Middle-earth by the Numbers: From LORD OF THE RINGS to THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

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The Lord of the Rings trilogy stands as a singular achievement in the history of cinema.  Peter Jackson would have to be crazy to return to this world in the shadow of the enormous financial and artistic success of the Rings series.  Thankfully Jackson is crazy, and just kicked off another Tolkien-based trilogy with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. To explore the legacy of The Lord of the Rings and how The Hobbit matches up, I tried to capture how the series has evolved over the last decade with Middle-earth by the Numbers.  The feature provides a numbers-based snapshot of each movie and its place in the filmography by looking at the box office, critical reception, and miscellaneous facts.

Hit the jump for a comprehensive review of Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, Return of the King, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

 

lord of the rings fellowship of the ring

Fellowship of the Ring

Year: 2001
RT: 92%
Worldwide Gross: $872 million

  • 150 million – Copies sold of J.  R.  R.  Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as of April 2007.
  • 2 – Parts in the original plan to adapt Rings.  Miramax announced in January 1997 they secured the LOTR rights for Peter Jackson to direct.  The project stalled because Miramax purportedly could not find a budget that met the approval of Disney (who owned Miramax at the time).  Jackson recalls: “Miramax asked us to abandon the idea of two films and compress it into one as their way of dealing with the budget.  But you’d be losing so many characters and so many events, anybody who read the book would have a natural disappointment.”
  • 45 – Minutes Jackson spent pitching the two–part version of Lord of the Rings to New Line.  New Line CEO Robert Shaye liked what he heard, but was confused why Jackson pitched two movies when there are three books.  Jackson was amazed: “It was one of those unbelievable moments.  Three films, of course, was our dream.” New Line signed the deal for three movies and paid Miramax a reported $10 million (plus points on the back end) for early development work.
  • 150 – Actors who Jackson auditioned for the lead role, Frodo.  Jackson was convinced that Elijah Wood, then just 18 years old, was the man for the part as soon as he saw Wood’s audition tape.
  • 15 – Months allotted to shoot all three films in Jackson’s home country, New Zealand.  The trilogy budget was $285 million and required a crew of more than 2,500 people, most of whom were Kiwi locals.
  • 9 – Members of the Fellowship of the Ring: Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gimli, Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Boromir.  Before filming began the actors trained for 6 weeks.  Jackson hoped the actors would bond so the chemistry might translate to the screen.  It worked: Each cast member got a tattoo of the Elvish symbol for the number nine.  Except for John Rhys–Davies, whose stunt double took on the tattoo.
  • 4 – Approximate height in feet of a hobbit.  Several tricks were employed to make the actors playing the hobbits appear much smaller than their co-stars.  For instance, certain sets like Bag End were built twice at two different sizes so each character would look the right height relative to their surroundings.  The effect was not always so complicated.  Occasionally the Hobits simply knelt down in the frame.
  • 1 – Ring to rule them all.

Filmmaker: “I can squeeze the books into two movies to save you money.” Studio: “Why don’t you just make three movies?” That anecdote always amazes me.  It is the reverse of everything we expect from the filmmaker/studio relationship.  $3 billion later, it seems like a no–brainer, but there was no precedent for a fantasy series on screen that would justify a $300 million investment, no matter how large the built–in audience who love the book.  By Box Office Mojo’s classification, the only pure fantasy film to gross more than $100 million domestically prior to 2000 is Hook (though admittedly they don’t include mixed–genre fare like Star Wars).  New Line’s support set a new ceiling for what the Lord of the Rings could be on screen, and Jackson proved up to the task.

