A Long Journey Began: Gandalf the Grey and Bilbo Baggins revealed

Finally, after an extended time – we are beginning to see the images from the set of The Hobbit. Warner Bros. are being understandably coy in releasing any extensive images (steadily releasing small parts of the whole). 5 of the Dwarves have now been released and the designs and make up work is extensive. Two characters however that required the least amount of attention are two old friends, together at the start of a strange old adventure that will ultimately consume all of Middle Earth. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf the Grey (one day to be Gandalf the White) have both been released by WB.

These are no surprise. The casting of Freeman was a nigh unquestionable piece of casting. He looks to have populated the character perfectly, originally played as his older self in LOTR by Ian Holm. It is with a steady heart that fans of LOTR have taken Freeman on board and these pictures confirm a harmless and fairly seamless continuation of the story of the most famous resident of Bag End.

McKellen of course reprises his role as Gandalf the Grey and WB have offered up a suitably relaxed image of the old wizard reclining at the base of some old tree. The question is this, while mainstay characters originally developed in the original LOTR films remain simple and conscise in appearance – how, when Jackson and his costume and make up department know that the globe will be watching, will they maintain a steady and even hand in the Dwarf design? All too easily expectation can lead to over working basic concepts. Will we see an overworked principle cast as SW I, II and III? Hard to say at this stage – but here is Dori, Nori and Ori and Oin and Gloin in full uniform. You judge….

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Photos from Bagend: Filming for the Hobbit begins….

Since 1937 it is a book that has captured the imaginations of millions and introduced literary characters such as Bilbo Baggins, Smaug, Thorin Oakenshield and Gandalf. It spawned a broader, darker tome named The Lord of the Rings and in the early 21st Century it represented the basis for a set of films that were and are the epitomy of seamless storytelling and cinema and a benchmark in special effects technology making an audience forget that Middle Earth doesn’t exist. It revolutionised the tourist trade of an entire nation off the coast of Australia and and made JRR Tolkien and Peter Jackson household names.

I am very pleased to announce that initial filming on The Hobbit: There and Back Again has begun and that the cast and crew have already begun to express their genuine happiness at the beginning of what has been, at times, a project that may never have seen the light of day. Following disputes over royalties, threatened film studios, being potentially helmed by two genius directors, a union dispute, a major operation and an Earthquake finally, Bilbo Baggin’s journey has begun again for an entirely new generation. Collected below are the first photos to be sent from the set, including an old cast member, a new cast member and everyone’s favourite Director.


A very different Peter Jackson walks in to Bagend (Bilbo’s home in Hobbiton – still intact from the first film) after a long road back to the Director’s chair.


Peter Jackson at the seat he sat at so many years before at the beginning of the production of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (below).



…. and finally, the star Ian McKellan (Gandalf the Grey) posted the photo below (with James Nesbitt) from rehearsals with the caption ‘Bofur and Gandalf at our first Rehearsal.’


Beyond the Bunker will try to keep pace with the production as it goes on and bring you any major highlights over the next year and a half of filming before the release of the first installment some time in 2012 (hopefully Christmas).
Jackson’s assistant, Matt Dravitszki, told New Zealand’s Sunday Star-Times that production will last through 2012.
“We will be filming in our studios in Miramar, [Stone Street Studios at] Wellington, and in locations throughout New Zealand,” he said.

McKellen provided more specifics, writing that he found himself “in various places which are all the same place.”
“I was on flat land the Maori called Whataitai until renamed in 1872, Miramar, or ‘Behold the Sea,’ which is indeed nearby,” he wrote on his blog. “I was in Stone Street Studios in the heart of a modern suburb, with some light industry.

The first installment of “The Hobbit” is expected in December 2012, and the second will be released in 2013. According to online sources New Line Cinema has reportedly registered the following two titles:

The Hobbit: There and Back Again and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

… and so a very much intended and yet slightly unexpected journey begins. We’ll keep you posted as it goes.

