First published in September 1937, The Hobbit was written by English author J.R.R. Tolkien and charted the unexpected journey of a hobbit called Bilbo Baggins.
The novel’s continued success has led to Tolkien being labelled the father of modern fantasy, and he’s inspired an entire genre of copycats and tributes. The book has never been out of print.
With its themes of heroism and overcoming great odds, The Hobbit has often been related to Tolkien’s own experiences in the First World War. The author’s enthusiasm for fairy tales and knowledge of Anglo-Saxon literature also informed his writing.
The Hobbit met with universal praise upon its initial publication. Writing in The Times , C.S. Lewis (a friend to Tolkien and fellow author) surmised:
“The truth is that in this book a number of good things, never before united, have come together: a fund of humour, an understanding of children, and a happy fusion of the scholar’s with the poet’s grasp of mythology... The professor has the air of inventing nothing. He has studied trolls and dragons at first hand and describes them with that fidelity that is worth oceans of glib ‘originality’.”
A hobbit of the Shire, Bilbo Baggins, at his own admission, doesn’t like adventures. But he goes on one anyway in The Hobbit , when he embarks on a quest with Gandalf the Grey and thirteen dwarves who want him to be a burglar as they attempt to take back their former home, Lonely Mountain.
Smaug the Dragon
A great fire-drake and a powerful dragon, Smaug is as cunning as they come. With one glare he can put you under his spell, and he’s able to speak all the Common Speeches of all the races. He has taken the Lonely Mountain for himself, and sleeps atop a pile of the dwarves’ former riches.
Gandalf the Grey
A wise old wizard, Gandalf was specially chosen to protect the inhabitants of Middle-earth from evil. He has done so for over 2,000 years.
To the hobbits in The Hobbit , Gandalf is nothing more than a vain old conjurer – but he reveals his true power to Bilbo when he invites him on a quest to the Lonely Mountain.
The One Ring
Most powerful of the Rings of Power, the One Ring was forged by the Dark Lord Sauron, who planned to use it to seize power over Middle-earth. It appears briefly in The Hobbit , but is more important in Lord Of The Rings.
A key player in The Lord Of The Rings , Gollum was once a hobbit, but has been corrupted by the One Ring. His life has been extended beyond its natural limits by the power of the ring, and he’s lived for 400 years in the Misty Mountains. It’s here the he encounters Bilbo Baggins, who innocently takes the One Ring…
The Company of Dwarves
Led by Thorin Oakenshield, the Company consists of 13 dwarves. They are joined by Bilbo and Gandalf the Grey on their quest to take back Lonely Mountain, which once was theirs, but has been taken by Smaug the dragon.
The company consists of (deep breath) Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Fíli, Kíli, Dori, Nori, Ori, Óin, Glóin, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur.
Dwelling in the forests around Imladris, or Rivendell, Bilbo encounters three of these creatures during his journey with the dwarves. They were briefly glimpsed in the film's trailer (above).
Forest trolls are sensitive to sunlight, which can turn them to stone. They are also held to be the most intelligent breed of troll, being equipped with the gift of speech.
In 1977, the first feature length adaptation of The Hobbit hit screens. Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr., it was made on a budget of just $3m and broadcast on NBC.
A snip at just 77 minutes in length, the animated musical omitted certain sections from the novel, but was still warmly received as a loyal adaptation that clearly loved the source material.
Before the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit aired on NBC, the pair were working on a follow-up that would use material from The Return Of The King . The film brought back many of the voice artists used in The Hobbit . Sadly, the film received only a lukewarm response.
As early as 1995, New Zealand filmmakers Peter Jackson and his writing partner Fran Walsh decided they wanted to make The Hobbit into a movie. They would then follow that up with back-to-back versions of Lord Of The Rings.
However, a rights kerfuffle – in which distribution rights to any movie version of The Hobbit still belonged to United Artists – meant that the pair decided to make Lord Of The Rings instead.
The Lord Of The Rings
Though long considered an unfilmable novel, Jackson and Walsh managed to bring Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings to life with considerable skill and dexterity. Using the very best of modern technology, they blended CGI with beautiful costume and set designs to create something truly magical.
A little lawsuit
It didn’t look good, though, in March 2005, when Jackson filed a lawsuit against New Line stating he’d lost revenue from video games and merchandising from The Fellowship Of The Ring .
A New Line spokesperson commented: “We don't agree with plaintiff's claims, and will defend ourselves vigorously.”
After Jackson’s legal action against New Line, company head Robert Shaye declared that the director would never make a film with the production company again.
But by August 2007, New Line had a string of flops on its hands, and Shaye was back asking Jackson to work with him. “I really respect and admire Peter and would love for him to be creatively involved in some way in The Hobbit ,” he said.
In April 2007, with New Line keen to get a new Hobbit adaptation off the ground, director Sam Raimi expressed an interest in helming it himself.
