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32 Things We Learned from ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ Commentary

Peter Jackson The Hobbit
By  · Published on November 14th, 2013

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the Shire, Warner Bros. has released the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.The movie, which grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide is getting its second home video release in the course of the year, meant to prime the pump for the upcoming sequel in December.

Director and all-around Tolkien movie guru Peter Jackson joins with his production partner Philippa Boyens to dissect the first installment in The Hobbit trilogy. It’s a long one, clocking in at just about three hours, the commentary was recorded in the summer of 2013 while they were in post-production of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. This commentary track is exclusive to the extended edition of the film, and there is none available for the theatrical version, which came out in March of 2013.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Extended Cut (2013)

Commentators: Peter Jackson (director, co-writer, producer), Philippa Boyens (producer, co-writer)

1. The film originally did not have the prologue as it is seen in the film. However, Jackson decided to add it to not only show the dwarf history but also to use Ian Holm as the older Bilbo (Martin Freeman) so those who did not read the books knew it was a prequel to The Lord of the Rings.

2. Most of the additional footage in the extended cut features longer versions of various scenes. In particular, more time is devoted to the white gems denied the elves at the beginning of the film as well as Bilbo seeing a painting of Sauron wearing the ring he eventually gets from Gollum.

3. An earthquake happens during the recording of the commentary seconds before Smaug makes his first appearance.

4. This film is the first time dwarf women are shown with beards.

5. Bag End in the Shire was rebuilt on the same spot as it was in the Lord of the Rings films, but with permanent materials so it could be a tourist attraction after the films’ production.

6. The opening scene with Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Bilbo takes place on the same day that The Fellowship of the Ring starts. Ian Holm was a little too old to travel, so the production accommodated him by bringing some of the sets to London to shoot there. The exterior scenes were composited into the countryside with green screen.

7. Many of the wide shots of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) next to Bilbo and the dwarfs were shot with them both in frame, using either forced perspective or by rotoscoping Gandalf out, enlarging him, and dropping back into the frame. This allowed all the lighting to match.

8. Eric Vespe (aka Quint) from Ain’t It Cool News has a cameo as a hobbit that gives Bilbo bread in the market.

9. The very first shots of the dwarves on camera were when they show up on Bilbo’s doorstep.

10. The shot of the dwarves getting ready for dinner, featuring them going from the pantry to the dining room, is one of the longest motion control shots in the film, which is approximately one minute and fifteen seconds. Only tow or three takes of the shot were accomplished on the first day of shooting that scene, and none of them were print takes. Jackson notes that this is the only time in his film career where he did not get any usable takes over the course of an entire day. The print take was finally achieved about half-way through shooting on the second day.

11. During the discussion after dinner, Jackson shot the entire scene four or five times from each angle, which resulted in taking about an hour for each angle of coverage.

12. The dwarves singing around the fire was shot in slow motion, which meant they had to play the song at a faster speed during filming, resulting in it sounding “a bit chipmunky,” according to Jackson. This allowed them to slow it down to slow motion in the final version but have the song sound proper.

13. Andy Serkis, after shooting his scenes as Gollum, became the second unit director and oversaw many of the landscape shots, the wide riding shots, and the coverage on the secondary dwarf characters.

14. The fake name of the film printed on the scripts was Little Rivers, which was inspired by a location shot of the dwarves riding their horses.

15. The flashback to the battle of Moria was the same location in Middle-Earth where the Fellowship mourns the death of Gandalf. During this sequence, Azog the Defiler was supposed to be killed, and his son was to pursue Thorin. However, to simplify the villain of the story, Azog was kept alive.

16. J.R.R. Tolkien mentions two blue wizards in some of his extended work, but the production could not mention them because Warner Bros. only has the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

17. The trolls who steal the horses and eventually turn to stone are seen as statues in The Fellowship of the Ring. They are voiced by three of the dwarves (Will Kircher, Mark Hadlow, and Peter Hambleton), who also did mo-cap performances for them.

18. Originally, the trolls threatened to tear Bofur apart, but Jackson changed it to Bilbo in order to present him as a potential hindrance to the group.

