If you’re a big Middle Earth fan, chances are you’ve set a weekend aside, sequestered yourself in the living room in front of the TV, and immersed yourself in the 50-plus hours of bonus features and behind-the-scenes documentaries on the Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit films. Those now-legendary and exhaustive chronicles of Peter Jackson’s journey to bring Professor J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy tales to life on the big screen were compiled and produced by one man — Michael Pellerin, and LeagueCast co-host Adam Moreau was fortunate enough to speak with Michael in an exclusive one-hour interview episode of the LeagueCast, which you can listen to HERE.
Michael discussed a range of topics pertaining to Middle Earth ranging from how he first got involved with documentary filmmaking and how he got the Lord Of The Rings job, to his thoughts on why extra features are disappearing from blu-rays and who his favorite interview subject was. Here are a few of the major highlights from the piece. [Some quotes may be abbreviated from the actual audio.]
When Pellerin’s documentary material for the extended edition of The Battle of Five Armies was released along with the film on DVD and Blu-Ray on November 15, it spawned some reactionary and sensationalized reports about director Peter Jackson’s candid comments in the extra features in regards to the chaotic filming process on the Hobbit Trilogy. Stories with headlines like Peter Jackson Didn’t Know What The Hell He Was Doing On ‘The Hobbit’ popped up on media outlets and film blogs, and it seemed writers were quick to tie the mediocre critical reception of the films to Jackson’s production schedule and the idea that he was mostly “winging it.”
Some critics even accused Jackson of not even wanting to direct the films at all; something Pellerin wholeheartedly refuted:
To be clear, the making of The Hobbit —and Peter has said as much, and he’s not lying—for years he had said, “I’m not sure if I want to go back to Hobbit because I’m going to be compared to myself. It’s one thing being the kid from New Zealand who made good with the Lord of the Rings and went all the way to the top of the Academy Awards, but once you’re up at the top, everyone’s got their knives out. Why would I want to put myself in that position?” …The first thing I asked him when I came back for Hobbit was, “Do you really want to make these movies?” He said, “Absolutely yes. I have spent years thinking about it and the more I dabble in that universe, I realize this universe is going to be on my tombstone one way or the other and I love it, so if nothing else they will be made out of love.”
Pellerin also addressed the “winging it” controversy and provided some much-needed context in regards to the time frame and planning of the titular “battle:”
I can’t lie and say (there weren’t delays) but for me, as a person watching these materials, as a person who likes stories, if you say something like that, the first question is, “Why? Why didn’t you shoot the battle material in principal photography?” If you leave it to conjecture, people are going to come up with their own things, so Peter was very forthright explaining this is what happened. That story got taken very out of context because what we explained, which was true, is that Peter did have the better part of two years, two to three years of pre-production on the Lord of the Rings which was a happy accident. [The Hobbit] was not a problem-plagued project at all; it was a very smooth production, except that you had this battle. Everything was working fine. Yes, they were laying the train before the track, but they did that kind of stuff on Rings. There’s nothing new about that. There was just as much stuff being done improvisationally. The difference is on Rings, they did have two years to pre-plan, but they weren’t people who had made (movies)… Since Rings, Peter has made seven major motion pictures (since then), that’s a big difference, that’s before Hobbit.
The problem is that when it gets highjacked by the folks that cut together that video. The way I described it is like, if you made a movie just about a movie that the hardships the characters face, but never show how they overcame them, that would be a pretty weird little film. That’s kind of what that video is. Because it kind of took the essence of what it was about which was “Hey, this is why we moved the battle, I didn’t know what I was doing with the battle,” which is true. They took that and in terms of the media, turned it into “Well, that was his opinion of the whole movie” which is not true.
I didn’t expect people to take our work, manipulate it out of context, and use it sort of in a salacious kind of, sensationalist way to support their opinion. “I don’t like the movie, so I’m going to take what I can from this and create a sound byte and use it support my opinion.” I hope that this doesn’t make (other filmmakers) gun-shy from being open with the public because you can see why it would. …Whereas if you do watch the show, you can see, oh my god, this is really cool what happened. Look what they are up against, look what they did, look at the steps they took, and here’s where they ended up. Now, whether you like the movie or not, that’s another story. That’s a subjective story.
Pellerin also explained how he felt when word came down that The Hobbit was going to become three films instead of the planned two, and why that decision made perfect sense to him:
I realized, “Well, we’re working another year and there’s another release” but I wasn’t surprised, to be honest. I really wasn’t surprised because from the very beginning of the project, I kind of looked at the project and said, “Gee, This is a heck of a lot of movie, this is a lot of story.” You know, what a lot of people who haven’t read Tolkien that closely don’t realize is that everyone goes on about The Hobbit is like a 300-page book, this little tiny book… and the truth is, yes, but if you really take the time to read the book, there is such… brevity and economy that characters just kind of come in, they pop up… if you actually made a movie of that, I’m not sure audiences would buy it because, could Bard just be someone that shows up? You don’t know who he is, he has a confrontation with Thorin, there’s really no backstory. It works fine in an episodic children’s book, which is what The Hobbit was intended to be, as opposed to the Lord of the Rings, which is a much more mature work. Suddenly, you get to the movie, and you need to fill in the gaps here.
