The upcoming two-part Hobbit films will shoot back-to-back in New Zealand, just like its Oscar-winning predecessor in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, producer Peter Jackson and director Guillermo del Toro revealed to fans on the weekend.
New Zealand filmmaker Jackson (writing from Wellington) and Mexican writer-director del Toro (participating from London) gave fans a peek into the creative process behind the anticipated new movies on Saturday via a one-hour live chat on the website of New Zealand special effects firm Weta.
"It is my privilege to roam through roads previously traced, but I definitely intend to take you to new and exciting places that the trilogy did not explore," del Toro said.
He added that his aim for the two films is to segue into Jackson's trilogy "like a symphonic work that seamlessly transports you through this world."
Jackson revealed it was unlikely the team would need to shoot outside New Zealand, where his epic Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. His home country makes "the perfect Middle Earth," he said.
"There is nothing yet that [J.R.R. Tolkien has described that we haven't managed to find in this amazing little country and I expect The Hobbit to be no different," Jackson wrote.
Though he and del Toro acknowledged several times that they have yet to even complete any scripts, Jackson said 2008 would be dedicated to writing and creating early conceptual designs. Pre-production is slated for 2009 and back-to-back filming of both titles is slated for 2010, he said.
The Hobbit is scheduled to hit theatres in December 2011, with the as-yet-unnamed followup to be released in December 2012.
Casting likely to reflect trilogy as well
While venerable British actor Ian McKellen was recently confirmed to be reprising his role as Gandalf the wizard in the two Hobbit films, Jackson and del Toro were coy about who else might return.
Del Toro praised British actor Andy Serkis, who memorably brought the CGI-animated character of Gollum to life in Jackson's trilogy. He also hinted that he has specific plans for one of his regular collaborators, U.S. actor Ron Perlman.
Other than that, "we won't be in serious casting mode for these movies until well into next year," del Toro said.
He assured fans, however, that "unequivocally, every single actor that originated a role in [Jackson's] trilogy will be asked to participate and reprise it. If health, availability or willingness become obstacles … only in that case recasting would be considered."
Canadian-born composer Howard Shore, an Oscar winner for his LOTR music, will create scores for the upcoming films. Also, artists Alan Lee, John Howe and many of the production teams behind the LOTR trilogy have enlisted for the new project.
Set in Middle Earth and taking place before the epic trilogy, The Hobbit tells the story of a young Bilbo Baggins (the titular character), who embarks on a quest for dragon's gold and encounters a host of mythical beings. During his travels, he comes across the powerful and ultimately evil ring at the centre of the subsequent trilogy.
Jackson and del Toro said their followup film will bridge the six-decade gap between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, the first Lord of the Rings instalment.
Tolkien's heir — his 83-year-old son, Christopher Tolkien — has not been a fan of Jackson's film trilogy nor New Line, the studio behind it and the new project.
Tolkien is still embroiled in legal wranglings against New Line over profits from the film trilogy, and is reportedly set to extend his fight to cover the two upcoming movies.