The Merry Band: The Band of Dwarves Pt 3

Following a two year wait The Hobbit has now gone into production with Dwarf camp in full swing as the crew and cast prepare for initial shooting. As such Beyond the Bunker.com wants to take a closer look at the production as it happens. Last week was Ken Stott (Balin), Jed Brophy (Nori), Mark Hadlow (Dori) and Adam Brown (Ori) the week before was Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield), Aidan Turner (Kili), James Nesbitt (Bofur – it turns out), Rob Kazinsky (Fili) and Graham McTavish (Dwalin) we take a look at four more of the assembled Dwarves on the quest against Smaug the dragon and the actors playing them. Pick up your axes, we’re heading back into unfamiliar territory….

Wellington NZ was shaken by another Earthquake a week following the previous more devastating one that claimed at least 160 lives in Christchurch. This will have effected the Dwarf training ground as it was near to Wellington but no cast, crew or associated PR has been created by it which is a refreshingly nice example of a production not jumping on an easy scoop. James Nesbitt (coach), Mark Hadlow (umpire) and Martin Freeman (umpire) will be involved in a charity cricket match to raise funds for the Earthquake appeal. Russell Crow is coaching the opposing team.

James Nesbitt was interviewed briefly about his training so far; “We’ve been here for training, because I’m going to be here for a year so the amount of work and the work we’ll be getting up to means we all have to be fit, you know, and a few of us are getting on a bit, so we’ve been training and horse-riding and doing stunts and all that kind of thing, and then we start.” He also revealed that filming was due to start and members of the cast had arrived in mid January but Peter Jackson’s perforated ulcer had caused delays while the Director got the necessary treatment. It all starts fully in ‘three weeks’ and Nesbitt himself is quoted as not minding the break.

But we have Dwarves still to introduce and its taken considerably longer than expected. Still remaining are two of the older members of the band and brothers one particularly tiresome character that holds up proceedings and is unlikely to be training as hard as the others and a seasoned warrior Dwarf.

Stephen Hunter (Bombur) Unwittingly cast as “the clown” from an early age, Stephen is at home with comedy roles, and has developed a great sense of comic timing from many years on stage. This has resulted in him being cast in dozens of comedic roles in TVC’s, and Television Comedy. Stephen is also reportedly a very strong dramatic actor, scoring leading guest roles in many TV dramas including All Saints (NZ), Mercy Peak and Street Legal (NZ). And he keeps himself sharp for the next role with regular “Meisner” training at The Actors Pulse in Redfern (NZ). This is a significant step up for the occasional TV actor from New Zealand, representing a character of considerable (though not always welcome) influence on the plot and the journey himself. Bombur has the potential to be a hilarious character so Hunter’s grounding in comedy puts him in good stead at playing the complete liability among the troupe.

‘Poor, fat,’ Bombur is frequently shown as having been the last in everything. A comedic character through and through, introducing himself by tumbling into Bifur and Bombur as they arrive at Bag End at the very start of the story and falls into the enchanted river. Bombur sleeps at several key moments of the book. Having fallen into the Enchanted River he sleeps for days, forcing his already frustrated companions to carry him. Understandably edited out in Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo asks after Bombur and is told that he had grown so fat it took six young dwarves to lift him, as he could no longer move from his bed to the couch.

Bombur is simply written and easy to delightfully realise. He’s right up Peter Jackson’s comedic street and we can expect great moments from the fattest Dwarf in the band. He also plays a drum.

William Kircher is a long standing TV and minor film actor from New Zealand going back to the mid-eighties as a constable in a film called Trespasses (NZ) and Worzel Gummidge Down Under (?!) as 2nd Screcrow, Farmer and Stallholder. His career has followed a path of fantasy and literary movie and TV projects such as the Enid Blyton Adventure Series (1996), the Legend of William Tell (1998) and Xena Warrior Princess as a Captain (also 1998). Almost ten years past before he returned for a couple of credits in small locally made films Out of the Blue, Wildfire and Aftershock and finally appeared in the TV series Legend of the Seeker in 2009 before being picked up to join the primary cast of the Hobbit. Kircher has a distinctive look and strong features that will likely set him apart from many of the other characters as he appears perhaps more naturally dwarf like than many. It will be interesting to see what won him the part above many others but is part of ‘ an amazing jigsaw of talent’ as he described it himself.