When they started saying, “Ok, one, we’re going to do The Hobbit, we’re actually going to tell it as a dramatic movie,” that’s adding a lot of material right there and if you’re actually going to try and do what Tolkien endeavored to do but didn’t complete, which is try to integrate it into the Lord of the Rings, and explain what happens to Gandalf, I just kept looking and saying this is so much more movie than even two movies! I had this thing in the back of my head, so by the time we got to pickups on film one (around June 2012), it was clear that the pickups were all about moving dramatic points earlier in the movie so that you could separate it into three movies. Strangely enough, the three film thing was a relief to me because what it meant, as a production, you only had to get so far into the movie to get it out in the theaters. It’s one thing to get the story to a point where you it does end, which is the Carrack after the confrontation with the Wargs (Out of the Frying Pan) as opposed to where it was originally supposed to go, where they meet Bard. That was the original middle of the film.
Much has been made about Peter Jackson’s decision to push technological boundaries and experiment with 3D and high frame rates on The Hobbit trilogy, but there was very little behind the scenes material about this stuff in the documentaries. Pellerin told us that there was some pretty exciting bonus material about the process actually shot in 3D [!] that may see the light of day eventually:
Over the course of the production, we collected all sorts of material in 3D to tell a proper story about high frame rate, about 3D, and do that whole side. That was originally going to be part of the 3D release but by the time the Hobbit films came out, 3D home video wasn’t doing as well as they had hoped they would. So consequently, they weren’t paying a lot of money to support extra features for 3D. So that stuff never saw the light of day. I have all this 3D stuff and not just behind the scenes shot in 3D, but actually behind the scenes with the 3D guys demonstrating 3D IN 3D! You know what I mean? It’s there, it’s in the treasure box with all the other goodies. Maybe someday, if there’s enough interest, certainly the raw materials are there to do something with it.
Of course, every savvy Tolkien fan and film buff is expecting the future release of a grand, six-film mega box set with all of the Appendices from the previous versions included as well as some brand new, behind-the-scenes bonus features that Pellerin and Jackson have been rumored to be hiding for years. Pellerin confirmed that this material does indeed exist, but that it may be even better and more extensive than any of us imagined:
From the earliest days, all the material was vetted by Peter and decided to be used now or saved for later and we saved A LOT of cool stuff for later. It was conscious. It was like, you know, “Years from now, they aren’t going to believe this!” We’re got this treasure chest of (about) 20 hours of content and some of the stuff … is some of the coolest stuff we have. I’d like that to have that see the light of day. Like I said, there is no chronicles of the Lord of the Rings, that chronological story that we got to do with The Hobbit, that Costa didn’t get to do with his documentaries, and I didn’t get to do with the Lord of the Rings appendices. That has yet to be done and Peter has always threatened to direct that himself, to actually do that himself Even recently, he’s said that. So suddenly a Peter Jackson directed chronological series on the Lord of the Rings using the dailies and using the call sheets and using all the behind the scenes footage, of which there is so much that never even saw the light of day, as the backbone, …that would be mind-blowing and as well, of course all the deleted scenes. Because as you know, on the Lord of the Rings (home video releases), there was no deleted scenes. On The Hobbit, we got away with including deleted scenes material in the context of the Chronicles… and there was a lot of stuff out of Rings.
UPDATE 12-10-15: In a follow-up correspondence with Michael, we asked him about the now-infamous blue/green tint issue on the Extended Edition Blu-ray of The Fellowship Of The Ring, to which he replied:
When The Lord of the Rings was prepared for Blu-Ray, the work was done to the existing HD masters, created when the films came out in 2001, 2002 and 2003. As you know, during that time period, HD was not a consumer format yet, and was only a protection format for archiving the films.
When it came time to master the films for Blu-Ray (in 2008 and 2010 for the theatrical editions and extended editions, respectively), the decision was made to clean up the existing HD masters, instead of doing a complete HD remaster from scratch from the original film and digital elements. So the latitude of what could be done to the picture was not as dynamic as what can be achieved in a complete remaster from original elements. But the Blu-Rays were achieved to the best quality possible, given their source material.
This remaster of the existing HD masters was personally reviewed and approved by the films colourist, Peter Doyle and director of photography, Andrew Lesnie. So what the public saw on the BDs was blessed by the two people most hands-on responsible for the cinematographic image of the original films.
WHV is very considerate and inclusive of collaborating with filmmakers on their mastering process and approving the final masters. They even consulted me on the image quality of the Appendices docs initially when we contemplated up-rezzing them to HD or not, and approving all of the final discs and image quality of The Hobbit Appendices.
After the Blu-Rays came out, Wingnut films and Peter Jackson were made aware of the concerns about the films having to much cyan in the color timing of some of the sequences.
I imagine, if WHV is going to remaster the films for 4K (if they haven’t done so already) they will have no choice but to go back to original elements to do a proper restoration for the higher resolution format. And I am sure if this comes to pass, Wingnut and Peter Jackson will be given the opportunity to review the new masters, so the public will see exactly what was intended in terms of the image and audio of the films.
(Article compiled jointly by Jeff Carter and Adam Moreau)