When Guillermo del Toro was officially announced as the director of “The Hobbit” and a second, transitional film last week, it became The Day Middle-earth Stood Still for every J.R.R. Tolkien fan.
How would the visionary director of “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy” approach hobbits and dwarves, riddles and Rivendell, the Battle of Five Armies and the great dragon Smaug? And perhaps most important, just what is that second film going to be about, anyway?
For his part, Del Toro is more than happy to discuss what he’s got in his pocketses — and up his sleeve as well — revealing to MTV News his vision for the second film, his views on heroic fantasy (and how they’ve changed), his dream cast, the look and feel of “The Hobbit,” his favorite scenes and more.
(For more on whether you can expect to see your favorite “Lord of the Rings” castmembers in “The Hobbit,” check out the MTV Movies Blog.)
MTV: Peter Jackson created a defined film vocabulary for the look and feel of Middle-earth. How will you make it your own? Will you have to subvert yourself?
Guillermo del Toro: We are not attempting to do an exact replication. “The Hobbit” occurs a little over a half-century before the events of “Lord of the Rings.” It transverses areas of Middle-earth that Peter did touch on [but also] many others he did not. There are many creatures he did not touch. I am expecting to create a large portion that is very new.
On the other hand, I am very comfortable living within the walls of the world he created during the second half of the second film. It’s a world I absolutely love, visually. When you come to a film with a lot of precedents, you have to come to it with a lot of humility and a lot of enthusiasm. No matter what, you end up putting your stamp on it. Everything feels right to me. I don’t worry about subverting myself.
MTV: Just two years ago, you were quoted as saying, “I was never into heroic fantasy.” Did your views change?
Del Toro: I wasn’t. I completely gravitated towards horror. For whatever reason, I never hooked into sword and sorcery. I really rediscovered fantasy through my love of filmmakers as a filmmaker. Something kind of popped and jelled. I now can empathize with one side of the fantasy genre without ever wandering into lubricated musclemen with giant swords. “The Hobbit” occupies a particular seat in fantasy that is irreplaceable. They can dredge up old cadavers in my closet. I’m not running for president. I’m a f—ing filmmaker! I’m just trying to make the movie I want to.
MTV: How do you view the transition period of the second film within the context of the larger “legendarium”?
Del Toro: [The intervening years between "The Hobbit" and "LOTR"] is the transition from the golden years to the rise of Sauron. It’s essentially the beginning of civil war and uprisings. It’s a very interesting time.
MTV: How much of that film, then, will be based on Tolkien’s writings?
Del Toro: We’re going to start with “The Hobbit,” in the writing process. We’ll see if we can fully contain it in one movie, which I think is perfectly possible. We’ll take it from there. We just outlined what we want out of [the second film]. We outlined what we expect to tell. It’s just plans and ideas right now.
MTV: Do you know who your protagonist would be in the second one? Gollum, perhaps? Or Aragorn? Gandalf?
Del Toro: [It's much more about] trying to reconcile the facts of the first movie with a slightly different point of view. You would be able to see events that were not witnessed in the first film [like driving the Necromancer from Mirkwood]. You would come to them in a roundabout way.
MTV: Do you view “The Hobbit” as a children’s story?
Del Toro: I view it as such generally. It belongs on that shelf on the bookshelf. But what is quite touching and miraculous to me about it is that it also reflects the transition from innocence to the loss of innocence. It is a story about a beautifully carefree creature who learns about war and violence. The movie turns darker as it progresses. Don’t expect me to do “The Neverending Story.” I feel that my zone of comfort is perfectly met with this film — otherwise I wouldn’t do it.
MTV: Will Ian Holm return as Bilbo?
Del Toro: [Holm] certainly is the paragon we aspire to. He will be involved in some manner, I’m sure. But at his age … it’s too early to tell. We are just in the early stages. It’s too early to make commitments of that sort. We prefer to let the screenplay and the way the character comes to life guide us in the casting. I have many people in mind. Anything [else] I say will be used against me in a court of law. [Laughs.]
MTV: Andy Serkis [Gollum] and Ian McKellan [Gandalf] are involved though, yes?
Del Toro: We can be pretty sure that we’re getting back Andy, Ian, [composer] Howard Shore and [conceptual designer] John Howe. I am going to supplement the team of designers with other choices. People that come from the comic book worlds, not in the superhero sense, but the darker, more European type of comics. We’re going to enhance the team of artists that conceptualized the first trilogy to create this earlier, more golden time and the way it starts to get tarnished.
MTV: Is there a scene in “The Hobbit” you’re most excited to bring to life?
Del Toro: The most beautiful scene in the book, I believe, is [the chapter] “Riddles in the Dark.” I truly love it from a literary point of view and from an atmospheric point of view. It is my hope that when “The Hobbit” gets scary, it will get really scary. Peter is a master of the macabre, but I think these scary moments will have a tonal distinction from the original trilogy.
[But] the thing I’ve been most excited about are the spiders in Mirkwood. Smaug is one of my favorite characters in literature. It’s such a beautiful and symbolic creature, totemic in what it represents and the power it has. My favorite creature in all of fantasy would be the dragon because of that book.
MTV: Do you have an idea for how you want Smaug to appear?
Del Toro: Well, yeah, but why spoil it? I do. One of the first things I discussed with Peter was that and the look and feel of the spiders, how they move. Those are the flavors that you will not enjoy until the plate is served.
MTV: You are treading on very sacred ground. Do you have a message to the fans to reassure them?
Del Toro: If you [go] deep enough you will find people that hate any depiction of Tolkien. They dislike any Tolkien that is not Tolkien. The people that are going to like it are going to like it because I come from a genuine place. And the people that are going to dislike it are going to dislike it because I’m coming from a genuine place. There’s no two ways about it. You have to follow your instincts. My message is simple: If you don’t think [Peter] did a fabulous job, very likely you won’t think I will. If you think he did, I will do my best to make you proud of me.
Check out everything we’ve got on “The Hobbit.”
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