Speaking with EW , the Evil Dead helmer revealed: “If Peter didn't want to do it, and Bob [ Shaye ] wanted me to do it - and they were both okay with me picking up the reins - that would be great. I love the book. It's maybe a more kid-friendly story than the others.”
By December 2007, it was announced that Peter Jackson would produce not one, but two Hobbit movies. He wouldn’t be directing this time around, so New Line were looking for a replacement megaphone-holder, with 2010 and 2011 release dates planned for the two entries.
So why two movies? Well, here’s Jackson to explain. “One of the drawbacks of The Hobbit is [ that ] it's relatively lightweight compared to Lord Of The Rings ... There [ are ] a lot of sections in which a character like Gandalf disappears for a while.
“I think he references going off to meet with the White Council, who are actually characters like Galadriel and Saruman and people that we see in Lord Of The Rings . He mysteriously vanishes for a while and then comes back, but we don't really know what goes on.”
Though Jackson has no specific plans to adapt Tolkien’s other ‘legendarium’ tomes in their entirety, his talk of the White Council confirms that he’s taking plots from Tolkien’s compendium The Silmarillion to flesh out The Hobbit . Other additions include the appearance of the Necromancer.
Guillermo del Toro
April 2008, and The Hobbit finally had a director in the form of Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro. The Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth director decided to up sticks and move to New Zealand for four years in order to take on the mammoth job.
Del Toros vision
Del Toro had a very definite idea of how he wanted to tackle The Hobbit. He describes the world of that book as a “world that is slightly more golden at the beginning, a very innocent environment [...] taking you from a time of more purity to a darker reality throughout the film, but [ in a manner ] in the spirit of the book.”
Del Toro’s ambitions didn’t stop there. He also wanted to take a more hands-on approach to the special effects, not a surprise considering his love of practical effects.
“We really want to take the state-of-the-art animatronics and take a leap 10 years into the future with the technology we will develop for the creatures in the movie,” he said. “We have every intention to do for animatronics and special effects what the other films did for virtual reality.”
The first in many delays for the production came when it was revealed MGM - who were involved in financing The Hobbit films - were almost bankrupt. Struggling under a reported debt of almost $3m, the studio was forced to put all of its in-production properties on ice – including The Hobbit and Bond 23.
After waiting for MGM to extricate themselves from their money problems, Del Toro made the difficult decision to leave production of The Hobbit .
“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,” he told TheOneRing.net. "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.”
Rumours of a replacement director for Del Toro quickly started, with the likes of District 9 helmer Neill Blomkamp and Harry Potter ’s David Yates both apparently in the running to steer the films to success. But rumour had it that New Line and MGM had their eye on somebody else.
In October 2010, the impossible was announced – Peter Jackson would be directing the two film versions of The Hobbit .
“Exploring Tolkien’s Middle-earth goes way beyond a normal film-making experience,” he said. “It’s an all-immersive journey into a very special place of imagination, beauty and drama. We’re looking forward to re-entering this wondrous world with Gandalf and Bilbo.”
An Elvish long knife, Sting is taken up by Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit when he discovers it in the midst of a troll hoard. In his tiny hobbit hands, it’s big enough to be used as a sword, and has the handy addition of glowing whenever Orcs or Goblins are nearby.
Forged for Turgon, an elf, Glamdring is a two-handed sword that went missing for over 6,000 years. It was eventually discovered by Gandalf the Grey among the same troll loot that Bilbo came across Sting. Gandalf uses the sword later in Lord Of The Rings .
With Peter Jackson looking to bridge The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings , he turned to many of his LOTR cast members to help him. Which means that, though Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel and Orlando Bloom’s Legolas don’t appear in Tolkien’s tome, they’ll appear in the movie versions of The Hobbit . And someone else is also back…
Frodo wouldn’t have been even a glimmer in his mother’s eye at the time of The Hobbit , but he’ll appear in the movie to help bridge the gap between Jackson's films.
“There only would have been reservation about taking the part if there had been something that had infringed upon the integrity of the original book,” says Elijah Wood about returning. “But that was never going to be the case. It’s going to be like going back in time.”
According to TheOneRing.net, Frodo’s involvement in The Hobbit will mostly serve as a framing device. The book that Bilbo writes in The Lord Of The Rings will be read by Frodo in The Hobbit , who experiences Bilbo’s adventures at the same time that we do. Think The Neverending Story.
Who to play Bilbo, though? Ian Holm did a fantastic job in LOTR , so they’d need an equally skilled actor to play his younger self. Jackson found his man in Brit Martin Freeman, who originally had to turn the role down because of commitments to TV series Sherlock .
“When I found out I couldn't do both it was very sad,” Freeman says. “And then it was very flattering when Peter Jackson rearranged the filming around my availability. It's very daunting - the daunting part is leaving home…”
Only ever one Baggins
“Despite the various rumours and speculation surrounding this role, there has only ever been one Bilbo Baggins for us,” Peter Jackson said in a press release that coincided with Freeman’s casting.
