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As noted earlier, McKellen has played both Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White. He’s clearly happier he’s returning to play the Grey this time around. McKellen reveals, “I don't make much connection between White and Grey, and I've never really liked the White. I never said I didn't like playing him, but I didn't warm to him. He's a man with a mission, and he's a commander, and he's a man working right at the end of his tether. Gandalf the Grey, I think Peter agrees, is a much more congenial person and humane and full of all sorts of life. And particularly when he's with the Hobbits. I don't think he warms to the dwarves as much.”
There are obvious differences to McKellen though between Gandalf in the novel and the script.
“I think the script has made Gandalf a bit less bossy than he is in the novel. But he supports them on their quest, which they call it, and their desire to reclaim their land and property, with a different sort of enthusiasm than he would send the Fellowship off to retrieve the Ring,” McKellen says. “Which is why it's helpful to me that we should know what's going on elsewhere in Middle Earth, which dwarves tramping around the place, attracting the attention of old enemies and new, threatens to unbalance the ever-present sleeping dragon, the wisdom of waking him, now he's fully grown. If they're going to go off and do that, Gandalf thinks, ‘I better be there.’ And he's right.”
Coming in at just 320 pages in paperback form, everyone is quite aware a lot of new content had to be added for “The Hobbit” to become three films. McKellen admits Gandalf has scenes not in the book, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t from Tolkien in some form.
“Philippa [Boyens], who I talked most to about the script, often refers to details in the book that I had overlooked, or implications that she's developed,” McKellen says. “But you've only got to look at the width of ‘The Lord of The Rings.; Things had to be cut to get it down to the three films. [With ‘The Hobbit’] things have got to be expanded. You could, I suppose, have made just one film of the story of ‘The Hobbit.’ I still think it would have been a good idea to not make a film of The Hobbit, but to make a TV series of The Hobbit, and do every episode. Do everything that's in the book in full detail, and just tell the story. It might take thirteen-hour episodes, I don't know. I thought that would have been another way of doing it. But I'm not a producer and I'm not a scriptwriter.”
This visit to the “Hobbit” set less than a month after Jackson previewed footage for theater owners during the 2012 CinemaCon convention. Jackson showed the footage in the new 48 frames per second format. “The Hobbit” will also be in 3D, an option much less popular when “LOTR” hit your local multiplex. The reaction from theater owners to the 48 FPS, however, was mixed. In the months since the “controversy” has died down once Jackson and the studios decided to limit the number of theaters screening it in that format. At the time, though, it was top of mind for everyone working on set. McKellen hadn’t seen any of the footage in 48 FPS and isn’t concerned on how Jackson will use 3D.
“My reaction to 3D is as used here, subtly,” McKellen says. “Things don't come out at you, but rather you-- The audience come into the film. It invites you in, it doesn't throw things out at you. And people say, "Oh, do we need 3D?" Well, ever since the invention of the camera, people have been trying to create 3D, because we see things in 3D, and everyone's aware that the camera doesn't. So how can we make it? Myburgh, who was one of the founders of the moving image, was trying to do 3D the whole time, all those things that you looked through. And so at last, film has discovered how to do well, what it wanted to do from the word "go". So it's all much more believable, 3D. Two-D looks so flat. Well, it is, of course, it's flat. But 3D isn't. And for an adventure story that takes you into a long-distant, fictional world, it's ideal, I think. As for the clarity of the 48 frames, I've heard people say that it looks odd, it's too demanding, there's too much information, you don't know where to look. That judgment is based on film which has not been graded and finished off properly. And when Peter says the audience is going to love it, I'll bet he's right. It does seem to be part of the future of film. But people should be reassured, if they don't want to see this film in 3D, they don't have to. If they don't want to see it in 48 frames per second, they don't have to. You'll have the choice.”
Before he departs McKellen asks if we’ve met the actors playing the dwarves yet, which we hadn’t. He volunteers, “They'll all be thrilled that they've done [the movie] but my goodness, what they've had to put up with. Billy Connolly's been here for weeks. I don't know if he's met the cameras yet, but he looks very happy wandering around. We have lunch together and he said, ‘I’m learning how to walk as a dwarf.’ He has classes on how to walk as a dwarf. When he becomes a dwarf, he's going to discover that he's wearing, probably a wetsuit or not, but padding and prosthetics, and big hands and feet, and a big head and a wig, and he has a mustache. You don't have to learn how to walk as a dwarf, you'd just try and walk as a dwarf. And these guys have been doing it for, wow, fifteen months. I call them a grump of dwarves, but they're not grumpy at all. They're so into it and high-spirited, and funny.”
That they are, but that’s another part of this “Hobbit” set visit. For McKellen it was a gracious goodbye and he was gone.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” opens nationwide and in IMAX on Dec. 14..