Three Hobbit Films for the LOTR Fans = Trouble
Fans of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings should be thrilled that The Hobbit, originally planned as two feature films, is now slated for three. More Tolkien on screen is a good thing, right?
Surely yes, if what we are getting is indeed more Tolkien. But Jackson’s “bridge” film is not going to be more Tolkien, but more Jackson. And that is not necessarily an encouraging thought.
Due to contractual issues with the Tolkien estate — Jackson is unable to use material from The Silmarillion, The History of Middle-Earth, or Unfinished Tales — this “bridge” film will come from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings. Jackson wrote on his Facebook page:
“We know how much of the story of Bilbo Baggins, the Wizard Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur will remain untold if we do not take this chance. The richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the part he played in the sometimes dangerous, but at all times exciting, history of Middle-earth.”
The appendices are certainly a mine of information, but the stories they tell are scattered, patchy in places, and not written as straightforward narrative. To bridge the events of The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings in a film that neatly connects a series of disparate dots, Jackson must fill in gaps, construct dialogue from scratch, and so on. And that could spell trouble.
While I remain a fan of the LOTR films, they aren’t without their share of flaws, and they typically are the result of highly liberal adaptations of Tolkien and/or insertion of wholly new material by Jackson and co-screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. For example, the utterly pointless filler of Aragorn over the cliff. Did anyone buy that the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor would die so ignominiously? Was the detour to Osgiliath really necessary? No. My least favorite part of the entire series is the green ghost army at Minas Tirith, which completely undercuts the bravery and sacrifice of the Riders of Rohan. And so on. The appendices by their nature will allow for—nay require—the addition of much more original material by Jackson and co. to make them into a cohesive story. And Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens, for all their talents, are no Tolkien.
For the record, I have no problem with The Hobbit being broken up into two films, even though it’s a short novel, checking in at some 300 pages. The Hobbit contains many dramatic sequences, often lightly brushed over by Tolkien, which practically beg for expansion and dramatization in a visual medium. Think of what could be done to bring Smaug’s initial assault on Dale and the Lonely Mountain to life, for example, or to give full treatment to the capture of the dwarves by the spiders. I personally wouldn’t mind a decadent 30 minutes of footage of the legions of Dain mixing it up with the goblins in the spurs of the Lonely Mountain, or an extended, pathos-laden scene of Thorin breaking upon the Bodyguard of Bolg. Bring it on in a pair of three-hour films. More Beorn scattering goblins like tenpins, please.
But this third, vaporous “bridge” film could be a bridge too far, I fear. Now that it’s a done deal, I hope I’m wrong, of course, but there’s reason to worry.
I can’t really agree that adding another film requires there to be a great amount of original material to be added. While I agree the Appendices do not have a great deal of information to add to the events of The Hobbit, I think the Lord of the Rings as a whole does.
Gandalf gives a lengthy account of what he was doing during his absences from Thorin & Co. during The Hobbit in “The Council of Elrond,” in Book I of LotR; Which puts the entire assault of Dol Guldur back on the table. Not to mention giving us a better perspective to watch Saruman’s slow slid into madness. All of those events are told to us in a very Shakesperean “I have been there, and seen this” fashion. Showing those events in a more direct way could be a movie unto itself.
For my part, I’m looking forward to seeing The White Council lay down the smack on Sauron. But there are many other possibilities that may legitimately require more time. The fall of the Lonely Mountain, and the feeling of the dwarves comes to mind.
And honestly, If breaking the movies into three parts just makes them shorter, I’m all for that. Return of the King needed an intermission–the two previous movies could have benefited from that as well. Extended editions are great, when you can pause the movie for food, drink and necessities. I’m willing to accept 270, but 245 would be better.
I understand peoples fears about Lucas-style bloat, but I just can’t bring myself to worry overmuch. I trust the director and his staff. Given the level of commitment I’m willing to take them as they come.
Given what I saw in the LOTR movies, I’m willing to risk it.
Re. the “green ghost army” – well it;s a while since I checked, but in the book I think they DID do a job, just not at Pelennor Fields. But Aragron DID turn up with Prince Imrahil and all manner of troops from the soutern provinces of Gondor, taking out the Corsairs of Umbar – did that “undermine” the Ride of the Rohirrim in the book?
I’m sorry, but while I accept anyone has the right to disagree with Jackson (or anyone else’s) interpretation/depiction of Tolkein, the whole “oh, Jackson is not Tolkein” is a touch laughable – by the same token, Tolkein is no Jackson. They are by nature different people and their oeuvre is, equally, different. Had Jackson sfaithfully tuck to Tolkein’s dialogue on screen, for example, the reviews would have torn the films to shreds. What worked as “believable” dialogue for a fantasy novel written in the 30s sounds very different today – just look, after all, at what seems like a homoerotic undercurrent in the Frodo/Sam relationship, but was a cross-class yet close and genuine (and thus, arguably, equally taboo!) friendship in terms of when the book was written.
Whatever Jackson does to The Hobbit, you are at liberty to like or dislike, but in no way will it ever affect the books. Some will prefer one treatment, some will prefer the other. Twas ever thus.