The clarinet-playing cousin of Bombur and Bofur, he is very fond of Raspberry Jam and Apple-tart and wears a yellow hood. He didn’t have as rough a barrel ride as many of his companions but was still too stiff to de-keg the other Dwarves. Bifur is potentially a less prominent character among the group but the long format may offer the character a little more room to breathe. While an unwritten character may be absent in the awareness of a reader, the immediacy of cinema means that a distinctive actor such as Kircher might gain a greater foothold for a footnote character. Its Bifur that will be worth watching to see how Jackson may have altered the characterisation and organisation of Tolkien’s characters as his generous nature towards characters will likely allow some minor members to offer greater influence on events.

John Callen (Oin) is a veteran New Zealand actor who’s credits begin with Pictures (NZ) as Casey in 1981, appearing in the the same Worzel Gummidge series as William Kircher though in a separate episode as a bailiff. He supplied additional voices to Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords in 2004 and Mucor in Power Rangers Mystic Force and Sonimax in four episodes of Power Rangers Jungle Fury TV series – how many Power Rangers series were there? He also offered up voiceovers for two documentaries in 20o1 and 2002 and directed for TV in 2000. His last credit before the Hobbit was Love Birds as Professor Craddock. John Callen has been brought in for his voice as much as any other attribute as true to Tolkien’s novel ‘I’m doing boy Soprano’, he quipped at the initial boot camp.

Oin, Son of Groin (pronounced Gro-in) is brother to Gloin and was counted on – along with his brother to start the campfires which both characters bickered over. Oin was ultimately a survivor of the battle of Five Points and entered Moria with Balin (where they met their doom at the hands of Orcs). However, he didn’t die in the catacombs discovered by Gandalf and Frodo – sadly his death came when trying to escape via the Western Door (featured in the Fellowship) -taken by the slightly terrifying Watcher in the Water.

And this brings us to the final member of the collective that travels to Smaugs lair alongside a certain inexperienced Hobbit and adventurous old Wizard.

Peter Hambleton (Gloin) is another Kiwi actor who appeared in the Shark in the Park (TV series), the Last Tattoo (1994) with William Kircher and Rainbow Warrior in 1992 as Maury Whitman alongside his future brother-in-height John Callen. His parts run fairly consistently throughout the nineties (predominantly in TV) but his longest stint was as Father Donleavy in The Strip TV series in 2002 and in film briefly in Home by Christmas as Sgt Syd Gurton in 2010, His last credit before joining the cast of The Hobbit was The Inspector in NZ TV series Paradise Cafe this year. His work is mostly New Zealand based and it is unsurprising that he would’ve worked previously alongside Kircher and Callen previously as the NZ TV and Film industry is miniscule. However, clearly Jackson was influenced enough by his hoem viewing to sign up 5 kiwis (although in relatively minor parts). Hambleton’s resume runs fairly consistently which suggests a professional and likable actor with an ability. It’ll be interesting to see what chemistry he can ignite with his singing and bickering brother on the cold nights preparing the fire.

Father to Gimli, Gloin survives the events of the Hobbit and travelled to Rivendell with his son as an embassy from Dain II to bring news of Erebor, Moria and what they knew of Sauron’s plans; in time to attend the council of Elrond. Making Gloin the only character to appear in Jackson’s previous film incarnation of Tolkien’s classic.

