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The Hobbit

"The Hobbit was one of the books that got me into reading.
It really fired up my imagination. That's why I became an actor." [1]

Richard Armitage stars in Peter Jackson's adaptation of J R R Tolkien's The Hobbit.

In his first major film role, he plays Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the dwarves, warrior, and heir to Erebor, the lost dwarf kingdom that lies under the Lonely Mountain. The Hobbit tells the story of the dwarves' journey with the hobbit Bilbo Baggins to reclaim Erebor, and its treasure, from Smaug the dragon.

Jackson originally intended to split the action of Tolkien's 1937 novel into two films. However, in 2012 he announced that he would be making three films, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (release date December 2012), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ( December 2013) and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (December 2014).

New Zealander Peter Jackson's three part adaptation of The Hobbit's sequel, The Lord of the Rings, which he directed, co-wrote and co-produced, was one of the most successful film projects of recent years. Filmed together, but released separately in 2001, 2002 and 2003, they were both hugely popular and critically acclaimed, winning 17 Oscars from 30 nominations.

But Jackson's attempts to film The Hobbit have been plagued with problems over several years, including the loss of the director Guillermo del Toro, financial difficulties, a labour dispute, and just before filming was about to start in 2011, illness, with Jackson requiring emergency surgery for a perforated ulcer.

Filming eventually began in New Zealand in March 2011 at Stone Street Studios in Wellington and on location in New Zealand. It ended in July 2012, although Richard Armitage revealed at Comic-Con later in July that there were more scenes still be shot.

The films have been shot in digital 3D at 48 frames per second, twice the normal speed. The intention is to produce the highest quality images currently possible on-screen.

The films star Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Office) as Bilbo Baggins, with several actors from The Lord of the Rings returning to reprise their characters, including Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Orlando Bloom as Legolas, Ian Holm as the elder Bilbo, Christopher Lee as Saruman, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Elijah Wood as Frodo, and Andy Serkis as Gollum. Not all of these characters appear in the novel, but Jackson's screenplay has incorporated them.

Richard Armitage has said of his role, "The Hobbit was one of the books that got me into reading. It really fired up my imagination. That's why I became an actor." [1]

"I just think it's a really amazing opportunity to take a character from a book that I was brought to as a child. My first experience on stage was in a production of The Hobbit at the Alex Theatre in Birmingham, and I played an elf.  And Gollum was a papier-mache puppet with a man offstage on a microphone. It’s been in my childhood very prominently, so to come to it as an adult,  a middle-aged man, and have another look at it is a brilliant opportunity." [2]

Speaking after filming had started he said, "When you're standing in front of Gandalf and you have to start delivering your lines, there's a moment where you can't quite believe it." [1]

"There’s going to be quite a lot more humour," he said of the film. "The book is so focused on the dwarves, so I think it’s a chance for Peter [Jackson] and Fran [Walsh] to really look at that whole race in more detail, their heritage and what they’re like as characters. [Thorin's sword, Orcrist] is bloody heavy! But it’s absolutely beautiful to look at. Every time they bring something new out everyone gasps. The armour that the dwarves emerge from the mountain wearing at the end of the film will be the armour of all armour." [1]

Peter Jackson has spoken about the casting of the films. "Thorin Oakenshield is a tough, heroic character, and he certainly should give Leggie and Aragorn a run for their money in the heartthrob stakes - despite being four feet tall." [3]

He continued, "In Middle-earth, dwarves are a noble race and have a culture and physical appearance which sets them apart from humans. It’s fun to develop these different cultures for the movie, and we are doing much more with dwarves this time around than we did with Gimli in Lord of the Rings." [3]

"Our company of thirteen dwarves in The Hobbit lets us explore many different personalities - and costume and make-up designs will support the type of character each actor plays. Richard is a powerful actor with a wide range, and we’re very excited to be handing Thorin over to him. In this partnership, we need Richard to give us his depth, range, and emotion as an actor - and we’ll make him look like a dwarf!" [3]


Reception of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Richard Armitage said in Toronto, "I hope everyone takes their kids at Christmas and enjoys the film. It's something that all of the family can go and enjoy together and I think there are very few things that we can do like that today." [4] It seems that families all over the world have done just that.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film took $84.8 million at the box office in North America during its opening weekend (14-16th December), beating the previous record for a film opening in December, as well as the figures for the final film of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It also took $138.2 million in the rest of the world.

