Opinions about “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” are all over the board. Yet even people who aren’t that keen on the first entry in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy have been struck by one scene in particular — the meeting between Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) — which was improved dramatically by huge leaps in technology.
When Jackson depicted Gollum in his three “Lord of the Rings” movies, Serkis’ performance was recorded months after principal photography on his scenes had wrapped, with Serkis acting the scenes all by himself. Because his largely computer-animated character was created on a motion capture stage, it didn’t make sense to bring other actors into the mix.
But with “The Hobbit,” advances in motion-capture production meant that Freeman and Serkis could act opposite each other in real time, with Jackson shooting repeated long takes. The result is that the two characters — especially when they are throwing riddles at each other — actually feel as if they are in the same scene.
“There was stuff I didn’t know was possible,” Freeman says of the technology. “There was a live event to it — in the past, you would have shot the scenes several weeks apart.”
In other instances, however, Freeman and Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf, acted on separate stages so that Jackson could cheat the height of Baggins and the film’s dwarfs (not too tall) and Gandalf (very much the opposite). “I would hear Ian speak” from the other stage, Freeman said, “and then look at where he was supposed to be.” Gandalf was then spliced into the scenes in post-production.
Although he has a starring role in the trilogy, Freeman understands what is drawing ticket buyers to “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” which took in a lower-than-expected $84.5 million in its opening weekend. “People are not saying, ‘I’ve got to go see Martin Freeman.' They are going to see ‘The Hobbit,’” said the actor, who also stars in the BBC’s “Sherlock.”
“Part of the job is to get out of the way. Because the story is bigger than you.”