So there we have it; the circle has formed (perhaps in the shape of a Ring) and paths are linked between the old tales and the new in ways I didn’t expect as I began investigating these strange short and stout warrior travellers. Tolkien formed this band of misfits and inadequates, proud and pompous, inept and incapable, brazen and belligerent to travel to recapture something important to their civilisation. But when compared to the heroes and that populate the later, grander saga of the Lord of the Rings trilogy you begin to see that maybe in this simpler and more honed prequel to the famous tale, Tolkien created something more Human than the Humans that followed shortly after.

Short legged and long journeyed, having familiarised myself with the Merry band of Dwarves that are to travel to Erebor on a seemingly lunatic quest to fight an enormous talking Dragon and kick start a series of events that will threaten the entirety of Middle Earth completely, I look forward to getting a chance to sit back in the darkened hall of the Cinema and watch these fools do more than they ever expect. Make millions of people happy while they fight over fires, fall into rivers, climb out of barrels, argue with town leaders and survive a great Journey… there and Back again.

Really… a Dwarves tale.

The Merry Band : The Band of Dwarves Pt 2

Following a two year wait The Hobbit has now gone into production with Dwarf camp in full swing as the crew and cast prepare for initial shooting. As such Beyond the Bunker.com wants to take a closer look at the production as it happens. Last week was Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield), Aidan Turner (Kili), James Nesbitt (Bofur – it turns out), Rob Kazinsky (Fili) and Graham McTavish (Dwalin) we take a look at four more of the assembled Dwarves on the quest against Smaug the dragon and the actors playing them. Pick up your axes, we’re heading back into unfamiliar territory….

Ken Stott (Balin). Stott is an exceptional Scottish actor specialising in slightly downtrodden and bitter individuals. A theatrical, Television and Film actor he began on screen in 1977 appearing in TV series Secret Army in a single episode. He has stocked up a pile of TV appearances in Taggart (1985), The Singing Detective (1986), Bad Company (1993), Silent Witness (1996), the harrowing Messiah (2001), the title character in Rebus as DI john Rebus (2006-2007) and the Runaway – due out this year. With occassional but notable positions in cinema over these years playing Dalfonso in Casanova (2005), Chancellor of the Exchequer in the much passed over Girl in the Cafe, made as a commentary on the lack of (or potential for) influence on social politics to common people made by Richard Curtis for Live 8. He also played Adolf Hitler in TV Movie Uncle Adolf in 2005, Marius Honorius in the unfortunately leaden King Arthur in 2004 and the ferocious and snivellingly brutal head of the constabulary as Chance in 1999’s Plunkett and McCleane playing opposite Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller and Liv Tyler. His performances are always gripping and impressive, Stott representing twice the man his height suggests – something pretty handy for a dwarf.

Balin is brother to Dwalin (Graham McTavish) and is the one Dwarf who carries with him a hidden purpose. Above all other Dwarves in the company he is the only one explicitly stated to have been present in the Mountain Kingdom of Erebor before the attack by Smaug. The book also makes clear that Balin was in the company of Thorin when Smaug arrived but curiously also reveals their respective ages as 7 and 24 (interesting given the difference in ages between Stott and Armitage). Balin is look out at all times and is the only Dwarf to volunteer to enter Smaug’s lair with Bilbo.

Balin is the only character written to have visited Bilbo at Bag End after the events of the Hobbit but his story does not end in the pages of the Hobbit. In one of the most memorable scenes from The Fellowship of the Ring, it is Balin’s tomb in the Chamber of Mazarbul the title character’s discover. In that scene Gandalf finds the dwarves’ book of records written by Ori, and discovers from it that Balin was killed by Orcs.

