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

by     Posted 1 year, 128 days ago

lord of the rings return of the king

Return of the King

Year: 2003
RT: 94%
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.

 

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Year: 2012
RT: 66%
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-hobbit-an-unexpected-journey-posterThe 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.

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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.

Unless otherwise linked, all information comes from Wikipedia or IMDB.

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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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