Peter Jackson rarely hears grumbles from Middle-earth fans -- just the opposite. "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy not only enjoyed success in epic proportions, it was also the rare triple-threat in terms of box-office numbers, industry awards and critical acclaim. Yet a degree of wariness may be in order as he approaches the preview of "The Hobbit" at Comic-Con International on Saturday because of his experience at another preview in Las Vegas last April. Reactions were divided about Jackson's new Tolkien footage; it was screened at 48 frames per second (the norm is 24 frames) and, in the view of some, the added clarity actually sapped the majesty out of Middle-earth and made it look more like an episode of "Masterpiece Theatre." We asked him about his plans.
Q: It would be silly to consider a July afternoon in San Diego as a make-or-break moment for a December release -- especially one with the heritage, resources and global interest that "The Hobbit" has on its side. But it'd also be a mistake to underestimate the importance of reaching core fans. How would you frame the Hall H appearance as far as the stakes?
A: I think it's more about protecting the downside, rather than helping the film in any significant way. There is a huge audience waiting to see "The Hobbit," and any positive press from Comic-Con will truthfully have little impact on that. However, as we saw at CinemaCon earlier this year, with our 48-frames-per-second presentation, negative bloggers are the ones the mainstream press runs with and quotes from. I decided to screen the "Hobbit" reel at Comic-Con in 2-D and 24 frames per second, so the focus stays firmly with the content and not the technical stuff. If people want 3-D and 48fps, that choice will be there for them in December.
Q: Even as well as you know Tolkien, I'm sure the process of making these two new films has presented you with new insights and connections with the material. What surprises have you found in Middle-earth or in the work of the bookshelf wizard?
A: As slight as people think the "Hobbit" novel is, compared to the "Lord of the Rings" books, we have been surprised at how rich the world is, and how many interesting themes and characters there are to explore. We are also using extensive parts of the appendixes, which were published at the end of "Return of the King." This is not just "The Hobbit" -- it's "The Hobbit" set in a much greater context of events taking place throughout Middle-earth during this period. The material is so rich. In fact, only this last week or two, we've been talking to the studio about allowing us to shoot some additional material next year, to fully complete the story.
Q: In some ways, Martin Freeman might have more weight on his shoulders than any single actor in the first trilogy. How would you say he's handling it?
A: We adjusted our shooting schedule around Martin's "Sherlock" TV series to enable him to do the movie. We literally couldn't think of any other actor in the world more perfect to play Bilbo Baggins. Get that casting wrong and the movie falls flat on its face. Martin knocks it out of the park.
Q: If you had one sentence for the Middle-earth fans who don't get a seat in Hall H, what would it be?
A: We've all loved returning to Middle-earth and now look forward to fans stepping back into this world with us.