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Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to Smaug we go!
on 18 November 2012
There aren't many films that come with a behind-the-scenes story rich enough to justify their own biography, but The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is emphatically one of them. Whether or not Peter Jackson's fourth Tolkien adaptation becomes as successful as his Oscar-laden third, the tale of its long, complex, challenging, hugely ambitious production makes for an engrossing read.
The 168 handsome pages of this large format, glossy, full colour, double columned and luxuriously embossed-covered paperback (Bernard Levin would have deducted a star to punish the unavailability of a hardback alternative) are divided into fifty-five bite sized chunks, perfect for a reader with a busy life who has to read in snatches. The illustrations are large, beautifully printed and numerous - I counted only seven pages without one - and would be worth the price of the book by themselves.
Brian Sibley proves an assiduous interviewer, as eager to celebrate the contributions of artists, weapon makers, clothes designers and other backroom craftspeople as to speak to Martin Freeman, Sir Ian McKellen or Barry Humphries. (If you've read Brian's earlier The Lord of the Rings: The Making of the Movie Trilogy, you'll find the treatment here very similar.) Topics covered include the aborted directorship of Guillermo del Toro, Peter's abandonment of 24 frames per second celluloid for 48 frames per second Ultra High Definition video, the techniques and benefits of stereoscopic cinematography and how thirteen dwarves were put through old time military boot camp! Some interviewees and subjects that one might have expected to find turn out to be conspicuous by their absence; but of course, this book is presented as a companion to the first film of three, and next year will bring a second volume as an aperitif for The Desolation of Smaug.
Brian is, I think, an ideal guide to Peter's and his colleagues' work. The hobbitty world is very much home territory for him - indeed, he wrote The Hobbit's equivalent of an A to Z (There and Back Again: The Map of Tolkien's Hobbit) - and he also wrote Peter's authorised life story (Peter Jackson: A Film-maker's Journey). And like other authors with a background in broadcasting, he writes with an inviting, conversational grace that's always genially accessible. But perhaps most important of all, it's obvious that he wrote this book with enthusiasm. Some entertainment tie-ins are ground out by publicists with all the zest of Frodo and Sam trudging up the slopes of Mount Doom. Not this one. Like Peter, J. J. Abrams, Joss Whedon and indeed Tolkien himself, Brian is patently the kind of genre devotee who would still be immersed in fantasy even if it had never put a penny in his pocket. In short, what we're offered here is a treat for all of us who delight in the marvellous written by one of our own.
Now, let's just hope that the movie is as good as we'd like it to be!