When I’d first heard that J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was being adapted for the big screen in what seems like a “third” age ago (fair warning, the jokes don’t get better than that), a few questions ran through my head. Was Peter Jackson (the man behind the wonderfully deranged low budget horror, Brain Dead) a director who could bring this literary epic to life? Who would play Aragorn? How many hours would the film devote to the different colours of grass? However, the main question I wondered was ‘Why aren’t they making The Hobbit?’
I insist, after You…
It didn’t really make sense to me. Firstly, it makes chronological sense to use The Hobbit as a starting point for Lord of the Rings, especially as the story of how Gollum, Bilbo (and by default Frodo) get their hands on the ring plays such a big part of the trilogy. Secondly, the book is a standalone piece which means it would have been shorter (more on that later) and could have been a good tester to see if people were going to buy what Jackson was selling before giving him a massive budget to create what could have been Cinema’s greatest flop.
Lastly, the story is a lot more cinematic than The Lord of the Rings. It’s a story about a small Hobbit (called Bilbo Baggins) who gets tricked into going on a rollicking adventure by a wizard called Gandalf and some Dwarves, lead by a revenge driven, usurped King Thorin Oakenshield. On this adventure he meets lots of interesting people. Well I say people, I mean Dwarves/Elves/Trolls/Goblins/Spiders/Eagles… and thankfully only some of them want to eat him, gets into all kinds of exciting and tension filled scrapes and ultimately learns his own worth, becoming the hero he never thought he could (or even wanted to) be.
Tell me a story.
I’ve just reread The Hobbit for a number of reasons; to have it all fresh in my head before I wrote this so I wouldn’t get people like Frodo’s name wrong (I did warn you about the quality of the jokes). To get myself excited and in the mood for the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And more importantly, because it’s a delightful little fantasy book that still manages to keep me excited and amused from start to finish.
You see, The Hobbit has a sense of fun about it that I thought was lost in The Lord of the Rings. The story is told by a narrator who plays with the forth wall (in a surprisingly meta way) as he asks us questions. Reminds us of things we may have forgotten. Points out plot inconsistencies we might not have noticed before scolding us for jumping ahead of ourselves.
Though some of the dwarves don’t get the characterisation they deserve and become a bit lost in the story, there is enough interplay and banter between the group to keep things ticking along at a good pace, whilst still adding tension when it seems like the groups journey may have come to an unexpected and abrupt end. Even Gandalf comes across as the playful Wizard we see at the start of the LOTR trilogy, though he still managed to establish himself to be a formidable foe on the many occasions the group found themselves in danger.
Plus, it has a dragon in it. In fact, it’s not just any old dragon, it’s a very cunning and deadly dragon called Smaug. That probably would have been enough for me without all the previous entries… hmmm, maybe I should have started with that one.
The Hobbit: An unexpectedly troubled production
With its imminent release it’s strange to think that The Hobbit’s journey to the big screen has been as long and as arduous as the story it’s telling (only with less Warg attacks).
Firstly, New Line and Peter Jackson’s production company (Wingnut Films) got into a dispute over his earnings for the trilogy which lead to bad blood between the two parties. After this had been cleared up Jackson’s involvement in The Hobbit seemed to be limited to a producing capacity. I thought this would mean the film(s) (The Hobbit had at this point been split into 2 movies) would most likely be terrible, until Guillermo del Toro (a man who seemingly never sleeps and has his finger in every pie) stepped in to take over directing duties.
Del Toro seemed like a perfect choice. We’ve seen some of the creatures he’s created in films like Hellboy, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army and Pans Labyrinth, so we know he can handle the special effects side of things. Plus all of these, especially the latter, showed us that he had a flair for creating superior dark fantasy tales.
Production delays meant that Del Toro eventually had to give up the directing chair (though has apparently stayed on and helped with the scripts) and Peter Jackson once again took over directing duties. Meaning that once again, all was right in Middle Earth.
Unfortunately, the journey didn’t end there. Jackson’s decision to shoot the film at the higher frame rate of 48 frames per second (most films are shot at 24 frames per second) left audiences divided. Some applauded at how fantastic and detail filled it made the battle scenes look, whilst some argued that it made other scenes lose their cinematic feel and seem like they’d been filmed for TV. Jackson has stuck by this decision… even though not every cinema is equipped to play the movie at this new speed (you can find out if there’s one near you here).
More! More! More!
Lastly, there was a decision that annoyed me. The film will now be three movies long instead of two. They’ll be titled ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’, ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug‘ and ‘The Hobbit: There and Back Again’. I’m not against a film getting a longer runtime if it needs it or even being split up if it means the story can be told better but three movies seems like too much for me. The Lord of the Rings were already quite long (even before you take into account the Extended editions) and there are a few times you really feel like they could have trimmed/cut sections for the sake of pacing. The Hobbit is a much smaller book so exactly what are they adding to take up this extra room?
I’ve heard they’ll be using scenes and information about The Hobbit that can be found in the appendixes of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is fair enough – but The Hobbit is a pretty well paced book. I’d say there’s not really that much that needs to be added to it. Then again, as I haven’t had a spare year to myself, I’ve not had the time to get through the entire appendices of The Lord of the Rings, so I may be mistaken.
There and Back again
I guess at this stage all that is left to do is wait and see how The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey turns out. From what I’ve seen and read so far, it seems like the film will follow Bilbo, Thorin and the gang from the point that they set out on their quest, up until the Warg attack after they escape the Misty Mountains. This all sounds good to me, especially as it means they’ll be running into some huge (and surprisingly Cockney) Trolls. Meeting Elrond (and perhaps a few other familiar faces from The Lord of The Rings), whilst Bilbo will be getting involved in some high stakes riddling and the group will have to face the challenge of having to take on a couple of hundred goblins… give or take.
Personally, as he’s one of my favourite characters from the entire saga, I’m kinda hoping they have their first run in with Beorn (Mikael Åke Persbrandt) but I can wait until ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ for that.
We’ll have a full review (and let you know our thoughts) of the film when we finally get to see it. Not long now.
Are you excited for The Hobbit: An unexpected Journey? What do you think of it being split into three parts? Let us know in the comments section.