The cast in question Balin, Nori, Dori and Ori (Ken Stott, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow and Adam Brown)

Jed Brophy (Nori) Jed Brophy is a ‘lucky charm’ in Peter Jackson films beginning as far back as Braindead (1992) listed as Void and Heavenly Creatures (1994). He appeared in Lord of the Rings: Two Towers as Sharku – the mounted Urukhai responsible for forcing Aragorn over the cliff and Snaga who I suspect is the Orc perturbed at the ‘Maggoty Bread’ before promptly being beheaded by the infuriated Urukhai Commander and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (simply listed as Orc Leiutentant 1) as well as James Hope – Police Officer in 2009’s SA based alien District 9, produced by Jackson. His credits outside of the franchise are few and far between and almost certainly NZ and Australian based including Joseph Savage in Return to Treasure Island and a short hilariously called Lemming Aid. Returning to the fold once again its hard to know how much or how little influence Brophy will have on the screen this time around but based on his previous work and Jackson’s clear reliance on him we can be sure that however brief a moment is offered by Nori it will likely be memorable. Notably more lightweight that his fellow actors, Brophy may need more time in the make up and costume departments or may represent a new shape of Dwarf amongst the broad cave Vikings.

Brophy hopes to ‘make it all the way through without getting killed. Horribly.’ Something his previous films with Jackson suggest is unlikely.

Nori is the brother to Ori and Dori. He is merely listed as one of the companions of Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit. His survival is no way assured.

Mark Hadlow (Dori) is another NZ veteran of Peter Jackson movies playing Harry – opposite Naomi Watts- at the beginning of King Kong and the voice of Heidi, Robert and Barry the Bulldog in Jackson’s 1990 psycho Muppet movie Meet the Feebles. Besides this he has mostly gained parts in small films and TV series (including Milo in Xena: Warrior Princess in 1999 and Orrin in Warlords of the 21st Century. Otherwise Jackson’s casting represents a great jump up for Hadlow, particularly as brave and capable Dori. He says he’s ready for the adulation taht will come from starring in a movie like this. ‘We’ve had our shots,’ he laughs on set in Wellington with the rest of the cast.

Dori is the brother of Nori and Ori. When it all goes wrong it falls to Dori to carry Bilbo in the tunnels of the Misty Mountains, but Dori dropped Bilbo and the other dwarves blame him for “losing their burglar.” In the original book, Dori is described as “a decent fellow, despite his grumbling,” while Thorin describes him as being the strongest member of the company.

Adam Brown (Ori) has appeared almost from nowhere with his online credits literally being Oswald Potter in Chucklevision in 2009 and then the youngest of three Dwarf brothers in The Hobbit: Part 1 and Part 2. Predominantly a Theatre actor, he is 29 years old (born 1980) and trained in performing arts at Middlesex University, co-founding ‘Plested and Brown’ (presumably on hiatus at present) writing and performing in all six shows (Carol Smillie Trashed my Room, The Reconditioned Wife Show, Flamingo Flamingo Flamingo, Hot Pursuit, Minor Spectacular and the most recent Health & Stacey.) He has toured with the company across the UK as well as performances in Armenia, South Korea and the Best of British Festival in New Zealand (good practice) prior to his offer to join the Dwarf cast of The Hobbit. The only American in the group and professionally the most junior Adam Brown may be said to be the only evidence of a casting held in the UK (where he was based at the time) turning out cast members. Brown is proof that success and opportunity can literally smash you in the face and drag you somewhere you didn’t anticipate at a moments notice and his presence is absolutely hilarious and most likely still a slight mystery to the man himself given the cast surrounding him though we wish him the best of luck and am sure given the scale of the casting that introduced him that his placement is entirely justified.

Ori’s knowledge of Moria helps the group. Brother to Nori and Dori, Ori is the youngest of the three. Surviving the events of the original book it is Ori’s writings in Balin’s tomb in the Chamber of Mazarbul that is read aloud by Gandalf. So in many ways Ori is the longest surviving remnant of the original story though he never lives long enough to see Gandalf again.

On that sad note, I must call it a night once again dear reader. Only one more account of the band of Dwarves is required to round off our band of 13 with brothers Gloin, Oin, Bifur and Bombur still to come. Until then I hope you sleep well and are not disturbed by the beating of a Dragon’s wing outside in the dark.