“There are a few times in your career when you come across an actor who you know was born to play a role, but that was the case as soon as I met Martin. He is intelligent, funny, surprising and brave – exactly like Bilbo and I feel incredibly proud to be able to announce that he is our Hobbit.”
To play the dragon Smaug, Jackson turned to another Sherlock cast member – Benedict Cumberbatch. And despite playing a massive scaly lizard, Cumberbatch will don a mo-cap suit the play the beast in its entirely.
“I’m physicalising him as a dragon I’m not just doing the voiceover,” says the actor, who’ll also voice the Necromancer, “so it’ll be a physical role which I’m no stranger to."
With Gollum appearing in The Hobbit , Andy Serkis would of course return to play the role a second time. But he’ll have an added responsibility this time around – he’ll be in charge of filming second unit footage.
“It’s quite fascinating,” he says. “I’m having a ball. It’s a huge operation, really. We’re on the road at the moment, at various different locations on South Island in New Zealand. There are some truly remarkable landscapes that we’re filming in. It’s just stunning.”
Everybody’s favourite British know-it-all will play the Master of Lake-town, and it seems the keen Tolkien fan has enjoyed grossing it up a little.
“My character is an opportunity for sheer grossness... [ Peter Jackson ] had me eating testicles... gross appetites. I mustn't give too much away but I've got a bald cap and then on top of that a really bad combover wig and this wispy mustache and wispy beard and horrible blotchy skin and disgusting fingernails.”
Another delay struck production when the Australian trade union MEAA (Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance) issued a warning that no New Zealand actors should take jobs on The Hobbit unless Jackson agreed to give “minimum guarantees on wages and working conditions”.
In retaliation, Jackson considered filming in Eastern Europe instead, which led to crisis talks with the NZ Prime Minister himself. Finally things were resolved, with filming set to take place in New Zealand as planned.
Just when things were getting underway, another problem - a fire burned Jackson’s workshop to the ground. It would have been used during shooting, and added yet another setback to the production. It took 50 fire fighters to stop the blaze.
Leading the Company of Dwarves, Richard Armitage will play Thorin Oakenshield.
“Richard is one of the most exciting and dynamic actors working on screen today and we know he is going to make an amazing Thorin Oakenshield,” says Jackson. “We cannot wait to start this adventure with him and feel very lucky that one of the most beloved characters in Middle Earth is in such good hands.”
Jackson wasn’t kidding when he said he’d use the newest technology to make The Hobbit something really special. He decided to use 30 brand new Red Epic cameras to shoot the films in 3D.
“It is a fantastic tool,” says Jackson, “the Epic not only has cutting edge technology, incredible resolution and visual quality, but it is also a very practical tool for film makers.”
Serkis couldn’t agree more about the quality of the Red Epic. “It’s unlike anything I have ever seen before,” he says. “The brain has become so attuned to watching films at 24 frames a second.
"This is something completely different. It’s incredible. You feel inside it and surrounded by it. It’s really great. People will not be disappointed.”
In the wake of the MGM financial crisis, Warner Bros agreed to fund the production. No mean feat, when the budget for both movies comes to a gargantuan $500m.
That sum is particularly staggering when you consider that each of the Lord Of The Rings films individually cost around $94m each, meaning the budget for the entire trilogy was around $280m. Expect big things.
With a start date for The Hobbit pinpointed for February 2011, Peter Jackson suddenly fell ill with stomach pains in late January and was admitted to Wellington Hospital where he underwent surgery for a perforated ulcer.
“Sir Peter's surgery is not expected to impact on his directing commitment to The Hobbit beyond a slight delay to the start of filming,” read the official statement.
A new start date
As Jackson recuperated from the stomach surgery, a new start date for shooting was set – 21 March 2011. “Despite some delays we are fully back on track and very excited to get started,” Jackson said at the time.
In May 2011, the official titles for the two Hobbit films were revealed as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: There And Back Again . The latter is the alternative title Tolkien dreamed up for The Hobbit , while the former is the title of the book’s first chapter.
Peter Jackson has spent the entire shooting period of The Hobbit hosting production video diaries, which give unprecedented behind the scenes access to the movies. Nimbly dodging spoilers while giving us a fascinating insight into the making of the films, they’re a treasure trove of facts and entertaining in their own right. Check out the latest one below…
The first trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey landed on 21 December 2011, giving us our first taste of the film. Check it out below…
Love your Lord Of The Rings extended editions? Get ready for The Hobbit to get the same treatment. Jackson has admitted that he “would like to make extended editions for the [Hobbit] movies”.
Even better, you can expect them to “look very similar to the Lord of the Rings Extended Editions”, so your DVD collection will still look beautiful.
The Lord Of The Rings films were all released sequentially over three Christmasses, making them an annual event for movie-goers.
Jackson will be replicating that formula with The Hobbit , as An Unexpected Journey is released on 14 December 2012, and There And Back Again hits screens on 13 December 2013.