As part of Pajiba’s mission statement, of which I’m sure most of you are aware, we eschew set visits and other forms of rampant brownnosery in order to maintain a semblance of objectivity — other than our own particular obsessions, anyway — and it certainly helps that more than a few of us don’t live around those fertile Hollywood plains. And despite what our TVtropes/Urban Dictionary entry says, we don’t actively hate other movie blogs like Ain’t It Cool News. We usually just do our best to ignore them, and they reciprocate that quite nicely.
That said, when you do make your living by wiping the butts of studio heads, directors, and producers, and then telling them it smells like cherries and fresh kittens, in an attempt to overcompensate for bad writing, there are clear and present perks. Like being invited to spend two months as an “embedded reporter” on the New Zealand set of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. I’m fairly certain that would be any nerd’s wet dream come true, so in a sense, it is appropriate AICN’s
“Quint” Eric Vespe is now doing just that. Naturally, his first — ahem — dispatch from the field is filled to the rim with platitudes for people with whom he will be spending the next 60 days, and how beautiful the New Zealand countryside is, and yadda yadda yadda. Lucky duck. Still, mixed in with all the oohs and ahhs, Vespe does provide some news. Specifically, we now have context for how Elijah Wood’s Frodo, hero of Middle-Earth and star of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, could possibly fit into the narrative of the two Hobbit films.
Frodo’s existence in the Hobbit adaptations is a notable point of contention with fans of the book because (get this, non-nerds) Frodo doesn’t even appear in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, and the book’s readers have almost had it up to here with Jackson’s reconfiguring of the text. (“Here” being the relative height of a four-foot tall halfling.) Well, according to the intrepid Vespe, in a turn of events wholly unsurprising, Jackson seems to have made the cameo work by having it function as “connective tissue” to the Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo will bookend the films in scenes that take place (with original Bilbo Ian Holm, rather than Martin Freeman’s newer model) before the non-prologue opening of Fellowship. Essentially, the last scene(s) of The Hobbit: There and Back Again will align cohesively with the later series, in a fashion similar to how George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel conclusion, Revenge of the Sith, tried to align with A New Hope. But hopefully more better.
Here’s a chunk from Vespe’s chronicle of the sequence in question being shot, along with some of his wonderfully watermarked photos:
“What’s Frodo doing in The Hobbit? I don’t want to spoil too much, but I can say that Frodo is part of the connecting tissue between The Hobbit and Fellowship of the Ring.
In fact, the next shot was an over the shoulder on Elijah Wood hammering a sign up on Bag End’s front gate: “No Admittance Except On Party Business.” You guys should have an idea where that puts this moment in the timeline.”
“Martin Freeman stood in for Ian Holm, who shot all of his scenes and close-ups in London. They would sometimes play footage they’ve already shot to remind themselves of what they had done previously and to help them match up shots. Peter and crew did that for these reverse shots on Elijah and I got to see Ian as Bilbo once again…”
“Their conversation is about Gandalf and if Bilbo thinks Gandalf will show up. Bilbo says “He wouldn’t miss a chance to let off his whiz-poppers. He’ll put on quite a show, you’ll see,” and Frodo grins, saying he’s going to go surprise him and bounds off down the path like a kid at Christmas. When I say he bounds down the path that’s not an exaggeration for illustrative purposes. He was damn near skipping, a glimpse of that pre-ring Frodo we meet in Fellowship.”
“After Frodo leaves the frame is very wide featuring The Shire in all its glory; The Green Dragon and mill smack dab in the middle.
It’s my understanding this shot will transition to “60 Years Earlier” with Young Bilbo sitting in front of Bag End contently smoking a pipe and casually blowing smoke rings as Gandalf comes along and presents him with his adventure.”
I don’t begrudge Vespe the amazing experience he damn well better be having out in the bush, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still hate him just a little bit for reaping no apparent punishment for bargaining with the devil. That Daniel Webster was full of shit, man.
But! For those rich enough to afford it, once Jackson and the Hobbit cast and crew finish filming, New Zealand will keep the Hobbiton sets standing this time, so that they can be reconfigured into a money printing tourist attractions. There will be 44 Hobbit Holes in what constitutes the Shire, as well as a hostelry transformed from the set of The Green Dragon inn (where
Pip drinks his first ever pint Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pip try to celebrate their victory at Mount Doom at the end of Return of the King, if you need help placing that location). Honestly, I don’t know why this wasn’t done sooner, other than the fact that the production broke the sets down on the last go-round. Walking tours of Middle-Earth are fine and dandy, but having the chance to smoke pipe weed with a Gandalf impersonator in front of Bilbo’s fireplace is clearly the better option than trekking across endless mountains and valleys. No matter how green they may be.
Of course, converting a film set into an easily marketable destination site does sort of call into question the legitimacy of one thing Vespe states in his piece: “[The Hobbit] isn’t a film cooked up to cash in on an absurdly successful franchise…It’s high adventure and lets us revisit some of our favorite locations and characters within its own, unique story.” Ha! It almost sounds like he really believes that if the first trilogy had not been a monster success, New Line would still have greenlit a single book into two new films, instead of a more budget friendly standalone. Bless his heart.
No, I’m not jealous. Not too much, anyway. Really. I swear!
Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force and tweets on the Twitter @RobOfWar. He would also like to note that it seems Peter Jackson has put back on some of his pre-LOTR weight and that, considering the “success” rate of his movies post-LOTR, this is probably a good thing.