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Peter Jackson may have seemed slightly reluctant to return to Middle-Earth before he began production on "The Hobbit," but now that he's actually in the process, it looks like he's having a harder time letting go.
When our own Katie Hasty talked to Jackson during Comic-Con, I didn't really take the idea of a third "Hobbit" film seriously, even when he discussed how it might work and how he was starting to think about it. Richard Armitage also broached the subject with us, but It seemed like one of those idle thoughts that wouldn't really pan out into something real. Now it appears that talks are becoming more serious about the possibility of expanding this into a trilogy, and that's sure to spark debate, with both pro and con making equal sense to me.
On the one hand, "The Hobbit" has always struck me as a totally different beast than "Lord Of The Rings." Yes, they take place in the same world, and yes, they share characters and there is some narrative connection between them, but they seem to work in entirely different ways. "Lord Of The Rings" always struck me as the biggest of big meals, an amazing trip through one of the pivotal moments in an imagined history. "The Hobbit" struck me more as an adventure story, contained and personal, and while the stakes obviously matter to everyone in the story, Bilbo included, they are not apocalyptic, with the entire fate of Middle-Earth at risk.
The overwhelming reaction today has been negative. I see many people, even fans of Jackson's "Rings" films, talk about how they can't imagine what material there is to support a third film. Jackson and his co-writers, Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens, have been talking since the early days of development about how they have always viewed the Appendices as Tolkien's notes on how he might go back to expand "The Hobbit" so that it would fit more tonally with "Lord Of The Rings." There are all sorts of character and story notes, details that flesh out things that were merely mentioned in passing in the book, as well as history that informed the events Tolkien wrote about.
For example, in the footage I saw at Comic-Con, there was a sequence that I described that appears to take place inside Dol Guldur, Sauron's home in Mirkwood. This is suggested in the material that mentions the Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his encounter with the White Council, but it appears Jackson and his collaborators have chosen to make the material explicit now.
In the video embedded above, you can see Jackson talk about an additional round of shooting that would have to take place next year to take what they've already shot and build it into a third film that works alone. As he says in that piece, the discussion is definitely happening, but no final decision has been made. The article in today's LA Times basically just confirms everything Jackson said directly to us, but it sounds like the business end of things is where the uncertainty lies right now. They'll have to work out an enormous amount of scheduling issues and salary negotiations, since no one was planning for a third film. You can't just take the extra footage that was shot and cut an entirely new movie out of it because of contracts. The Salkinds used to do things like that, and they did it specifically so they could screw their actors and filmmakers. Here, it seems like Jackson's motivated more by the way the material is coming together than anything else, and while I'm sure it will be a huge financial windfall for Warner Bros and New Line, who already have somewhere in the neighborhood of a half-billion dollars sunk in these movies, I think it's also a sign of faith in what they've seen so far from Jackson.
We'll have more on this as the deal comes together, and if it does end up happening, we'll be sure to do our best to let you know what the plan is.
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" will be in theaters December 14, 2012.
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