 

lord of the rings two towers

The Two Towers

Year: 2002
RT: 96%
Worldwide Gross: $926 million

  • 40,000 – Toy soldiers Jackson used to plan the Battle of Helm’s Deep.  Conceptual Designer Alan Lee created a miniature of Helm’s Deep at 1:35 scale as one of his first tasks when he joined the production in 1997.  The miniature was eventually used in long shots for filming along with a “big-ature” at 1:4 scale (7 feet tall, 50 feet wide) that was used for the big explosion.
  • 700 – Extras on set for the Battle of Helm’s Deep.  It took 4 months to shoot the massive battle, mostly at night.
  • 6 – Months to build the Rohan capital Edoras on the side of Mount Sunday.  Since the cast and crew spent months living at the site, the thatched-roof buildings doubled as offices and mess halls.  The Conservation Society of New Zealand granted permission to film here, in the middle of a national park, as long as the crew returned the land to its original state once filming was finished.
  • 11,000 – Sandbags used in the construction of the Dead Marshes set.
  • 799 – Digital effects shots, totaling 73 minutes of runtime.  The massive battle scene explains some of the reliance on effects, but the key innovation was Gollum.  Weta Digital started testing animation for Gollum in 1998 to prove to New Line they could make the digital character work on screen.  Then came Andy Serkis, now the godfather of motion capture performance.  Jackson was so impressed with Serkis’ performance that he brought Serkis on to set to interact with the other actors.
  • 15 – Times Gollum says his catchphrase word, “precious,” over the course of the film.
  • 48 – Hours needed to render the most complex frames of Treebeard.  For comparison, one frame of Gollum took about 8 minutes to render.

Two Towers sometimes catches flak for the lulls that come with being the middle chapter.  But it also gave us Gollum, who I see as the signature character of the film trilogy.  And you can’t go too wrong when a giant night battle is your climax.  Two Towers successfully maintained the quality of the first film and with just enough momentum to reach the conclusion of the trilogy with few signs of wear—no easy task.

Head to page 2 for the numbers on Return of the King and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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  • Ryan

    McKenzie says more than 1 line and seven words. He says two lines to Gandalf when he comes in. He says “Welcome, Gandalf” and “My Lord Elrond is not here” or something to that nature.

    • Jay

      I was going to correct the author on this as well, but to the author’s credit, I didn’t know who I was looking at (although I knew he looked familiar) until his second appearance.

      But, this was IMAX and his face was as big as a two-story building, so I can’t say with 100% certainty that it was truly him the first time. Definitely the second, though.

    • http://twitter.com/colliderbrendan Brendan Bettinger

      Sorry guys. Updated the post.

  • Northern Star

    It’s just a pity that financially-induced delays led to Guillermo del Toro leaving ‘The Hobbit’ project… it is undoubtedly one of those tantalizing ‘what if’ scenarios! I firmly believe it would have been preferable for Peter Jackson not to direct these new movies, not because he’s up to the task – quite the contrary – but because the sheer weight of the legacy of his ‘…Rings’ trilogy and the inevitable comparisons between the two, ‘The Hobbit’ films needed a new and equally visionary director who would put his own individual stamp on them, setting them apart from ‘…Rings’, and del Toro’s insistence on using animatronics over CGI would have been extraordinary on a visual level, alas…

    • Northern Star

      Oops, should have wrote above “… not that he (Peter Jackson) is NOT up to the task …”, didn’t mean to say I don’t think Jackson is up to doing ‘The Hobbit’ films, when nothing could be further from the truth, sorry all…

    • Truthsayer

      Del Toro is an overrated hack, he would’ve ruined it. Azog and the scenes where he doesn’t talk in English reeked of Del Toro and was a slight blight on the movie. Del Toro simply doesn’t deserve the status fans award him- Pan’s Labyrinth was pretty good but depressing as hell and I’d never watch it again. It just wasn’t that compelling, unlike other ‘miserable’ films like Schindler’s List which you could watch again and again. Hellboy was ok, Hellboy 2 was atrocious and Blade 2, well, let’s not talk about that.

  • jamface

    Glad Del toro left…..Peter Jackson’s stories and look are consistent. with him doing all the movies you can have that marathon of watching (over a few days of course) and not have a weird harsh change of venue so to speak from movie to move …6 fantastic movies to be enjoyed and cherished …and 1 incredible director that ruled them all !

