SKYWALKER RANCH, Marin County, CA
Kinoflim has learned that Lucasfilm founder George Lucas and a team of digital artists have completed work replacing Ian Holm with a digital Martin Freeman as a young Bilbo Baggins in a key scene in Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." The scene in question takes place in the opening prologue of the 2001 film, where Bilbo discovers the One Ring in Gollum's cave. Lucas apparently took the task up on his own, without permission from Jackson.
Kinoflim reached out to Lucas for comment. "When I saw the trailer for the new film [The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey]," Lucas explained, "I realized that they were going to use a different actor for the same character from the first films. And to an audience in a movie that can be very confusing. So I took it upon myself to make the changes to the first film in order for the franchise to maintain continuity."
"I ran into the same problem myself with [Return of the] Jedi," Lucas continued, "where Anakin's spirit appears before Luke at the end. Of course in the prequels I had cast Hayden [Christensen] as Anakin, so I needed to go back and replace the first actor, I don't recall who that was, and replace him with Hayden so that the audience would know who was who." Shakespearean actor Sebastian Shaw depicted the aged father of Luke Skywalker in that film.
It is unclear whether Lucas had sought permission for the edit from Jackson, who directed the Lord of the Rings films and the upcoming Hobbit films. Jackson has since filed a restraining order and threatened legal action if Lucas goes through with the release of the edited film as "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings: Special 11th Anniversary Director's* Edition." The title includes a footnote: "*a director."
"When it became clear to me that Peter would not make the edit himself," Lucas explained, "I got my team together, which was assembling for the next Star Wars. There's gonna be more Star Wars, you know."
Going further into his motivation for the change, Lucas described his personal philosophy of filmmaking. "Cinema is like poetry, in that it rhymes. But sometimes you use 'orange' in one line, which doesn't rhyme with anything. So then in the next line you just have to go with 'apple', and then go back to the first line and change 'orange' to something that rhymes with 'apple.' Otherwise the poem falls apart."
Kinoflim pressed Lucas for an example. "Grapple," he responded, after a pause. "Snapple?"
To achieve the edit, Lucas's team had to superimpose the face of Freeman, who plays Bilbo in the Hobbit trilogy, onto the face of the older Holm, who played Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Lucas did not have access to Freeman for the footage he needed, so the team spliced together shots from different angles from some of Freeman's prior work, including "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," "Hot Fuzz," and the British version of "The Office."
The team then had to adjust the intensity and direction of lighting on Freeman's face from the compiled shots in order to achieve a semblance of consistency. This required over 8,000 hours of painstaking rotoscoping and digital painting.
Next, the team had to digitally manipulate the actor's lips in order to sync them with the character's line, again a composite of different lines of dialogue from Freeman's career. "What's this? A ring!" Bilbo says.
"Oddly enough, we couldn't find one instance of [Freeman] saying 'ring' in his filmography," Lucas recounted. "So we had to cut the end off of 'blathering,' which he said once somewhere."
The edit comprises a 12-second shot in which Holm was originally filmed made up in a wig and make-up to appear younger. Editing the footage was completed with a team of 300 artists at an estimated cost of $40 million.
Asked if he would continue to revise other directors' works to match their later work, Lucas affirmed in the positive. "I can't tell you how many times I've seen a movie in a series and thought, wow, that role used to be played by someone else, and now it's played by this guy, which is really confusing for me in the audience. James Bond, for instance. Or Batman."
"It's really confusing," Lucas reiterated. "So as long as no one else is taking responsibility for their own work, I'll be there to fix it."