Return of the King
Worldwide Gross: $1.1 billion
- 52 – Takes of the scene where the Rohirrim charge the Pelennor needed before Jackson and the crew were satisfied with what they shot.
- 1,488 – Visual effects shots in Return of the King. That is nearly twice what Weta Digital had to create for the effects-heavy Two Towers. By the last two months of post-production, the effects team often worked until 2am to deliver up to 100 shots per week.
- 3 – Weeks spent editing the last 45 minutes of the film. The first cut came in at 4.5 hours in November 2002. It took a year to pare that down to the theatrical cut of 201 minutes, locked in on November 12, 2003. Thanks to a hectic schedule, the first time Jackson saw the final cut in full was at the world premiere in Wellington on December 1.
- 263 – Runtime in minutes of the special extended Blu-ray edition. The theatrical cut (201 minutes) of Return was the only Rings movie to exceed 200 minutes—both Fellowship and Towers came in a minute or two shy of three hours.
- $1,119,929,521 – Total worldwide gross. Return of the King was just the second movie to surpass $1 billion worldwide after Titanic. Currently Return ranks 6thon the all-time worldwide list and 19th on the domestic list with $378 million.
- 11 – Oscar nominations and wins. Return of the King won Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture at the 2004 Academy Awards. This ties Ben-Hur and Titanic for the most Oscar wins. The trilogy only landed one acting nomination: Ian McKellen for Fellowship of the Ring.
- 6 million – Feet of film shot over the course of the trilogy. That’s over 1,000 miles. This captured 20,602 background actors; 114 speaking parts; 48,000 pieces of armor; 500 bows; 10,000 arrows; 19,000 costumes; 1,600 pairs of prosthetic hobbit feet; 180 CGI effects employees; 100 New Zealand locations.
It is still up for debate whether Lord of the Rings is the greatest film trilogy of all time, but it is surely the most consistent. The argument that it is both the best and the most consistent is borne out by the IMDB Top 250, where Return ranks 9th, Fellowship is 13th, and Two Towers is 21st. The release of one film every December for three years proved to be a master class in event filmmaking. It is hard to imagine anyone can replicate this kind of success on so many levels in such a compressed time frame. Yet Jackson, the brave fool that he is, will give it his best with the Hobbit trilogy.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Worldwide Gross: TBD
- 1995 – Year when Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh first expressed interest in The Hobbit as the first part of a trilogy leading into their two-part adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit rights were still tied up at United Artists, though, so Jackson moved on to Lord of the Rings, King Kong, and The Lovely Bones before returning to The Hobbit more than a decade later.
- 766 – Days Guillermo del Toro spent as the official director of The Hobbit. Del Toro officially signed on to direct in April 2008 and started prepping for a 370–day shoot. He would have shaken up the Lord of the Rings aesthetic and mythology a bit. Most notably, in contrast to Jackson’s approach to Tolkien, Del Toro wanted to rely on animatronics over fully CGI characters: “We really want to take the state-of-the-art animatronics and take a leap ten years into the future with the technology we will develop for the creatures in the movie. We have every intention to do for animatronics and special effects what the other films did for virtual reality.” But production was continuously stalled amid MGM’s financial troubles. After two years waiting for a green light, Del Toro regretfully decided to move on to other projects and left The Hobbit in May 2010.
- 48 – Frames per second. Feature films have been shot and projected in 24fps since the 1920s. Jackson is a big proponent of doubling the frame rate to 48fps, citing “hugely enhanced clarity and smoothness.”
- 1000 – Weight in pounds of the IMAX print of The Hobbit. The print is 6 feet wide.
- 13 – Dwarves: Thorin, Dori, Nori, Ori, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur.
- 60 – Years between the events of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Because Tolkien characters of different race and magical fortitude have longer lifespans, there is some overlap in the characters that can be played by the same actor from the Lord of the Rings, like Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Saruman (Christopher Lee), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Gollum (Andy Serkis). With some creative screenwriting that incorporates other Tolkien works about Middle-earth, the writers found ways to bring back Frodo (Elijah Wood), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) , and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) as well.
7 – Words uttered by Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie in his one line in An Unexpected Journey: “My Lord Elrond, the dwarfs, they’re gone.”[Edit: Looks like I missed McKenzie’s first two lines. I am disappointed in myself.]
The Lord of the Rings trilogy stands as one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time: artistically, technologically, and commercially. Especially since Peter Jackson returned to direct The Hobbit (albeit somewhat reluctantly after Guillermo Del Toro left the project), we cannot help but compare The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings. Under that comparison The Hobbit will undoubtedly come up short. But make no mistake, An Unexpected Journey is a good film on its own merits.
Tolkien’s story is episodic quest, which gives the film the opportunity to jump from set piece to set piece as Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and a company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) encounter a number of different creatures on the way to reclaim the Lonely Mountain for the dwarven kingdom. The creature design, however digital, is stellar with virtually every new species. I mean it as a compliment when I say the trolls and goblins in particular are so grotesque that I found them difficult to look at. Gollum is rendered better than ever, as the technology has clearly advanced in the decade since he first appeared on screen. My favorite, though, is the stone giants that enormous boulders around for sport—I hope to see a Transformers-style spinoff in the near future. (I was dying to get a clear look at the dragon Smaug, but we just see a couple teasing glimpses.)
There is an inherent appeal to the variety in the Fellowship of the Ring: a few hobbits, a couple men, an elf, a dwarf, a wizard—something for everyone. Bilbo (a generally surly hobbit) and thirteen dwarves aren’t quite so inviting. I eventually separated the dwarves into two categories: Thorin and the other twelve. However, Thorin is the ideal third lead thanks to a well-developed backstory and a captivating performance by Armitage. The intense passion of Thorin and the balanced amiability of the other dwarves lead the viewer to invest and their cause and buy that Bilbo does too. This is a crucial accomplishment, since the filmmakers decided to stretch this story out over three films.
I do not believe An Unexpected Journey has sufficient reason to approach three hours when the current cut stalls too often between set pieces. And while I will try to hold out judgment until I see the finished product, I think the story of The Hobbit fits best into one long movie, or maybe two per the original plan. But if the story ever leaves me behind, there is always value in spending so many hours in Jackson’s exquisitely designed Middle-earth, so I look forward to the next chapters.
Note: If you are curious about my take on 48fps, I will post a long feature on the frame rate debate soon. The quick take: I am a believer.