The following announcement was made on Monday via Peter Jacksons Facebook page:
“So, without further ado and on behalf of New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Wingnut Films, and the entire cast and crew of “The Hobbit” films, I’d like to announce that two films will become three.”
This finally confirmed the rumour that had initially started at Comic-Con and had become a major internet debate. Hardcore fans were delighted. Other less partisan bodies greeted the news with a little more caution. Exactly what was the reason for this change in plan? Was it purely due to the director’s artistic vision? Or was it a decision driven by money? The reason I mentioned it is because the bean counters have not been idle. New domains have been registered for Saul Zaentz’s Middle-Earth Enterprises. The Riddles in the Dark and Desolation of Smaug. It may give clues as to where things are heading. But will this expansion of material make for good cinema?
Well that is the main question at present. As per usual the studio executives are playing their cards pretty close to their chest. We know to a degree what Peter Jackson wanted to do when The Hobbit was planned as two movies. The idea was to tell what was in the source text and then expand certain sections with information found in other works of Tolkien. Thus we were to see more of the Dwarves heritage and their exile from Erebor as well as deeds of the White Council. It seemed like a sound idea.
Now we have an entire third movie to fill, allegedly with material culled from the appendices of The Lords of the Rings. But exactly what content we do not know and there is a lot to choose from. Fans are already filling in the blanks themselves. In fact this is what theonering.net does the best. There brainstorming and analysis is a source of many a debate. Often their ideas are better than the reality.
Now as this is the internet, I am now going to make an obvious disclaimer. This is for all the people who are incapable of reading an article and accurately discerning its content. You know the type. The post reads “I like coffee”. Reader interprets this as anti-tea propaganda.
So let me make it clear that there is scope that the new Hobbit Trilogy could be a critical and commercial success that broadly pleases all groups, in the same way that The Lord of the Rings did. There is also scope for it to be the opposite.
Now some people will trot out the rather tired and intellectually challenged maxim of “may be it’s best to wait and see”. But that doesn’t make for particularly interesting blogging does it? So let us ponder on a few points and see where it takes us?
Let’s begin with the following statement that Jeff Robinov, President, Warner Bros. Pictures Group made following the initial announcement. It pertains to the suitability of the existing writing team.
“Peter, Fran and Philippa have lived in this world and understand more than anyone its tremendous breadth and scope, and the relationships that bind it together. We strongly support their vision to bring this great work fully to life.”
Now I contest this remark. All concerned are well versed in the works of Tolkien, but they do not have a monopoly on it. They ultimately, just like you or I, have their own subjective interpretations. What they decide artistically is just that; a personal vision and not a definitive statement. There is much in the LOTR trilogy that is open to debate, both aesthetically and thematically.
When Peter Jackson and his team adapted The Lords of the Rings for the big screen, over a decade ago, they trod a fine line between literal interpretation and the notion of artistic license. Film is a very different medium to books and therefore changes were required. The key word is “adaptation”. However the popular consensus is that they succeeded.
This time round Mr. Jackson is tackling a subtly different project. The Hobbit is a children’s book and the appendices found in The Lords of the Rings are a complex fictional history, written in chronological order. Both will require a great deal of “adapting” and “fleshing out”. Maintaining the balance between lore and good cinema will be far harder this time round. We have names and dates, but we do not have dialogue and subtext. Jackson, Walsh and Boyens have to supply these. Fans tolerated the romantic embellishments, changes to character motivations and original bridging narrative in The Lords of the Rings, because it was still outweighed by canonical material. I don’t see this being the same for a The Hobbit Trilogy. I am not enthralled by the prospect of a version of The Hobbit that is more new material than pure Tolkien.
It is also important to consider the man himself and the changes to his status that has taken place in the thirteen plus years since The Lords of the Rings was shot. Peter Jackson is now at the top of the “A” list and is likely to be surrounded by “yes men”, rather than people who will challenge any decision he may makes. I can think of a half a dozen similar directors who did their best work in their youth and have not maintained their output once they hit the proverbial “big time”. Plus we can all think of at least one or two directors who decided to revisit their earlier work and failed to deliver material of the same standard. I fully understand that the reasons behind this are complex and not black and white, but the results still speak for themselves. Also if these movies were first conceived in two parts, they had a script that was structured so. We are now looking at extensive re-writing , shooting additional material and post production changes of a large magnitude. Movies that undergo such a process often suffer as a result.
I make no bones about the fact that I lament the passing of Guillermo del Toro from this project. I think it would have been healthy to have had a fresh perspective and vision brought to the project. Continuity through the production team could have been maintained, but the a new director would have provided a greater amount of creative diversity. One of my biggest concerns about Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Middle-Earth is that its popularity is a double edged sword. It has introduced many new people to professor Tolkien’s work, but it has also shaped their understanding and perception of it. Like Sidney paget’s drawings of Sherlock Holmes and Disney’s depiction of Winnie the Pooh. Popular consensus then becomes Jackson’s view of Tolkien’s work, rather than the work itself.
Finally, let’s simply tackle the elephant in the room that most people are worried about. That Peter Jacksons enthusiasm has simply been indulged by the financiers because they can smell money. Big money. If left unchecked the whole thing could become a bloated, self indulgent mess that will alienate both fans and causal viewers alike, being a blight on Tolkien’s reputation. I think that is the main fear. Of course there are many a blinkered fanboy and girl who cannot countenance’s such a danger, but I think a lot of people paused for thought at Monday’s announcement. Look at it from the Middle-Earth Enterprises point of view. Whether these movies are good or bad they will be accompanied by a media and marketing circus. If you can stick Martin Freeman’s face on it, it will be subject to an official license and the money will come rolling in. The Hobbit represents an unparalleled gravy train and they’ve just extended the timetable by another year.
Like every movie production these days, the journey this trilogy takes to get to the silver screen will be painstakingly and meticulously dissected, analysed and posted on the internet. By virtue of this process the battle for the hearts and minds of fans of Middle-Earth, may well be won or lost before the final movie is released. The more you think about it, the concept of expanding The Hobbit into a trilogy has far more risk attached than first meets the eye. Considering all these points and potential pitfalls I am forced to re-iterate the words of Professor Tolkien himself.
“O! What are you doing, And where are you going?”