So, yesterday I finally managed to get hold of the 20th anniversary issue of EMPIRE magazine ("June 2009"), with its joint interview of Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro (pages 136-140). The two men do a good job of describing the upcoming films in broad terms, and their answers are clearly meant to reassure the nervous that the project is in good hands.
Where They're At:
They've finished the story outlines and 'treatment' for both parts of the two-part HOBBIT film, and the studios have signed off on their treatments. This means they're now ready to begin work on the scripts (and, the interview having been some two months ago, are probably well into this stage by now). Having the 'treatment' locked in means they now pretty much know what the film will include at a scene-to-scene level. This being the case, they're ready to start casting, since they know now specifically which characters will be included. They're already been at work on models (maquettes) and will soon do the location scouting for filmed-on-location outdoors scenes (one of the features everybody agrees Jackson & company did a splendid job with on the original trilogies of movies). They have oral agreements from McKellan and Serkis to reprise their roles as Gandalf (the Grey) and Gollum, respectively, but apparently don't have contracts locked in yet. Rather to my surprise,* Howard Shore is returning to score both films, proving that the Tenniel-&-Carroll analogy holds after all. Perhaps he's realized that the Jackson trilogy will be the film scores he's remembered for, and perhaps he'll find del Torro easier to work with. Also, Alan Lee and John Howe are back as part of the design team and starting work "very soon" (again, by now they're probably already at it).
What Will They Keep?
They specifically criticize the Rankin-Bass film for eliminating Beorn, and reject the views of "some people" that the Spiders of Mirkwood shd be cut. "We wanted to keep every iconic moment" seems to be their mantra. Hence the expansion to two films rather than cutting to fit into a single one: "We just decided it would be a mistake to try to cram everything into one movie". Del Torro also calls out at one point the interesting feature of THE HOBBIT being that almost all the villains Bilbo encounters can speak, as opposed to LotR "where monsters were not often articulate" (e.g., Shelob and the Balrog, the Nazgul and their winged mounts).
What Will They Add?
A significant amount of screen time will be devoted to Gandalf's activities when he's not with Bilbo & company. Both meetings with the White Council** and Gandalf's explorations into Dol Guldur will be on-screen, and there's mention of Jackson & del Torro "having to deal with Sauron . . . how exactly he manifests himself and what form he's in", which suggests at least on-screen glances at The Necromancer, whether or not he and Gandalf have an upclose and personal encounter. Also, there's mention of including Thrain's backstory. Their general procedure seems to be nicely summed up in the line "we're sort of fleshing out The Hobbit and expanding it sideways, up and down". Although it's not specifically stated, it sounds as if all of Thorin & Company will be there, though Jackson states their intention to develop "five or six" to concentrate on in their interactions with Bilbo. This of course is v. close to what Tolkien himself did: we have much stronger impressions of what Thorin, Balin, Fili & Kili, and Bombur (and to a lesser extent Dori and Gloin) were like than, say, Oin or Bifur. There's no mention of whether they have David Salo or another Tolkien linguist at work on creating them either some dwarven dialogue (for scenes of dwarves talking to dwarves, either on Thrain's expedition, in the Kingdom Under the Mountain before its fall, or even whispered conversations between Thorin's dwarves) or more Sindarin (for overheard elf-talk during all those weeks and weeks when Bilbo is trapped being a permanent burglar in the Halls of the Elven King) or even Black Speech (at Dol Guldur).
Also, on a 'look and feel' note, I was surprised to see that Mike Mignola and Wayne Barlowe have joined Lee & Howe on the design team. I hope this doesn't mean the appearance of Bilbo's world will be dragged off into a more cartoony or alien-techy direction.
What Will They Change?
"We are trying to make the book a little less random" -- in large part, it seems, by telling some of it from Gandalf's point of view rather than keeping to Bilbo all the way through. This makes a lot of sense from a filmmaker's point of view, and there's also the market pressure to consider in that fans of the original Jackson trilogy will want to see old favorites appear if they can be worked in. Then too most viewers will come to the film(s) having already seen the LotR movies, and not fresh as a new reader to the world as most first experience THE HOBBIT as a book.
For me, their approach runs the danger of making a movie that's less like THE HOBBIT than "The Quest of Erebor" or even "The 1960 Hobbit". So it'll be interesting to see how they guard against that peril.
A Few Good Quotes:
"the beauty of The Hobbit is that, ultimately, the point of view is a smaller adventure in a very rich world"
"We've done a lot of things we hope Professor Tolkien would have approved of" -- a forlorn hope, I suspect (I don't think Tolkien cd ever have brought himself to fully approve of any adaptation of his works), but it will serve them well to have this as a good goal to shoot for.
So. We'll see. They start shooting in March (2010), with the first film to debut about two and a half years from now in December 2011. But make no mistake: a lot of people are already hard at work on this one (del Torro mentions "six, seven hours every day for the last few months"), and will be at least through the dvd release of the second film (say about the end of 2013, assuming we get expanded editions again with THE HOBBIT as we did with each film that made up Jackson's LotR).
*and proof that Douglas Kane got it right in his comment on my previous post about the film(s) back in April
**a good excuse to work Galadriel and Saruman into the story, along with more Elrond, but does this mean we'll finally get to see Radagast the Brown, himself and in person? Callooh, Callay.