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Myself, I’m torn. The timing seems odd given that the first movie comes out in December, so you’d think they’d already have it pretty well put together. Does this mean that most of the new material will be in the 2nd & 3rd movies? Or are they doing major surgery on the entire thing?
(And having said that, I do think I’d be much happier with 3 2.5 hour movies instead of 2 3.5 hour movies, all other things being equal. But I won’t be surprised if we end up with 3×3.5)
But I won’t be surprised if we end up with 3×3.5
Those are the DVD versions.
Thanks for the comments, all.
In general I am willing to give Jackson plenty of leeway here, as I am a fan of The Lord of the Rings films. Despite some problems, they wildly exceeded my expectations. And I will be seeing The Hobbit films in the theater.
To respond to a few comments one at a time:
darangrissom, re: Available material for Jackson.
I agree that there’s plenty of material in the appendices and elsewhere in LOTR to mine; the problem is that, unlike the novels themselves, there isn’t much in the way of dialogue Jackson can borrow, nor a sturdy, straightforward, narrative core he can build the final film upon, as he obviously had with LOTR (and The Hobbit). He’s going to need to cut and paste, create characters out of mere names, the assault of Dol Goldur nearly out of whole cloth, and so on. This is what has me worried, not The Hobbit material, with which I’m sure he’ll do a wonderful job.
Jackson did some wonderful things to adapt a very difficult book. For example, I love what we did with the prologue of the Fellowship of the Rings, which pulled up events from The Shadow of the past and the Council of Elrond. I thought he and Sean Bean improved on Boromir as a character. But much of his other heavily adapated and/or new material faltered, or was simply not up to Tolkien’s standards, in my opinion at least.
tchernabyelo, re: The green ghost army.
In the book, the ghost army of the Dunlendings defeats the Corsairs of Umbar off-screen. Aragorn commandeers their vacant ships and sails to the aid of Minas Tirith. When Aragorn unfurls his standard of the King, it is the shock effect of the unexpected that turns the battle—unexpected help in the form of the standard of the true King of Gondor destroys the orcs’ morale. The forces Aragorn did bring with him (men of Southern Gondor, a contingent of Dunedain) were certainly formidable, but it’s doubtful that their military might alone would have turned the tide.
In Jackson’s version the army of undead is utterly unstoppable and easily overwhelms the still large and formidable force of orcs and their allies outside and inside the walls of Minas Tirith. If the Riders of Rohan hadn’t shown up it would scarcely have made a difference; an unstoppable nuclear option was on the way. In the books the arrival of Rohan is desperately needed, the horn blowing is a eucatastrophe http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucatastrophe. That’s also true of the films … until the undead arrive and utterly steal the scene, after which we’re left wondering why their heroic sacrifice, and the death of Theoden, was even necessary. That’s why I don’t like the scene and felt Jackson’s rewrite was a poor choice.
On top of everything else I dislike about it the ghost army is also one of the very few unconvincing pieces of CGI in the films. “Scrubbing bubbles” is how I’ve heard the effect described.
The ghost army looked like they just reused the effects from The Frighteners.
I find myself somewhat ambivalent towards the prospect of three Hobbit films. IMO, the LOTR films were at their best when they hewed closely to Tolkien’s story, and went most astray when they deviated from Tolkien’s story — so I would expect The Hobbit film(s) to be similar. On the other hand, the kind of invention and adaptation of material that would be required to generate three Hobbit films would be of a different order than that deployed in the LOTR films. Or so I should think …. Well, the if The Hobbit films are no worse than the LOTR films, then that would be all right.
I guess the Tolkien Estate still has the rights to the other JRRT books …. I would kind of rather see an @r$e-kicking adaptation of the main tales from “Quenta Silmarillion” (as opposed to “The Silmarillion”, as published) than The Hobbit anyway: Feanor, Beren & Luthien, the children of Hurin, etc. leading up to the War of Wrath (for a rousing finale). One could merrily spend a couple of decades working through those stories, film by film. Or, maybe, they would be better done on television, as budgets, effects, and the trend for long story arcs seem to be improving there. Oh well. I guess someone will do (or attempt) that someday, but perhaps not soon!
While I think I understand (more or less) the train of thought that probably led to the stupendously naff-looking Army of the Dead in Jackson’s “Return of the Kind”, it was a terrible error, IMO — mostly in the sense that it simply looked laughable and ridiculous. I also think the production whole Siege of Minas Tirith was largely mishandled. I guess they put it in murky daylight to avoid comparison with the night-shot Helm’s Deep, but so much of Tolkien’s description of some of the most memorable aspects of the Siege are set at night (with flames leaping up, etc.). Curiously, I thought the siege of/battle for Jerusalem sequence in the (otherwise largely disappointing, other than the soundtrack) “Kingdom of Heaven” was more Minas-Tirithy than Jackson’s Minas Tirith. Additionally, the stupendously iconic confrontation between Gandalf and the Witch-King in Tolkien’s text was sort of broken up and watered down in the films. Very disappointing, I thought. Oh well!
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Call me an elitist ass, but what drives me up the wall is some movie fan, who’s never cracked open a book in their life, thinking that they can lecture me on Tolkien because they’ve seen the movie and that a movie and book are interchangeable.
I hate that.