This was despite mixed reviews for the film. Critics' main concerns were twofold. Many felt there was too much padding to stretch a relatively short book into three long films (Peter Jackson has incorporated material and characters from elsewhere in Tolkien's writing).

Many reviewers also criticised his decision to shoot the film at 48fps, claiming that the hyper-real nature of HFR made it look like television and intruded on the story-telling. However, others enjoyed the greater clarity it offers, as well as the lack of blurring during moving sequences. In practice, most people will only be able to see the film at 24fps - in the USA, only 10% of the cinemas showing the film can screen it at the higher frame rate. And yet where HFR showings are available, they're very popular - Business Week reports that the best screen averages during the opening weekend were in HFR cinemas.

But there has been almost universal praise for the acting, in particular that of Martin Freeman (Bilbo), Andy Serkis (Gollum) and Richard Armitage (Thorin).

In the New Yorker (17th December) Anthony Lane wrote, "No less welcome is Richard Armitage, scarcely known here, although he has throbbed hearts on a regular basis on British TV; he now pulls off the task, deemed impossible by every expert on Middle-Earth, of making a dwarf seductive. To be honest, the dwarves come across as a jumble of Brueghel faces, lit with grins, scrunched by scowls, and fronted by bulbous conks; only Armitage, as Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the pack, earns consistent dramatic attention, and he brings the rumpus of the early scenes to a beautiful halt as he pauses to croon, in a yearning baritone, an anthem of dwarf-desire—Far over the misty mountains cold."

The Australian's David Germain (5th December) said "Richard Armitage debuts as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield, ennobled from a fairly comical figure in Tolkien's text to a brooding warrior king in the mold of Viggo Mortensen from the Rings trilogy."

At the Slashfilm website (3rd December), Germain Lussier wrote, "The [dwarf] that stands above the rest is, appropriately, the leader, Thorin Oakenshield, played by Richard Armitage. Similar to Viggo Mortensen in Lord of the Rings, Armitage is a long-time character actor who achieves leading man status with this role. In fact, his character is so dynamic and awesome, Jackson and crew have created a totally unique foe for him to battle throughout the movie. [...] Armitage’s performance is the standout."

Others also make a comparison with Aragorn. "There’s an Aragorn-y vibe to Richard Armitage’s Thorin, the leader of the pack who brings brooding focus to the simple but emotive theme of wanting to find a home," said Matthew Leyland in Total Film (13th December). And in The Telegraph (8th December) Jennifer Vineyard wrote, "The jovial Dwarves, with their elaborate beards and bulbous noses, lighten the film's tone, and their king, Thorin (Richard Armitage), is a stalwart presence very much along the line of Viggo Mortenson's lonely ranger in the Rings movies."

The film sought to please children, teenagers and adults alike, both Tolkien fans and the general public. Judging by the attendance figures, and by the comments of those who have seen the film, it has succeeded.


Reception of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The second film of the trilogy opens on 11th, 12th or 13th December 2013 in most countries around the world. Notable exceptions are Australia, where it opens on 26th December, and Japan, where it's released on 28th February 2014. The official Hobbit films website has a full list of release dates.

The film received its world premiere in Los Angeles on 2nd December 2013. See the Premieres page for information, and links to interviews and a recording of a live-stream of the premiere.