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  • Phil Mashek

    I really enjoy these By The Number articles. I hope they stay around. Great read! Thanks!

  • Pocketses

    Love these articles, and a great read on this one.

    I’m truly saddened more people have not liked The Hobbit as much as the original trilogy. I have faith in the end, they ‘ll come around when they view it as a whole trilogy, but personally, I loved it every bit as much as I did Two Towers and Return of the King, and almost as much as Fellowship.

    I will never understand what people were expecting. There were two major additions, and they took up such a minimal amount of time. They were also well executed, fit well with the story and flow of the film, and made me excited for the upcoming sequels. I don’t know what Jackson could have cut to make it flow faster, there wasn’t much filler, at least not as much as the film’s detractors have been claiming.

    But in the end, I care not, this film is perfect in my eyes, and I cannot wait for the follow up.

    • Truthsayer

      “I’m truly saddened more people have not liked The Hobbit as much as the original trilogy.”

      You need to understand the difference between critics, and not even a majority of them at that, and the audience.

  • Chad

    That 66% RT score makes me laugh, especially compared to the previous trilogy’s reviews. Looks like Jackson should’ve kept it at 2 films MAX and suppressed his ego.

    • Truthsayer

      Looks like you shouldn’t be a pathetic sheep and form your own opinion rather than piggy backing on someone else’s. Someone you don’t even know. So pathetic..

  • MainFragger

    1. I didn’t find the movie too long. I like fantasy films, and truthfully, as long as something interesting is happening, I’d not get bored of a 6 hour film.

    2. I did enjoy the consistancy of the look and feel of the films..

    3. I didn’t get to see the 48 frame version, but the 24 was clearly too slow..there were scenes where 3D hurt my eyes because the frame rate couldn’t keep up with the panning camera.

    4. The Hobbit was a good book, but a lot more uneven than the LotR trilogy. Still, I enjoyed its innocence a little more than LotR and its humour. The Hobbit was all about adventure, glory and reclaiming the dwarve’s homeland…its a hopeful tale.. LotR was all about everything going to hell in a hand basket because the master of evil was returning..it was all Doom and Gloom. To the point of being super melodramatic.

    5. I agree the effects have really advanced since he first films.. Gollum, the Storm/Stone giants, the Goblins, the Orcs, the Dragon, all look phenomenal. The sets were amazing.

    6. The thing I kind of like about The Hobbit is that you can really see the foreshadowing of LotR apparent throughout the film. It is one of the few times I’ve seen a prequal made where I felt like it really is an extension of the same story. Most other prequals I’ve seen take me out of head space of the original story because they are too different. Star Wars being the worst example I can think of, because eps. 1-3 totally didn’t fit in with how things were described as unfolding in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi..

  • Andrew Gates

    This is not a traditional review of The Hobbit, more of a focus on the writing and directorial choices rather than music, acting or high frame rate.

    First, I want to make a point about the story itself. This story is the most self-contained of all in the series so far. It has all basic elements, the beginning, the inciting incident, the turning point, the climax… just as a regular story structure should. More importantly, it has strong character development. If you compare Frodo from the beginning of “Fellowship of the Ring” to the end, he is certainly a different person, but it’s less of a dramatic shift. He wasn’t nearly as opposed to going on an adventure in the beginning as Bilbo so you didn’t get to see as much of a dramatic change as Frodo warms up to the idea. Frodo’s inexperience with fighting and combat wasn’t nearly as blatant so when he finally starts fighting, it’s insignificant. We don’t see him grow or change much. Frankly, in the subsequent films after “Fellowship of the Ring”, Frodo doesn’t really change a whole lot at all. We pretty much get a love/hate relationship with Frodo towards the Ring for the entire next two movies with a passable character arc regarding his changing feelings towards Sméagol and Sam. In “An Unexpected Journey” we get a much more gripping story of a Hobbit who very clearly did not want to go on an adventure but warms up to the idea of it. He also finds his courage and bravery and wins the heart of Thorin, who undergoes his own character development too. “An Unexpected Journey” has the best character development out of all in the series so far and partially for that same reason, this film works better as a standalone piece than the others.

