For the last thirteen years, Peter Jackson has been the king of the box office, leaving us with a plethora of wonderful cinematic delights. It began in earnest with the release of The Lord of the Rings in 2001, and continued through to The Hobbit in 2014. The success of the first film led directly to the development of the second, with New Line Cinema and the Jackson team in a position to turn a profit on their considerable investment immediately.
Hobbit is the French word for ‘honey-pot’ – an idealized or fantasy representation of a quaint, rustic or picturesque village. The name first appeared in the writings of William Morris in the nineteenth century and was later adapted for the better-known fantasy series, Game of Thrones. The first reference to Hobbits in a film context can be found in Korda’s 1927 short Dark Wild, and while they didn’t make an appearance in a feature film until 1969’s Oh, What a Lovely War!, the fantasy genre has certainly embraced the diminutive race.
The Hobbit is the first of a trilogy directed by Philippa Boyes. The second film, The Desolation of Smaug, was released last year, while the final installment, There Will Be Blood, is set for release this December. It stars the great Ralph Fiennes as the intimidating baron of the same name, with a supporting cast that includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Liv Tyler, and Judi Dench. It’s fair to say that this is one film that you don’t want to miss!
The Return of Bilbo Baggins
The most prominent feature of the The Hobbit trilogy is the titular character, Bilbo Baggins, who is played throughout the three films by the incomparable Martin Freeman. We first meet the hobbit on the shores of an ominous looking river in The Lord of the Rings, where he has just set sail from the Shire to begin his journey to the capital city of Minas Tirith. His ship has been wrecked, and he is forced to find his way to the wizard Gandalf, who he hopes can help him find his way to safety. But this is no easy task, as the river paths are infested with giant spiders, who are more than capable of devouring him. With the help of a wily dwarf named Thorin, and a host of loyal creatures, the hobbit overcomes great obstacles to eventually reach his destination.
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are very much interconnected. They share not only a universe but a production team and many of the same crew members. In fact, the production designer for the latter, Ralph Wilson, went on to design the former’s Elven throne room. A lot has changed in the thirteen years between the two films, and while the locations have all stayed the same, the sets and costumes have aged gracefully.
One of the standout costumes from the film is Thorin’s hood, which he wears for much of the film. The costume is based on the design seen in the film’s prologue, which shows a stylized version of the dwarf’s face inside a pointed hood. This design was actually based on a painting by British artist Graham Botting, and appears to have been Botting’s inspiration for the design. The artist told The Huffington Post that he was contacted by Jackson’s team seeking an English artist to contribute to the film. Botting was more than happy to oblige, and went on to create the hood, along with the entire wardrobe for Thorin and company.
A More Naturalistic Look
Although The Hobbit is an adaptation of Tolkien’s popular fantasy novel, it is not intended to be a direct adaptation. The novel was first published in 1937, and in all the years since, has never been out of print. It is therefore safe to say that Tolkien’s meticulous crafting of Middle-earth is almost as familiar to the average fan as the stories themselves. The team behind the film wanted to bring the world of Tolkien’s fiction to life with all of the authenticity and depth that the novel’s exquisite prose and detail would allow for. As a result, many of the characters and settings of The Hobbit are deliberately modeled after their equivalents in Tolkien’s work, with the aim of capturing the heart and mind of moviegoers just as his classic stories had before them.
The result is a more naturalistic look than one might expect from a science fiction film. The lighting is more akin to that of a classical German expressionist film than a big-budget Hollywood effort, and the practical effects are incredibly well-done. There are no digital recreations of creatures and environments here, but rather a remarkable level of detail and texture. For instance, the sets and costumes for Dwarves, Orcs and Humans are all hand-painted, and the makeup for the latter is particularly meticulous, with lots of blue and red tones to give it a greater sense of realism. This is, in fact, the same team that brought us the stunning King Kong, so it’s clear they know what they’re doing.
A More Intimate Experience
It’s fair to say that in terms of sheer scale and spectacle, The Hobbit is a bit of a departure from the team’s previous collaborations. It’s the most expensive film yet made, with a budget of $155 million, and it takes up to five hours to bring the film to its conclusion, with some parts of it being longer. Still, this is more than made up for by the many wonderful moments of joy and intimacy that the film contains, from the character’s interactions with each other to the gorgeous landscapes and special effects. At least, as special effects go, this is one of the most sophisticated and intricate cinematic illusions ever created. Even the dwarf’s hair, which is made up of over 500,000 individual threads of wool, is precisely hand-knitted by Sara Foster, costume designer for the film. She told Vogue, “It was a massive amount of wool and it was very physically demanding to make the wig. I also did a lot of research into the most effective way of using wool and not too much makeup to show that the wig was actually made of hair.”
Foster went on to say that she was inspired by the look of Victoriana. “I love old gentlemen’s wigs and I wanted to do a combination of the two. There were a lot of old photographs that I studied, and it really was a labor of love.” The result is truly spectacular, especially as the wig is removed to reveal a perfect scalp all hidden underneath. This is, hands down, the greatest wig ever made for a film. And it’s not just the hair, as Foster also designed the costumes for the hairless Victorians, which are simply sublime.
A Film For Everyone
With its stunning visuals and incredible special effects, The Hobbit is undoubtedly one of the most attractive films of the year. It’s a film that will appeal to fans of Tolkien, as well as those who have always wished that they could’ve seen the adventures that Bilbo and his friends undergo. It also provides the opportunity for moviegoers to see characters and settings that they may not have gotten the chance to before, as there are many references to Tolkien’s work scattered throughout the film. In particular, there’s a reference to one of Tolkien’s poems in the film’s opening sequence, where a dwarf and an elf share a romantic moment. After the credits have rolled, the audience is treated to an image of a white rose, which appears to be taken directly from one of Tolkien’s poems. This is, in fact, a common occurrence throughout the film, as characters and settings from Tolkien’s work pop up here and there. Even the score is written in a style that moots an obvious Tolkien connection.
In terms of story, The Hobbit is extremely faithful to its literary source, with only the details changed as necessary to make it fit for the big screen. It is a basic quest narrative, with Bilbo searching for a lost treasure that will enable him to reclaim his birthright and realize his dreams of greatness. On his journey, he befriends a band of dwarves, who help him to unravel a mystery that surrounds the treasure. But of course, none of this would be possible if it weren’t for the man behind the lens – the great and talented Peter Jackson. It’s great to see such an incredible team again, and great to see that they’ve been able to elevate the cinema experience for fans of Tolkien everywhere. Let the games begin!