The Hobbit: The Return of the Characters

The lighter (and earlier) chapter in the Middle Earth canon sees a Middle Earth unfettered by gigantic all-seeing eyes and roaming armies felling everything they find in their path. Fundamentally, much like the sequel Lord of the Rings, its a story about an individual, aided (or in this case forced) on a great and long journey. Both stories begin with one central character, a Hobbit. And in both one can be found in Hobbiton of the Shire.

Bilbo Baggins will of course be making a return. Obviously much younger this time around – Bilbo will be following the journey spoken of in the later Lord of the Rings films, There and Back Again – which is finished off by his nephew, Frodo having completed his own quest. Bilbo however, has a slightly merrier time of it – never being weighed down by the ring (though the films will likely make more of it) and leading a band of Dwarves on a quest. In the position of thief, and hurried along by his friend Gandalf – Bilbo is the first in living memory to travel out of the shire and have an adventure. Proper boy’s own stuff. Hooray!!

Bilbo will be played by Martin Freeman. Previously played by Ian Holm, Freeman was at pains to explain that he ‘could think of much better choices’ to play Bilbo Baggins and that while his Bilbo will share many traits with Holm he cannot hope to imitate him. Freeman it seems to occupies the state of being the go-to guy for fulfilling famous English literary characters; playing Arthur Dent in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock in the recent TV series and now Bilbo Baggins.

Gandalf will make a return though in this case is only present in the book at the beginning – journeying with the Dwarves and Bilbo only a short way. Given Peter Jackson’s adherence to the book in the past, we should expect a similar set of events. While some liberties were taken in the storyline of the original LOTR films its unlikely that Jackson would have Gandalf continue on with them beyond Mirkwood or else alter the content of the rest of the book. The rest hinges on a bunch of short little fellers getting themselves into a whole bunch of scrapes so a gangly grey wizard’d be slightly out of place. On top of which, Gandalf’d tell them not to do at least half the things they try. Where’s the fun in that?

Ian McKellen will be reclaiming the character of Gandalf the Grey, signed and confirmed with the previous Director Guillermo Del Toro. “Yes, it’s true,” he said. “I spoke to Guillermo in the very room that Peter Jackson offered me the part and he confirmed that I would be reprising the role. Obviously, it’s not a part that you turn down, I loved playing Gandalf.” At the time he had little inclination as to how it would all be palyed out but somewhere in New Zealand there is a full script with Ian McKellen’s name on it, if not in the hand of the man himself. We at Beyond the Bunker couldn’t be any happier that McKellen has reprised the role – I mean, who else can play Gandalf?

Galadriel and the actress who played her, Cate Blanchett will be reprising the role as well as Christopher Lee as Saruman. Saruman’s presence in the Hobbit is either extremely minor or non-existent and the beardy nemesis of Gandalf will likely be a friendly cameo role in Gandalf’s time away from the Hobbit.

But a central story amongst all the other tall tales in the journey of the Hobbit is that of the character that launches the events of Lord of the Rings. The original ring bearer is due to come into conflict with a certain Mr Bilbo in the darkened pools under middle Earth. Smeagol and Bilbo meet in a neat moment in a darkened cave in the book and the conflict is slight and brief – if a little unnerving. More is likely to be made of this character given the hindsight of both JRR Tolkien’s follow up and the scale of the effect caused by this small event – so it’ll be interesting to see how they get on with that….

Reprising the role (more efficiently than ever before) will be Andy Serkis – who needs no introduction following the success of the previous films. Everyone’s favourite CGI character, Serkis will be appearing in Jackson and Spielberg’s Tintin motion capture movie which will have been an excellent training ground for Serkis and the new real-time motion capture technology. When asked if he was prepared to face the physical rigours of playing everyone’s prehistoric chav – Serkis said ‘he’s an amazing character to play.. I’m relishing the thought actually.’

It was made clear early on that anyone who could come back would come back – however, while Saruman is perhaps an expected choice as a cameo one other character from the original films might be making an appearance – played by the original actor. Keep your eyes on Beyond the Bunker to find out what the rumours are – regarding old characters and new.