The final hurtle has been removed so that the two “Hobbit” films can begin filming in New Zealand starting in February. A labor dispute had threatened to cause the production to move to another country, perhaps Great Britain or Ireland.
Fears that New Zealand would lose money and prestige if the “Hobbit” production were to move caused the government to step in to negotiate a deal between the unions, which had been accusing the film’s producers of refusing to negotiate about minimum wages and working conditions. The producers, including Peter Jackson, a native New Zealander who directed the three “Lord of the Rings” films, disputed this allegation and threatened to pull the production.
The deal hammered out by the New Zealand government includes promises to pass laws clarifying the difference between a contract worker and an employee working for a film production. The New Zealand government also promised an extra US $7.5 million for each “Hobbit” film on top to the 15 percent subsidy already promised.
Ever since the success of the three “Lord of the Rings” films, which told the J.R.R. Tolkien story of a war between good and evil on a world of magic called Middle Earth, the idea of doing a film of “The Hobbit,” which tells a story taking place before “The Lord of the Rings,” has been in development. Two films will be made. One will tell the story of the Hobbit Bilbo’s adventures with 12 dwarves and the wizard Gandalf to reclaim a treasure taken by an evil dragon named Smaug. The other would be a bridge story between “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” based on notes and other material written by J.R.R. Tolkien.
The development phase of the two “Hobbit” films had gone through a number of twists and turns. Originally, Peter Jackson would only produce the films, with a hired director to helm them. But now Jackson himself will sit in the director’s chair.
Casting has also been a long, drawn out process. Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellan, and Andy Serkis are rumored to be reprising their roles as Galadriel, Elrond, Gandalf, and Gollum, respectively. Martin Freeman, currently playing Dr. Watson in the current BBC series “Sherlock,” will play Bilbo Baggins, played by Ian Holm in the “Lord of the Rings” films. Richard Armitage, who played Guy of Gisborne in a recent television series of “Robin Hood,” will play Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarf king who hired Bilbo as a “burglar” to recover the lost dwarf treasure.
“The Hobbit Part 1” is due for release in December 2012, with “The Hobbit Part 2” a year after that.
Sources: New Zealand govt reaches deal to keep “Hobbit” films, Adrian Bathgate, Reuters, October 27th, 2010
THE HOBBIT cast!, Harry Knowles, Aintitcool, October 21st, 2010
The Hobbit Part 1, IMDB
The Hobbit Part 2, IMDB