Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 12-10-12

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

Still of Ian McKellen in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

Still of Ian McKellen in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” – In theaters December 14th

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” – In theaters December 14th

“Hobbit” hopes; Most weekends see three or four new wide releases arriving in multiplexes, but that’s not the case this time around.

Every other studio is avoiding going head to head with Warner Bros.’ launch of New Line Cinema and MGM’s fantasy adventure “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” reflecting expectations that moviegoers’ “Hobbit” habit will be huge when the WingNut Films production opens Friday at 4,000-plus theatres.

The high hopes for “Hobbit” are confirmed by tracking reports showing total awareness in very high double digits and enviable overall first choice scores. A week before opening, “Hobbit” is tracking the same as “Skyfall” was when it arrived and slightly less than the tracking for “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2” when it opened.

“Hobbit’s” tracking best with under-25 males and next best with 25-plus males. While its female scores are lower, they”re still so high that other films would be thrilled to have them. As for the critics, it’s got a 74 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer – and a 95 percent “want to see” score from RT users.

Considering that “Skyfall” kicked off to $88.4 million (plus $2.2 million more from its Thursday previews) and “Dawn 2” opened to a staggering $141.1 million, it’s a safe bet that “Hobbit” will give this weekend’s boxoffice a happy jolt.

“Skyfall,” the 23rd film in Eon Productions’ 50 year old James Bond franchise, and “Dawn 2,” the Summit Entertainment franchise’s must-see concluding episode, both benefited from being well established brands — and “Hobbit’s” doing the same thing.

While it’s not officially a prequel to Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which grossed over $1 billion in domestic theatres, “Hobbit” is essentially a kissing cousin to the mega-blockbuster franchise – “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001), “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002) and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003).

All three “Rings” episodes were best picture Oscar nominees and “King” won Oscars for best picture, directing and adapted screenplay.

“Hobbit” is the first in its own trilogy of films adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel “The Hobbit.” Those three episodes – “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” opens in 2013 and “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” opens in 2014 — tell a continuous story set in Middle-earth 60 years before Tolkien’s “Rings” stories.

There are numerous connections between “Rings” and “Hobbit” both behind and in front of the camera, starting with “Rings” director Peter Jackson. Its screenplay is by Fran Walsh & Phillipa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro, of whom only del Toro didn’t have a hand in writing the “Rings” trilogy.

Among the key department heads who worked with Jackson on “Rings” and returned for “Hobbit” are: director of photography Andrew Lesnie, production designer Dan Hennah, conceptual designers Alan Lee and John Howe, editor Jabez Olssen and makeup and hair designer Peter Swords King.

Moreover, “Hobbit’s” four producers all had major roles in making the “Rings” trilogy. Besides Jackson, there’s Fran Walsh, who was a producer and writer on “Rings,” Carolynne Cunningham, who was first assistant director on “Rings,” and Zane Weiner, who was unit production manager on “Rings.”

As for “Hobbit’s” stars, while Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins) and Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield) aren’t “Rings” veterans, Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf the Grey. Also reprising their “Rings” roles are Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Ian Holm (Old Bilbo), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Elija Wood (Frodo) and Andy Serkis (Gollum).

Freeman plays hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who’s out to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. After unexpectedly encountering Gandalf (McKellen), Bilbo joins a group of 13 Dwarves led by the legendary warrior Thorin (Armitage), journeying into the Wild through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins, Orcs, deadly Wargs and a mysterious creature called the Necromancer.

Jackson, a technological pioneering filmmaker, shot “Hobbit” in 3D at 48 frames per second (rather than the traditional 24 frames per second) and it will be released in select theatres in High Frame Rate 3D. It also will be playing widely in 2D and 3D formats as well as in IMAX. Production took place at Jackson’s studio facilities in Miramar, Wellington and on location around New Zealand.

Bottom line: “Hobbit” will have the mid-December boxoffice sizzling this weekend!