Los Angeles. After bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy to life, filmmaker Peter Jackson is back in the world of Middle Earth with the author’s prequel, “The Hobbit.”
The three-film series is due to open in US theaters on Friday with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
The Oscar-winning director, 51, told Reuters about the 3D film, including the 48 frames per second (fps) format he used, which was widely debated by fans and critics.
You originally intended “The Hobbit” to only be two parts. Why stretch it out to three?
Back in July, we were near the end of our shoot and we started to talk about the things that we had to leave out of the movies. There’s material at the end of “The Return of the King” (the final part of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) in the appendices that takes place around the time of “The Hobbit.”
We were thinking, this is our last chance because it’s very unlikely we’re ever going to come back to Middle Earth as filmmakers. So we talked to the studio and next year we’re going to be doing another 10 to 12 weeks of shooting because we’re now adapting more of Tolkien’s material.
At what point did you decide you would direct the film yourself after originally handing it to Guillermo del Toro?
At the time (we wrote the script), I was worried about repeating myself and worried that I was competing with myself. I thought it would be interesting to have another director with a fresh eye coming in and telling the story. But after Guillermo left, having worked on script and the production for well over a year at that stage, I was very emotionally attached to it. I just thought, this is an opportunity I’m not going to say no to.
You hired Gollum actor Andy Serkis to do second unit directing on the film, something he has never done before. What made you hand the task to a novice?
I know how strongly Andy has been wanting to direct. One of the problems with second unit is that you tend to have conservative footage given to you by the director. They play it safe. I knew that I wouldn’t get that from Andy because he’s got such a ferocious energy. He goes for it and doesn’t hold back. I knew that if Andy was the director I would be getting some interesting material, that it would have a life and energy to it.
What inspired you to make a film in 48 fps?
Four years ago I shot a six or seven minute King Kong ride for Universal Studios’ tram ride in California. The reason we used the high frame rate was that we didn’t want people to think it’s a movie. You want that sense of reality, which you get from a high frame rate, of looking in to the real world. At the time, I thought it would be so cool to make a feature film with this process.
Not everyone has embraced “The Hobbit” in 48 fps.
For the last year and a half there’s been speculation, largely negative, about it and I’m so relieved to have gotten to this point. I’ve been waiting for this moment when people can actually see it for themselves. Cinephiles and serious film critics who regard 24 fps as sacred are very negative and absolutely hate it. Anybody I’ve spoken to under the age of 20 thinks it’s fantastic. I haven’t heard a single negative thing from the young people, and these are the kids that are watching films on their iPads. These are the people I want to get back in the cinema.
Why all the hoopla over a frame rate?
Somehow as humans, we have a reaction to change that’s partly fear driven. But there are so many ways to look at movies now and it’s a choice that a filmmaker has. To me as a filmmaker, you’ve got to take the technology that’s available in 2012, not the technology we’ve lived with since 1927, and say how can we enhance the experience in the cinema? How can we make it more immersive, more spectacular?
George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney for $4 billion. Do you think you will sell your New Zealand facility Weta someday?
I would if I want to retire at some stage and want to have a nice easy life, which will hopefully happen one day. But in the foreseeable future, the fact that I’m an owner of my own digital effects facility is a fantastic advantage for me.”
When we asked the studio if we could shoot “The Hobbit” at 48 fps, we promised the budget would be the same. But it actually does have a cost implication because you’ve got to render twice as many frames and the rendering takes more time. The fact that we owned Weta and could absorb that in-house was actually part of the reason we were able to do the 48 frames.