The Hobbit is a very thin book and yet you've made it into three movies. Why?
It's almost like an optical illusion, The Hobbit. You look at the book and it is really thin, and you could make a relatively thin film as well. What I mean by that is that you could race through the story at the speed that Tolkien does. If you really study The Hobbit, you'll be surprised at some of the memorable scenes written in such a brisk, breathless style with not a pause for dialogue and character. That's not the type of film that we ever want to make.
So are you changing the story?
We want to make a film that has a little bit more depth than what Tolkien was after when he wrote the book. I was surprised when I reread it because I remembered this huge sequence in Lake-town, and it's only two pages. If you're literally shooting the script at that pace, you've got no room for character development. We haven't been indulgent in the way that we've made these movies. We've simply used the narrative that Tolkien laid out.
And there's stuff from outside the book too, right?
Yes, the other thing we've done is we haven't just stuck to the pages of The Hobbit, either. We've got the rights to adapt what would be the appendices from The Return of the King, about 125 pages of material. Tolkien was writing about what was happening outside of the pages of The Hobbit but happening in Middle-earth at that exact time. So we are doing sort of The Hobbit supersized with this extra material.
There's been some criticism that this is a nakedly commercial ploy. How do you respond to that?
No. Look, it would be nakedly commercial if the studio had come to us, the filmmakers, and said, "Why don't we turn this into three movies, because we can? And we can market and sell three films, blah blah blah." But they didn't. We approached them. We felt that we had a story we wanted to tell, we had characters that we wanted to develop. We wanted to use material from the appendices that we otherwise couldn't have used. So we approached the studio and pitched the idea of why it would make sense to do it as three films. And it certainly wasn't commercially driven – it was a creative choice from us.
What do you think of Tolkien's worldview? His profound sense of nostalgia . . .
He was a Victorian. He had an incredible love of the English countryside. Clearly he absolutely adored the natural world. The overriding thing in these books is his descriptions of the land and the plants and the weather and the trees. He once said that the internal-combustion engine was the greatest evil that had ever been brought to the world. That's where his sense of nostalgia comes from. He literally saw an English countryside change in his lifetime. The pastoral quality that he loved was eroded away by engines and machines. That's what he mourned.
That was part of Tolkien's appeal in the Sixties. Did that aspect attract you, too?
Uh, no. I just like the stories [laughs]. I didn't read them for any particular theme or message. Although it's certainly in there.
Making big blockbusters looks like a forced march. Is making a movie of this scale as grueling as it seems?
Yes [laughs]. There's creative opportunities all the way through the day, and that's the thing that you have to keep trying to put at the forefront. But there's also a schedule. There's also the need, when you walk on the set in the morning, to have a certain amount of script pages that you have to shoot that day. You have to compromise. So it is grueling. There's continual pressure to somehow let the creativity not get buried under that stress.
Do you still enjoy it?
I don't – shooting the movie is not my favorite part of the process. I love writing, and I love postproduction. That's great, because you start to reassemble the film and you sit there and you start to really put the film together, finally. The shooting of it is the most stressful part of the process.
With all the advances in technology, which you clearly love, do you ever worry that storytelling will fall by the wayside?
No. No. No. No. No. Look, we're human beings and we want stories. We're always going to be entertained and have our emotions touched by humanity and by things that we recognize in our own lives. So whilst every now and again we'll be happy to watch a bubblegum film, it's never gonna be the only things that get made.
What's going on with this new frame rate you've introduced? You shot The Hobbit at double the normal frame rate to make it seem more lifelike. But there was a lot of backlash about it at Comic-Con.
I'll give you a brief summary: We made a decision to shoot The Hobbit at 48 frames a second, twice the frame rate of a normal theatrical feature film. The higher frame rate gives you the illusion of the real world. It gives you a feeling of life. It's immersive. It really looks fantastic. It just has a seductive quality, and it frees us from everything that has constrained the frame rate over the last 80 or 90 years. Probably 20 percent of the cinemas will screen the 48-frame version, and we will see how audiences react to it.
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