tales was published in 1980. Jackson stated that this legal restriction was something he, Walsh, and Boyens had to be mindful of when expanding the story of The Hobbit and incorporating elements from the other Middle-earth stories.
18. Jackson made his art department work on their day off
Jackson approved the placement of this ruined farmhouse from a photo, without having visited the location on Denize Bluffs farm on the North Island. When Jackson arrived on a Saturday, two days before shooting, he realised that the farmhouse looked wrong in the place it had been built, so asked his art department to dismantle and rebuild it nearby. In the commentary Jackson states he felt “incredibly guilty” about making his team give up their Sunday, but felt that the new position would allow him to get much better shots.
19. These trolls were retroactively designed
The trolls that capture Bilbo and the dwarves are turned to stone by sunlight. They are seen in this stone form in Fellowship of the Ring, so The Hobbit’s VFX team designed the trolls based on their appearance in that earlier movie. The trolls were played in motion-capture by three of the dwarf actors (Mark Hadlow, Peter Hambleton, and William Kircher), who had to get their bodies into the same position as the stone versions as the sunlight hits them to maintain continuity between the movies.
20. There’s a big continuity error here
The scene in the cave when Gandalf finds the Elven sword Sting was shot months after the subsequent scene in which he gives the sword to Bilbo. As a result, there’s a continuity error–the sword in the cave is covered in dirt and cobwebs, but it’s entirely clean and gleaming minutes later.
21. We’ve seen that dagger before
The Nazgul that attacks Radagast while he’s investigating Dol Guldur is the Witch-king of Angmar. The Witch-king featured throughout the Lord of the Rings movies, and he’s wielding the same Morgul-blade that almost-fatally stabs Frodo in Fellowship of the Ring.
22. The wargs were redesigned
Jackson states that he was unhappy with the look of the wargs in the Lord of the RIngs, so had them redesigned for The Hobbit. He explains that these are a different breed of warg.
23. The orc chase was invented for the movie
Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens added the orc attack and ensuing chase to give the movie a sense of jeopardy. Jackson stated that because none of the main characters die, they were limited in what they could do, but felt that the midpoint of the movie needed extra danger and excitement. It also made the group’s arrival at Rivendell more dramatic.
24. Figwit is back!
Well, sort of. Flight of the Conchords star Bret McKenzie had a small role in The Fellowship of the Ring and Return of the Ring as an Elf who became known as Figwit among admiring fans–an acronym for “Frodo is great… who is THAT?” In An Unexpected Journey, McKenzie appears as a different elf named Lindir.
25. Martin Freeman wasn’t on set for this scene
Freeman had to leave the production for several weeks to shoot Sherlock Season 2 in the UK, and wasn’t on set when the Rivendell feast scene was filmed. A double stood in for him for the wide shots, while Freeman filmed some inserts when he returned to New Zealand.
26. The scene was added in reshoots
Jackson felt that he needed to interrupt the lengthy Rivendell sequence to remind the audience that danger was still out there. So he added this scene of Azog and his orcs during reshoots.
27. Saruman and Gandalf weren’t on set together
Saruman actor Christopher Lee was too old to fly to New Zealand, so all of his footage in this scene was shot in London months later against a green screen. The shots from behind Saruman, as Gandalf talks, used a double.
28. Jackson loves huge monsters
The stone-giants are only mentioned in passing in The Hobbit, but Jackson wanted to give them a spectacular battle scene. “This is the sort of stuff I go to the movies to look at,” he says in the commentary.
29. The goblins were replaced by digital versions
Jackson shot the scenes in which the goblins capture the dwarves using actors in rubber costumes. But he later felt their movement was compromised by what they were wearing, so replaced most of the goblins with CGI.
30. This iconic scene was Martin Freeman’s first time playing Bilbo
Jackson shot the key scene between Bilbo and Gollum all the way through many times from different angles over the course of four days, rather than breaking it up into individual shots. It was Freeman’s very first time playing Bilbo, and Jackson said he felt sorry the actor had to start with such a dialogue-heavy scene against Andy Serkis “in full swing as Gollum.” As a result, Freeman asked to re-record a lot of the dialogue in post-production as he felt he was still trying to find the character at this stage.
31. Jackson changed the order of the scenes
Jackson originally intended to intercut the Bilbo and Gollum scenes with those between the dwarves and the Goblin King. However, Freeman and Serkis’ performances made for such a tense and dramatic sequence that he decided to keep it intact, and didn’t return to the goblins until after it had finished.
32. Ring-World is less scary
Jackson deliberately made “Ring-World”–the strange ghostly environment that Bilbo finds himself in when he puts the ring on–less scary than the one Frodo experiences in Lord of the Rings. He stated this is because the Ring is yet to gain its full power.
33. Lighting issues made Jackson shoot this scene on a set
Even though it would’ve been easy to find a hillside for this scene, Jackson wanted it to take place as the sun was going down. To get consistent lighting on location they would’ve had to shoot the scene over many days, so it was easier and quicker to build a set and shoot it in a studio.
34. Ori and Dori fall off the tree to give Gandalf something to do
Jackson said he needed to “keep Gandalf busy” during the orc attack, as he wanted Thorin to have the final showdown with Azog rather than the powerful wizard. So he had Ori and Dori fall off the tree and grab onto Gandalf’s staff, while Thorin jumps into battle with Azog.
35. Andy Serkis helped film these amazing shots
As second unit director, it was Serkis’s responsibility to get the amazing aerial shots we see during the eagles’ escape. Serkis and aerial photographer David Nowell flew high above the mountains in a helicopter at dawn over several days to shoot them.
36. This shot was finished the day before the movie’s premiere
The shot of Smaug underneath the coins in Erebor was the final one completed for the movie. It was finished the day before the premiere; Jackson admits that there are issues with it, in particular the way the falling coins integrate with the static ones, but the massive rendering time for the CGI meant there was no time to correct it.
Source: Game Spot Mashup