Are your wheels turning about how you might approach adapting The Hobbit even though the prospect has only just come up?
Reading about it on the Net, what interested me is the fact that [MGM is] talking about doing two Hobbit movies, which I thought was a much smarter idea than one. Not just for obvious financial reasons for the studios, but from a storytelling point of view, because one of the drawbacks of The Hobbit is it's relatively lightweight compared to LOTR. I mean, LOTR has this epic, rather complex quality to it, and The Hobbit, which was written some 10 or 12 years earlier by Tolkien as a children's book, is much more juvenile and simplistic. If they're seriously thinking about doing two, it makes it more interesting, because it allows you to expand The Hobbit. There's a lot of sections in which a character like Gandalf disappears for a while. From memory I mean, I haven't read it for a while now but I think he references going off to meet with the White Council, who are actually characters like Galadriel and Saruman and people that we see in Lord of the Rings. He mysteriously vanishes for a while and then comes back, but we don't really know what goes on. There's clearly lots of interesting politics happening concurrently with [Bilbo's] story, and doing two movies would allow you to explore a lot of those dark areas. You could make it feel more epic and more politically complicated.
Given how many other projects you've got cooking, how realistic is it for MGM to say they'd love to have you on board especially since they haven't even actually asked you yet?
Dunno. That's what's kind of weird. Nobody's ever spoken to us about The Hobbit, so we've gotten on with things. We've made Kong. We've been buying the rights to different books. And we've been buying the rights with our own money. We haven't had a studio buy them for us, so we've obviously got an investment in that. Plus the fact that, artistically, they're all projects that really interest us. I don't know, it's weird. I mean, the longer [MGM and New Line] leave talking to us, the harder it's going to get to figure out how to do it. We'd obviously try to figure out a way, I guess, but, y'know, there's not much you can do with the sound of silence. The thing with being a filmmaker is that you have to get excited and fall in love with the projects you're working on. Otherwise, you shouldn't be doing them. So we've spent the last three years becoming very invested in the projects that we have on our slate now. We're not invested in The Hobbit in that way because we haven't been given the opportunity. So I don't know, really.
You're in talks to have Weta, your effects company, work on James Cameron's Avatar, a sci-fi epic about an estranged veteran set on another planet. Is it a 3-D movie?
As I understand it, it'll be 3-D. Jim is a huge 3-D fan, as am I. I think the new digital 3-D is superb. The depth of field is really nice. And I'm a strong believer in the future of 3-D, in a way that goes way beyond what we've seen today.
And what's up with Temeraire? What's the appeal of that series of books to you?
Dragons are fun! I also think fantasy always works better if you can put a lot of reality into it. Even through LOTR, that's what we tried to do. We tried to make that world feel as historical as possible. This project is great, because it's set during the Napoleonic wars. So we can mine all the great possibilities, the politics and the characters and the visuals of that period. The fantasy is just the icing on the cake. I love doing something that's historical, but you kick it 10 degrees sideways and add a fanastical element. It's a sort of alternate-historical story: What would the Napoleonic wars have been like if there was an air force of dragons? Great stuff. There was an actual British army and navy, but here you've also got the Royal Flying Corps, who fly the dragons. The books are full of strong characters, and there's great conflict because the aviators, the guys that ride on the dragons and control them, are looked down upon. There's this whole class system that goes on. If you're the son of a gent, you go in the navy, but it's much lower-class people that end up being in aviation. The characters in Temeraire have much more to think about than just battles and dragons. All that dressing, that emotional stuff, is what I really like in these stories.
Plus it'd be a great warm-up to figuring out how to do Smaug, the dragon in The Hobbit. Do you think MGM or New Line will now actually call you with a concrete plan or offer?
I don't know. I'm not that concerned about it, because if they couldn't wait for us and somebody else was going to make The Hobbit, I'd still queue up and see it. Obviously, once a studio decides to make a movie, they're not necessarily going to wait around for a particular director to become free. So I guess I'm either going to get involved making it or I get to go and enjoy the film when it's released. We'll see.
What if you just signed on as an executive producer?
Well, that's a possibility. That actually hadn't occurred to me. See, you're thinking of things I haven't even thought of.