Several ‘Hobbit’ Updates: McKellen Aboard, Shooting with Red Epic and Racism Accusations

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Peter Jackson

A series of small news bits concerning Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit hit the web over the past 24 hours and I figured I’d give you a large rundown beginning with an update from actor Ian McKellen’s website confirming the actor’s return to Middle Earth as Gandalf. The information says filming will take over a year, beginning in New Zealand in February 2011 and that the “first draft [of the script] is crammed with old and new friends, again on a quest in Middle Earth.”

Moving on, Total Film offers up this first look at the Shire as depicted on the New Zealand set of The Hobbit.

Photo: Total Film

The Shire, of course, will be the starting point of the story before Bilbo (Martin Freeman) takes off on his series of adventures with the inhabitants and creatures of Middle Earth. Speaking of Freeman, he tells the BBC he’s already been fitted for Hobbit make-up saying, “I’ve had wig, feet, ears… Full steam ahead for me to look like Bilbo.”

Full steam for Freeman, but not full steam for Briton Naz Humphreys. Humphreys, who has Pakistani heritage, attended a casting session for The Hobbit in the New Zealand city of Hamilton last week, queuing for three hours only to be told her skin tone was not suitable.

The news was first reported by the Waikato Times, which says there’s video footage of the auditions showing a film company representative telling the crowd: “We are looking for light-skinned people. I’m not trying to be – whatever. It’s just the brief. You’ve got to look like a hobbit.”

A Wingnut spokesman told the AFP anyone who met the height and age criteria was free to audition, regardless of skin colour. “The crew member in question has been dismissed from the show,” he said. “It’s something we take very seriously.”

In other casting news, The One Ring came across a video featuring British actor Shane Briant (The MacKintosh Man) saying he’s potentially up for a role in The Hobbit. The site transcribed his comments and believes he may be up for either the Mayor of Michel Delving or the Mayor of Lake Town. Here’s what he had to say:

I’m hoping to be in The Hobbit. Wouldn’t that be nice. I auditioned for that. It’s supposed to be the ridiculous Mayor of… something or the other… the Shire. And he took himself very seriously. So I got all dressed up, with a silly bow-tie, [here Shane stands up to demonstrate a hunched man with a mild pout] and I thought I gave a very good audition. I still haven’t heard back. I’m thinking it’s because the film’s been put back and Jackson’s now back on board as the director. So I’d love to do that. That’s real fantasy life. So we’ll see.

Finally, a press releease was sent out announcing Peter Jackson plans on shooting both Hobbit films in 3D and has purchased no fewer than 30 RED EPIC Digital Cameras to do so. A lot has been said of RED cameras with Steven Soderbergh serving as a big supporter, which I discussed in more detail on my Blu-ray review of Criterion’s release of Che (read that here). However, even Soderbergh abandoned using the RED Tattoo camera for his upcoming film, Contagion, citing noted some technical holdups, causing him to abandon 3D for the film, which was ultimately shot on the regular RED camera. Brothers Bloom helmer Rian Johnson has his own thoughts on the format as well.

However, it isn’t as if Jackson is going into this shoot with zero knowledge of the camera. In fact he shot a WWI short film titled Crossing the Line using the EPIC which you can watch the trailer for just to the right.

Now I guess it comes down to what everyone thinks about The Hobbit being filmed in not only 3D, but on digital considering the three films in the Lord of the Rings trilogy were shot on 35 mm. I thought everyone was excited Jackson was tanking over The Hobbit after Guillermo del Toro bailed to give the films some manner of continuity; do you think the fact it will be shot in a completely different manner will affect that continuity? Sound off on this and everything else discussed in this post in the comments below.