Peter Jackson has all but ruled out any potential return to Middle Earth beyond the current Hobbit trilogy, telling us that the rights he has to author J.R.R. Tolkien’s work doesn’t allow him the opportunity to expand upon this universe and create his own original material. Speaking to us in Berlin ahead of the film’s European premiere, the New Zealander explains the difficulties in continuing on from this fine franchise, despite the temptation to do so.
“We can’t do it sadly – the film rights exist because Tolkien sold them to United Artists,” he said. “Even though we had the licence to create characters we also took a lot of the new stuff in the story from Tolkien’s notes he’d written many years after The Hobbit. After he finished The Lord of the Rings, he realised that there were a very different tone to The Hobbit and things didn’t quite match up anymore, so he retrospectively started to build in more information. I don’t know if he was intending to write another book or revise it, but after his death a lot of these notes were published and because that falls within the realms of the film rights, the studio were able to take a lot of them. But I don’t think any of the rights that Warner Bros. have got allow us to do original, Middle Earth stories.”
However for producer Philippa Boyens (Sreenplay Writer and Co-Producer of The Hobbit movies) – who we spoke to earlier that day – she admits that the idea of entering in to the 60 year period between The Hobbit ending and The Lord of the Rings beginning, is a rather tempting one. “There’s enough story there to make a bridge movie, you know, there’s 60 years between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and a lot of things happened. When we started structuring this trilogy we honestly thought about telling some of that. How Bilbo becomes the uncle of Frodo and take care of him. The story of Gollum… Can you have too much of Andy Serkis playing Gollum? I don’t think so.” However she did echo Jackson’s sentiments, and admit it’s the end of the road for herself personally. “We’ll pass into the hands of other people after this, speaking for myself. It would be best for everybody for it to pass into other people’s hands.”
Whether Jackson would quite have the energy to revisit this story is another matter too, as he admits the current project was one that had initially seemed somewhat daunting to him. “The Hobbit scared me a lot,” he said. “I could not get my head round how to do this, it was much more of a children’s story. But then the way we ultimately approached it, is that we deliberately took those notes from the appendices. That was our way into it, to retrospectively make The Hobbit having already made The Lord of the Rings films. So in a way we were almost coming from the same place as Tolkien. We weren’t adapting the Tolkien of 1936, we were adapting the Tolkien of the 50s once he had retrospectively started working on the mythology again. That was how I got my head around it.”
Being the middle film of a franchise poses it’s own unique difficulties too, though Jackson was able to find the positives in having an added amount of creative licence with this second instalment. “One of the joys and also one of the burdens on a middle film is that you have a film that doesn’t get to the end of a story, but on the other hand, we approached that from the opposite side and saw it as having a lot of freedom,” he continued. “If there’s any role the middle film plays in terms of a trilogy, it’s to make the quest that the heroes are on much more complicated and much more dangerous, and take it to places where you’re not expecting it to go.”
Boyens felt a similar way, admitting that it was in fact the opening picture which posed the most arduous challenge of the three productions. “The hardest part of telling this story was the first film and introducing those characters. It’s a hard story to tell, you’re introducing 13 dwarves – thanks Tolkien – but also it’s not something you immediately care about. It’s not like Frodo suddenly being given the fate of the world in his hands, these guys are setting off on an adventure knowingly putting themselves into danger.”
One thing that does connect The Lord of the Rings trilogy with The Hobbit, is that Jackson himself has made a brief appearance in both, and he explains to us how he came to be the now infamous carrot eater of Middle Earth. “I have no choice but to be in it now, because everybody expects me to. What used to be fun in the old days has now become a responsibility I have to be in these films. The first cameo I did in The Fellowship of the Ring, it was a sequence in the same location. I was a guy in the street and I was smoking a pipe, but after a couple of takes I started to feel very light-headed and rather sick. By the time we got to take four, I thought I would throw up. I looked around and there was an old carrot lying on the ground, so I quickly grabbed it, wiped the dirt off the best I could, and started to eat it, and that’s what ended up in the movie.
“So this is my tribute to him. This could be that guy’s grandfather as this takes place beforehand. Eating carrots is a family tradition. Passed down through generations. I’ve waited my entire lifetime to play that role. I saved it all up for that one moment, I’m probably going to get my own TV series. It might be the one Middle Earth spin-off that we do, the adventures of carrot eating man.”
Though his role in this universe may be that of a vegetable consumer, Jackson tells us that the character he most identifies with is the leading role – the Hobbit himself. “I am much more of a Hobbit than anything else,” he declared. “You might think of me as an Elf, beautiful and slender, but I’m much more of a Hobbit. I find them much easier to identify with because I live in New Zealand and I don’t like going into the big, bad, scary world. I just want to have a nice cup of tea and sit with my bare feet in front of the fire. That’s much more me than the adventurous dwarves or the mysterious elves.”
Finally, coming under a degree of scrutiny for the distinct lack of female roles in both The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the first Hobbit endeavour, Boyens tells us that she felt it was imperative to introduce a strong, female lead this time around, and given Tolkien didn’t write any female roles in The Hobbit novel, they created the elusive, combative elf, Tauriel – played by Evangeline Lilly.
“We made the decision to add a female character into the story, for which I’m making no apologies, because you can’t tell that much story with no women in it,” Boyens said. “Professor Tolkien did write brilliant female characters, he just didn’t write them in The Hobbit. We tried to stay true to that when we created her.”
Evangeline Lilly also stuck up for Tolkien in this respect, claiming he did have a talent for creating women characters, but was instead a product of a particular era. “Mistakenly, Middle Earth is thought of as a very male-orientated universe, but it really isn’t,” Lilly said. “The Hobbit book is all males and there is not one female character, but Tolkien was writing that book in the 1930s when women were irrelevant in men’s eyes. Then he wrote The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the 50s and a few female characters showed up. Then after that in the 60s there’s a shift that happens and the female characters added to Middle Earth are embellished upon and it’s remarkable.
“It shows that even Tolkien himself realises he may have been a product of his time and he became quite fascinated with writing female characters, because once he started doing it, he did it very well and wrote very strong, very dynamic female characters,” she concluded.