When Sir Peter Jackson was making The Lord of the Rings more than a decade ago, the internet seemed more often like an enemy than a friend to the film-maker.
Various "spy reports" were posted online, sometimes featuring surreptitiously-taken photographs of film sets. There was also an incident in June 2000 when a computer-generated image, purported to be of Gollum in a rough form, was posted on fan website The OneRing.Net only to be removed after a request from The Lord of the Rings' backers.
In 2012, it couldn't be more different. There are still aspects to the US$500 million The Hobbit that are shrouded in secrecy. For one, we don't exactly know the plot. Sure, it's based on JRR Tolkien's book, but with the late decision to make three films, the story will be even more expanded. Until the first film, An Unexpected Journey, premieres on November 28, it's difficult to guess where the film will leave us hanging until part two, The Desolation of Smaug, next year.
Some incidents, which only rate a passing mention, could become important scenes. The screenwriters will also dip into the appendices from The Lord of the Rings. Jackson did the same with The Lord of the Rings. He and co- writers Phillipa Boyens, Fran Walsh and Stephen Sinclair ignored chunks of the trilogy and changed some of the emphasis on incidents and characters. Arguably this actually improved on Tolkien to make it work as cinema.
We also haven't been given any hard information or images of a few characters, including the aforementioned Smaug the dragon.
But the release last month of an official app about The Hobbit for the iPhone and iPad, was again a reminder of how much Jackson has been savvy in embracing the internet and that we are being told much more about this Middle- earth trilogy ahead of time than his previous one.
The app includes links to Jackson's "production videos", from the first released in April last year to the eighth, in July this year, mostly shot at the Comic- Con convention in the United States.
Jackson was a pioneer in releasing what are essentially "making of" shorts about a movie to the internet as it's being made, rather than once a film is released. When he did it for King Kong in 2004, people were aghast, as there was fear it would give too much away. Even star Jack Black asked Jackson in the debut segment: "It's not like, verboten?"
"Well, normally it is," said Jackson. "But we want to let anyone that's interested [in on] just a few little secrets."
Now many films do production videos during filming and post them online as a matter of course - the marketing potential alone makes it difficult to resist. As well, growth of the likes of YouTube, Facebook, smart phones and tablets makes it essential.
All of Jackson's production videos can also be viewed via his Facebook page that was set up to promote The Hobbit.
By film industry standards, Jackson has been generous in the information that he has released about The Hobbit via the internet. He's one of a coterie of film- makers who clearly enjoy communicating about the process of film-making to the public and making it accessible without ever being patronising.
Regardless, the production videos are to promote the films, so are unlikely to be a warts and all account of re-creating Middle- earth. But they can still give surprising titbits of information, especially when considered outside the context of the videos themselves. One recent example was released in July, which gave details about filming an elaborate set for the "Moroccan-Turkish- Italian" style town called Dale. Jackson says in the video: "It rivals some of the biggest sets we ever built [on The Lord of the Rings] which would have been Minas Tirith and Helm's Deep in the old days".
What the video didn't say was this was the first clear look at a set that has been constructed in Maupuia, above Miramar in Wellington. The media have largely been kept out. Up until then the best the public could hope for to get a good view was a window seat of an aircraft landing at Wellington airport.
Dale is also significant in that it gives another clue to the possible expansion of the tale in Jackson's adaptation. When the story begins in Tolkien's The Hobbit, Dale had already been destroyed by Smaug. So it's possible this time we get to see the destruction in all its high- action Jackson glory.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has its world premiere in Wellington on November 28 and opens on December 13.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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