It's been nine years since the final installment of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy busted the box office wide open with its pre-Christmas opening. Now the world is bracing for another cinematic trip to Middle Earth in the form of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which gets a wide release Dec. 14.
For the uninitiated, "The Hobbit" was written as a children's book in 1937 by Oxford professor J.R.R. Tolkien. It was followed in 1954 by the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which was adapted by New Zealand-based filmmaker Peter Jackson and released from 2001 to 2003. The final installment of the trilogy, "The Return of the King," won 11 Academy Awards, tying with "Ben Hur" (1959) and "Titanic" (1997) for the most Oscars ever awarded to a single film. The trilogy itself grossed some $4 billion worldwide.
Much about "The Hobbit" is the same as its wildly successful predecessor. The same writer and director (Mr. Jackson) made it, and indeed many members of the New Zealand-based crew are "Rings" veterans. A few of its stars -- including Ian McKellan, Cate Blanchett and Elijah Wood -- have reprised their otherworldly roles, and the film was shot in many of the same spectacular locations.
As the world gears up for the film's release, here are six things you should know about "The Hobbit" before the conversation starts:
- A bit quizzically, "The Hobbit" will soon factor into one of the biggest marketing pushes of the year -- Windows 8 -- as Microsoft has reportedly licensed several of "The Hobbit"'s characters for ads to run in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany. Wunderman is tasked with creating the spots, Marketing reports, and the campaign will run in digital, press and outdoor. Exactly how the shop will use furry-footed creatures like Bilbo Baggins to sell Windows Phones is still a head scratcher.
- "The Hobbit" will be the first major film release to combine 3-D technology with new HFR, or high frame rate, technology. The film was shot with state-of -the-art 3-D cameras to be screened in theaters at 48 frames per second instead of the standard 24, which has moved hundreds of theaters to outfit their projection systems with what Warner Brothers is calling HFR 3D technology. For audiences that watch the film in HFR 3D theaters, the image quality will be markedly more smooth and realistic, and, according to some, decidedly less "filmic." When Mr. Jackson screened 10 minutes of the unfinished film to CinemaCon attendees back in April, many complained that the stunning image quality actually detracted from the experience. But most industry experts agree it's where exhibition is headed; James Cameron has confirmed both of his upcoming "Avatar" sequels will be shot in HFR. (Though "The Hobbit" will see a wide release in traditional 24 frames per second, only about 400 theaters in the U.S. are equipped with HFR 3D technology; check here to see if yours is one of them.)
- In case you didn't see our report when news broke, "The Hobbit" landed a tie-in with Denny's restaurants, filling the chain feeder's menu with items like "Frodo's Pot Roast Skillet" and "Gandalf's Gobble Melt." (The Denny's deal also included a rash of TV spots.) It's generated plenty of buzz.
- Hobbits, wizards and other Middle Earthlings are becoming an even greater part of New Zealand's tourism push than the last time around. The Kiwi government footed $99 million of the film's $270 million production price tag and chipped in an additional $10 million to its marketing coffer, all to make sure Mr. Jackson kept the project in New Zealand despite union disputes with the film's producers. Also, as part of the deal, tourism ads for the country will accompany the film in theaters and on DVD. The country's newest tourism ads themselves are centered around the tagline "100% Middle Earth, 100% Pure New Zealand," and in fact, a reported 15% of Tourism New Zealand's marketing budget has been allotted to attracting fans of the films to visit production locations.
- Part of that push comes in the form of goofy Middle Earth-themed safety videos from Air New Zealand, not to mention the enormous decals on the sides of its planes and that the Wellington airport is decked out with a giant 3-D Gollum replica created by the film's actual production designers.
- Mr. Jackson and his co-writers first scripted "The Hobbit," originally published at 310 pages, as a two-film adaptation, with both films shot on location in New Zealand simultaneously. This past July, however, weeks after shooting wrapped, he announced plans to use the surplus of footage he'd shot over the project's 16 months of principal photography, plus some additional filming, to make the two movies into a trilogy. Tolkien was famous for the richness of his fictional Middle Earth, and Mr. Jackson mined the remarkably detailed appendix chapters of "The Lord of the Rings," which almost serve as fully developed history books of his fictional universe, and other Tolkien works to fill out the third "Hobbit" installment.