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.