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Peter Jackson on Reaching the End of the Tolkien Road with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

After sixteen years spent adapting and producing J.J. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit for film, some of the most successful films ever, director Peter Jackson can think of just one thing. Doing nothing.

He has reached the end of his sojourn with a flawless record of entertaining the fans in a phenomenally successful run.  Jackson says when he’s completed the DVD cut, that is absolutely, positively it.

Jackson and his longtime team including co-writer Phillipa Boyens have taken their places in cinematic history with a franchise that has earned upwards of $2.9 billion – even without  The Hobbit: the Battle of the Five Armies which opens this week.

Jackson pioneered new cinematic techniques and values and introduced stars whose lives and careers were changed by the series and he changed our lives by giving us a consistent, enduring and uniting shared experience.

Strangely, Jackson started in the middle of Tolkien’s series and worked his way to the beginning, releasing The Hobbit after the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Turned out, it was the perfect formula. We spoke with Jackson, Boyens and actor Lee Pace who plays Elfin King Thranduil in Toronto, one of the stops on Jackson’s victory lap.

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The Tolkien films are officially finished. What does it mean to you?

Peter Jackson – It has significance because it’s the moment in which six films in a series finally come into focus.

The first of the Hobbit movies are the first, so this is the climax, it’s the missing piece to carry on into The Fellowship of the Ring and until this movie existed, there were these paths out there and now they’re together.

We’re only a generation away from people who have no memory of knowledge of how the films were released and all they’ll have the boxed set. This may be the first time in more than 16 years you’ll wake up not obsessed with the films’ details. Yes.

We’ve finished the story of Tolkien and it’s not like there’s a deadline. Even on vacation at Christmas when you have three weeks off it’s always been the looming thing.

Now I get to wake up, done and finished with nothing to do. I wanted for once in my life after 30 years not to have anything to do. I won’t be bored.

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You’ve been steeped in Tolkien for decades and expanded the elements to stitch it all together. How much becomes the key narrative and how did you figure out the formula?

Phillipa Boyens – Experience. That’s why it was good to make these films having made the Lord of the Rings trilogy first, doing them the wrong away around.

You know who Gandalf and Legolas are. Tolkien didn’t stop writing The Hobbit, but kept writing for many years. You go into the appendices of Lord of the Rings and know there was a Necromancer. You know so much more.

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P.J. – We were never adapting The Hobbit published in 1937. We were adapting that plus material Tolkien put in from Lord of the Rings trilogy and appendices from Return of the King, so we are actually adapting The Hobbit as it was in the fifties.                                                                                                         aaaaahobLee Pace as Thranduil

P.B. – For instance, Lee’s character Thranduil is really cool and we found his backstory. There is a huge amount on him and his isolation and you find why he’s like that.

Lee Pace – It was a purely creative process, to take little clues in The Hobbit and mine it for what the character was. This elfin king had fought in great battles and dragons and was now refusing to fight the epic battle of good and evil. Elves are far from human, they are very deep and their love is profound.

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P.J. – Also fighting for him means committing his troops. Unlike mortals, who if they don’t die in battle will die sometime, an elf is immortal unless he’s killed with a sword. It would be a difficult to commit to war.

L.P. – Something exciting about it is that there are all these disparate actors working on it. I saw the movie and we’re all telling the same big, big story that came from conversations we’ve had in Philippa’s kitchen.

We would be working on a green screen not knowing what it would look like. I would ask Peter if the armies are going to be big and then I watched the movie and the armies are ten times bigger than I expected.

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The art direction is stunning and says so much about the characters. Everyone has a unique style and there is a certain symbolism in the interpretation.

PJ – We’ve always approached Tolkien as history not fantasy, but fantasy is nothing to embarrassed about. I love fantasy. But traditionally they’ve been condescending, a little bit silly, not real.

You can see that in fantasy films in the past. It is not the approach I like. Our design is always influenced by the real world. The riders of Rohan are based on the Norse people and in history and the National Geographic the iconography is there.

The early parts felt like Art Nouveau, like the Paris underground, that was a clue into the elves. You try to be originals, youre just tying into our world slightly with these races and cultures.

It brings us in. SI would give the art and design departments a copy of a picture so everyone’s making the same film. They understand the same influences. Fantasy can become a bit scattered.

LP – The style! You can’t fake style.

PJ – Elves are the hardest to cast. They are perfection. You have to be a little otherworldly and it’s a pain in the ass. We’ve been doing these films a long time.

I’m looking into the future and I’m not because I’m going on holiday. We have just had such a wonderful group of friends now. The cast we recently used is fantastic. I love it when directors have relationships with actors you see in film after film; it’s such a creative thing.

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Do you envision going back and playing with the films the way Tolkien kept returning to the books?

PJ – The only thing I have in the New Year is making the extended cut. It’s not the dumping ground for outtakes. It’s essentially the same story from two experiences of viewing.

You have a different experience, a whole different way of viewing the movie at home. The content doesn’t have to be the same. From the point of view of sofa or bed, not cinema seats.

There is no need to have an identical version at home. It would be sad to spend my life to go back and do this over and over.

Photos courtesy Saul Zaentz, New Line, Warner Brothers Pictures

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