19. When Gandalf finds Sting in the cave of elven swords, it is covered in dirt and cobwebs. When he emerges from the cave and gives it to Bilbo, it is clean and shiny. This was simply a mistake in continuity rather than any sort of magic from Gandalf.

20. The Morgul Blade that is knocked out of the Witch King’s hand by Radagast at Dol Guldur is the same one that stabs Frodo in The Lord of the Rings.

21. Many of the over-the-shoulder shots with Gandalf isn’t achieve with special effects, but rather with a 7’1” stand-in named Paul Randall, affectionately called “Tall Paul” on set.

22. Jackson says he will probably never shoot with practical miniatures ever again because of their limitations in lighting and proximity to the camera. He now prefers to use digital miniatures.

23. The scene of Azog on the mountain while the dwarves are at Rivendell was added in reshoots in order to keep dramatic tension and remind the audience that there was a villain in the film.

24. Like Ian Holm, Christopher Lee was not able to travel to New Zealand, so they shot him in London and composited him into the shot with Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellen, and Cate Blanchett.

25. Jackson always intended to use the Goblin Town song in the theatrical cut of the film, but it was eventually cut for time because the scene with Gollum and Bilbo runs so long.

26. The first scene shot in the 266-day shooting schedule was Bilbo waking up in Gollum’s cave. The final scene was after the eagles drop the dwarves onto the top of the mountain with Erebor in the distance.

27. Jackson hints at there being a six-volume collection of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films and even toys with the idea of cutting Martin Freeman into The Fellowship of the Ring to replace Ian Holm as young Bilbo. However, Jackson says, “If we did it, I’d still want the old version to be available and not be discarded because that belongs to the history of The Lord of the Rings films… Right now we’re not going back and changing anything in The Lord of the Rings.”

28. For The Lord of the Rings, Andy Serkis’s mo-cap performance was shot in post-production. For this film, Jackson set up the mo-cap cameras on the set in order for Martin Freeman to interact with him and keep their eye-lines straight. They shot the entire 10 minute scene as one take for each of the multiple camera angles. There were about 20 takes each day over the course of four days to complete the scene.

29. The first and only mention of 48 frames per second happens two hours and twenty minutes into the commentary, during which Boyens comments on how good the Gollum sequence looks in the high frame rate.

30. Aside from Bilbo’s sword Sting, the elven blades do not glow blue in the presence of goblins and orcs. This was done because it wasn’t done in The Lord of the Rings, but also because in tests, the swords looked too much like lightsabers.

31. During the confrontation on the cliff, Jackson chose to have the two dwarves dangling from Gandalf’s staff from the end of the tree in order to explain why he doesn’t just step up and dispatch Azog, rather than letting Thorin (and eventually Bilbo) face such peril like that. Originally in this scene, the eagles showed up once Thorin is knocked down. Jackson added Bilbo coming to Thorin’s rescue to continue his hero journey to prove himself, which was the overriding theme of this first Hobbit movie.

32. The final shot completed by WETA digital was Smaug waking up under the gold coins. The shot was finished the day before the New Zealand premiere.

Best in Commentary

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that Peter Jackson know his shit when it comes to all things Tolkien. However, the real Tolkien nerd behind these movies is Philippa Boyens. Jackson keeps the commentary going with his stories and trivia of production, and it’s Boyens who delves into the minutia of Middle-Earth. However, she doesn’t drone on about things, and most of what she says is interesting.

I’m not a rabid Tolkien fan, so there’s a lot of detail to these movies that is lost for me (so I do apologize for any errors or statements of the obvious in the above article). However, I did enjoy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey quite a bit. The extended edition offers bits and pieces of added material, but it doesn’t go off on tangents or wander into nonsensical moments like some extended cuts do. Throughout the commentary, Jackson points out what’s new to the movie, which is helpful for those of us who don’t want to worry about digging through both versions for a comparison.

Of course, this extended version also comes with two discs that amount to 9 hours of behind-the-scenes material. This means that the comparably scant 3 hours of discussion from Jackson and Philippa is dwarfed (no pun intended) by the other material in this release. A lot of the same ground is covered in the appendices of this release, but the commentary is still good material nonetheless, making the product a worthy purchase for all the detail and extra content inside.

Check out more commentary commentary in the Commentary Commentary archives

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