x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Get ready, moviegoers: here comes The Hobbit

The wait is nearly over for Lord of the Rings fans. By this time next year, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will finally hit cinemas.

Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Courtesy Warner Bros
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Courtesy Warner Bros

"My dear Frodo, you asked me once if I had told you everything there was to know about my adventures," says an aged Bilbo Baggins in the opening seconds of the trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. "While I can honestly say I told you the truth, I may not have told you all of it."

The words, spoken by The Lord of the Rings actor Ian Holm in the newly released clip, don't just tease fans of the epic fantasy films with the prospect of a new series of adventures. They also reflect the labyrinthine story behind director Peter Jackson's arduous and continuing task of bringing The Hobbit to the big screen.

An Unexpected Journey will be released in December 2012 with Martin Freeman (The Office) portraying the young Bilbo. There and Back Again - a second film, also adapted from JRR Tolkien's 1937 bestseller - will arrive the following year.

The clip gives the world a first look at Freeman, whose diminutive hero is recruited by Gandalf (played by the returning Ian McKellan), to join a company of dwarves in a noble quest to reclaim their lost kingdom from the dragon Smaug. It's also packed with enough misty mountains, cascading waterfalls and chilling ruins to whet the appetites of fans.

The phenomenal success of Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, with its US$2.9 billion (Dh10.7bn) box-office gross and 17 Academy Awards, meant an adaptation of The Hobbit was always on the cards. But with the trailer arriving almost 10 years to the day after the first Rings movie debuted, what on Middle Earth has taken them so long?

The obstacles that have befallen the Hobbit films' production would have been daunting enough to send even the most daring adventurer fleeing for the safety of home. First, a legal dispute between Jackson and Rings studio New Line over profits from the first film meant preproduction couldn't commence until 2007. Then The Hobbit's original director, Mexico's Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), frustrated by the hold-ups, chose to leave the project.

"In light of continuing delays ... I am faced with the hardest decision of my life," he said in a statement. "After nearly two years of living, breathing and designing a world as rich as Tolkien's Middle Earth, I must, with great regret, take leave from helming these wonderful pictures."

But when Jackson, who originally intended only to produce, decided to return to the director's chair, things didn't get any easier. The same financial problems at the legendary studio MGM (co-financing alongside New Line) that held up the 23rd Bond movie pushed The Hobbit films back yet another year.

In late 2010, mere months before filming was due to commence, Jackson was faced with potential strike action from actors over pay. After the director publicly suggested that the production could be moved to eastern Europe, the government of New Zealand (which had doubled for Middle Earth in the Rings movies) stepped in to resolve the dispute. The country's prime minister John Key - terrified that the films' relocation could cost the country's tourism industry up to $1.5bn - ushered in new legislation and even promised greater financial subsidies to the production.

When the project finally got back on track (some six years after the final Rings film had appeared), fans gave a thoroughly mixed reaction to the news that the films would be shot in 3D. But whether the decision was a money-making studio ploy or (as Jackson claimed) an artistic one, most were just pleased that The Hobbit was finally underway.

Recent months have seen casting titbits drip-fed to ravenous media outlets and blogs. The most notable of which - the news that Freeman had landed the lead role - was accompanied by Jackson's claim that there was "simply nobody else for the job".

But the ensemble cast has offered plenty of notable names too, not least Freeman's counterpart in the BBC series Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, who will voice Smaug. Then there's the former Doctor Who star Sylvester McCoy (as the wizard Radagast the Brown), Stephen Fry (the Master of Laketown) and taking a break from portraying Dame Edna Everage, Barry Humphries (the Great Goblin).

Rings devotees will probably be equally excited by the returning cast, however. Alongside Holm and Ian McKellen, the film will see the return of Andy Serkis (Gollum), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Elijah Wood (Frodo) and Orlando Bloom (Legolas).

As the slow drip of Hobbit news turns into a torrent over the next 12 months and a new chapter opens for millions of fans, spare a thought for Jackson and the others, who will probably be glad when it's all over.

artslife@thenational.ae