The early reviews of the film have been much better than those for An Unexpected Journey. Reviews of the first film concentrated on the 48fps presentation (which most reviewers disliked). However, speaking at the premiere of The Desolation of Smaug, Peter Jackson said "I think it wasn’t just the frame rate; it was the high-definition look of the cameras that was a contributing factor. So I softened it up this year. And I think we’ve got a look now that feels quite nice."

Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter appreciated the technical improvements, saying that "the distractingly vivid images provided by the 48 frames-per-second in the first film appear to have been massaged properly this time, and there is a notably lower-than-average reduction in image brightness when using the 3D glasses." He also said, "Nearly everything about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug represents an improvement over the first installment of Peter Jackson's three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved creation. The “unexpected journey” launched in last Christmas' box-office behemoth becomes the heart of the matter this time around, making for plenty of peril, warfare, theme-park-ride-style escapes and little-guy courage.adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved creation."

In general, The Desolation of Smaug has drawn praise for its much better pace. As Justin Chang in Variety said, "Actually shorter than the first film by nine minutes, this robust, action-packed adventure benefits from a headier sense of forward momentum and a steady stream of 3D-enhanced thrills — culminating in a lengthy confrontation with a fire-breathing, scenery-chewing dragon — even as our heroes’ quest splits into three strands that are left dangling in classic middle-film fashion."

Writing in The Wrap, Todd Gilchrist felt that, "Eschewing the kitchen-sink minutiae of the first installment (or maybe just having used all of it up) Peter Jackson creates a rousing, immersive sequel that offers the same sort of sweeping action — and more crucially, emotional engagement — that helped the Rings films become a cultural phenomenon, regardless whether or not you were familiar with the source material."

Gilchrist also commented that the second film "narrows its focus on the "important" [dwarves] – Thorin and Kili – and establishes stakes that make us care as the rest of them fill in the background." And IGN's Jim Vejvoda said "There are a few more shades to Thorin this time as we witness his increased single-mindedness and the tragic consequences it will incur."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw said "The Desolation of Smaug is a cheerfully entertaining and exhilarating adventure tale, a supercharged Saturday morning picture: it's mysterious and strange and yet Jackson also effortlessly conjures up that genial quality that distinguishes The Hobbit from the more solemn Rings stories. The absurdity is winning: you're laughing with, not laughing at. For me, it never sagged once in its mighty two hour 40 minutes running time and the high-frame-rate projection for this film somehow looks richer and denser than it did the last time around."

He continued, "The barrel-chase down the river is a great sequence: a full-tilt headspinning action spectacular with orc against elf against dwarf-and-hobbit. Somehow, the whole movie has this same huge propulsive energy, whooshing the heroes onwards towards their great goal. Despite the dwarves' tough reputations, and Bilbo's expertise in the ignoble art of burglary, their diminutive size always gives them a weirdly childlike air: an air of outraged and unquenchable innocence."

Richard Corliss in Time said the film was "a splendid achievement, close to the grandeur of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films." And Nick de Semlyen's conclusion in Empire was, "Middle-earth's got its mojo back. A huge improvement on the previous instalment, this takes our adventurers into uncharted territory and delivers spectacle by the ton."

The first film took $1billion at the box office; it seems that the second will do just as well.


Further information

The Hobbit official website

The Hobbit official blog

The Hobbit official Facebook page

Peter Jackson's Facebook page, containing photos and video reports of the filming

IMDB pages about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: There And Back Again

Wikipedia articles about The Hobbit (novel), the Peter Jackson film adaptation and the character of Thorin Oakenshield, a major Tolkien fansite, with news and information about the novel, the characters and the film - see in particular the article about Thorin Oakenshield.

Tolkien Gateway, a large encyclopedia about the world created by Tolkien in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

Sir Ian McKellen's blog about the filming of The Hobbit



[1] Total Film magazine, August 2011
[2] Cast press conference, 11th February 2011
[3] Entertainment Weekly, PopWatch blog, 27th October 2010
[4] Union Station, Toronto, 3rd December 2012

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