By BARBARA CHAI
Peter Jackson has already shot two and a half out of three "Hobbit" movies—the first of which, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," opens Friday—bringing his total J.R.R. Tolkien output to five and a half, including his Oscar-winning "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. He's only got a couple months' worth of shooting left to go on the third "Hobbit" film, which is slated for a 2014 release. In all, it's been a nearly two-decade process, so if the film rights to another Tolkien book, such as "The Silmarillion," become available in the future, Mr. Jackson may just be too old to adapt it.
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"Well, let's wait and see," the filmmaker, who is 51, said with a laugh. "I mean, it could be 50 years. It's not going to be soon. I might be dead by then."
"The Hobbit," a prequel to Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" saga, tells the (long) story of Bilbo Baggins as he leaves his home in the Shire with Gandalf the wizard and a band of dwarves on a mission to reclaim a treasure hoard and a dwarf-kingdom that have been stolen by the dragon Smaug.
Mr. Jackson has ruffled Hollywood feathers by filming his new trilogy at 48 frames per second—twice the rate at which movies have always been shot, thus doubling the amount of visual data—making for a crisper picture but, some have complained, a "soap-opera effect" reminiscent of some high-definition television sets. ("The Hobbit" will be projected in 48 FPS in limited release, with most theaters showing a standard 24 FPS version.)
The director spoke with The Wall Street Journal in New York recently about telling old stories with new technology.
Your use of 48 frames per second in "The Hobbit" has spurred much debate. What do you make of it?
I'm relieved because a lot of people have been theorizing and obviously we've had a lot of negative press during the year when the film has been available for people to see. I've been watching 48 frames for a year and a half now, and I'm as big a film buff as any grown-up watching films. I'm totally used to it now. I think it's fantastic; I look at a film at 24 frames now and I kind of find it jarring.
Why is it important to keep finding new ways to present films?
We are living in a time where kids are happy to look at a movie on their iPad, not bother going to the cinema. Do we as a film industry sit back and say we achieved technical perfection in cinema presentation in 1927? I just think we have a responsibility to try to use the technology to raise the bar, to make that cinema experience continually magical and continually special and spectacular. For that to happen, it has to advance with the technology.
How did you reconcile the lighter tone of "The Hobbit" with the darker, richer dwarf stories found in the appendices?
Well, reconciling the tone of "The Lord of the Rings," was really what I was thinking about, too. It's a benefit of making the films this way around, because if we made "The Hobbit" first, I think we would have made it as the children's bedtime story. We would have made it tonally very innocent and kind of quirky. Doing it this way around gave us the opportunity to try to honor the tone of the book, because it is more humorous and it's less apocalyptic than "The Lord of the Rings." But at the same time I wanted to still keep one foot in "The Lord of the Rings" world as a filmmaker, because at the end of the day, there's going to be six movies in a box set in a few years' time. There will be people watching them for the first time who will see them in sequence, the order of the actual story events rather than how they were made.
Have you made inquiries about the rights to "The Silmarillion"?
We've never made a serious inquiry because [the trustees of the Tolkien estate] tell everyone that they've got no intention of allowing them to ever be made into a film. I'm sure over time things will change because the estate will get passed through different pairs of hands. It's inevitable, I think, but certainly not at the moment.
The first "Hobbit" film is nearly three hours long. But it's probably safe to assume that there will there be extended material on the Blu-ray/DVD.
There is a bunch of material. We've got Weta Digital working on about another 300 visual-effects shots for the deleted scenes. The thing is, it's not cheap to do an extended cut, because you've got to still do all the green-screen shots and the CGI creatures and things, which there are a lot in the deleted scenes. They all have to get completed to the same standard as the original movie.
Write to Barbara Chai at firstname.lastname@example.org