    As for the runtime, it was long. But that was not problematic. I didn’t have a problem with the runtime and at no point was I thinking to myself “When is this over?” I attribute that to its storytelling. This film has the best momentum out of all in the series. With the other movies, there was a wave of action, then some downtime and then the action rose again and then it fell again. There was a constant rise and fall of action throughout. With “An Unexpected Journey” you find that the level of action grows consistently as the movie progresses, which helps draw the audience in and bring them along with what’s happening on screen. The story built. It didn’t just jump right into it like “Fellowship of the Ring” did. It’s certainly a more gripping and exciting way to tell a story. In fact, the only things I would consider being cut would be the fight between the Stone Giants or the scene when the Dwarfs do Bilbo’s dishes. Other than that, everything has its place.

    The large flashback battle sequences with the dwarfs, while I would’ve preferred to see more use of practical effects, didn’t so much bother me because as a flashback, it can be more stylized. The reclaiming of Moria for example looked really cool despite having a lot of CG in it. However, it’s when you get into things like Azog or the goblins when I feel like CG was used to excess. The other orc villains we’ve seen in the series were never digitally rendered. They were done using practical effects and they were very creepy. Even the goblins in Moria in “Fellowship of the Ring” were done with practical effects rather than digital rendering. It’s a generally well accepted fact that if you can do something practically, you should do it. Directors who understand this have made masterpieces using practical effects over CGI. In fact during early pre-production of the movie, back when Guillermo Del Toro was on board as director, Del Toro was pushing for the use of more practical effects. Frankly, despite my absolute love for Peter Jackson, I think in this particular instance, Del Toro would’ve been the better choice. I think Del Toro’s vision for creature design was superior to that of Jackson’s. But directors these days choose to push the limits of what they can create visually, despite the more realistic factor produced by the alternative. Jackson has simply fallen victim to this trend. However, despite my criticism of the overuse of GCI, I still am not too bothered by it. I’ve seen worse. And frankly, it’s very good CGI. It’s not that the movie is throwing too much CGI at once, it’s that it’s using CG as a substitute or “way out” when it could be doing other things.

    The tone of this movie, as expected, is a lot lighter than that of the other Tolkien iterations we’ve seen. But frankly, that should come as a surprise to no one even vaguely familiar with the story. Yet, Jackson managed to sprinkle some darker elements in there which blend nicely. We get some good foreshadow which will help build “The Hobbit” trilogy into “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I think the way Jackson has set this up will make it especially good as one grand arc encompassing the six movie series. That fact also applies in pacing as well. This movie has a slower pace than all the others. When viewed together, the movies will blend really well from one to the next both in pacing and tone.

    All in all, this was a very good movie. Bilbo is a much more interesting character than Frodo. We see a lot of character growth. We see a lot of action, but we still get a smaller scaled story. All in all, I think with the exception of some CG choices which honestly don’t bother me too much, this movie was done about as well as it could’ve been.

    • Truthsayer

      Nice review. I agree and disagree about Del Toro- I agree about the use of practical effects yet not of the use of him; he’s an overrated hack and his creature designs in the Hellboy films (think the troll sidekick and the market in Hellboy 2) were atrocious, reminiscent of really sh*tty 80s fantasy films. The CGI didn’t bother me at all and actually I think the less seriously designed the enemies are fits the tone of the story-it is lighter after all. What you said about Bilbo, that “he also finds his courage and bravery and wins the heart of Thorin” sounded a little unnecessarily gay but whatever. I can’t wait to see the six movies one after the other but when I have kids I think I’ll show them LOTR first, as with kids effects are everything and I don’t want them to be disappointed by LOTR after seeing The Hobbit’s. That would be a crime against humanity lol.

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