30 July 2012

The Hobbit: There and ... Somewhere Entirely Different?

After news broke of Peter Jackson’s confirmation of a third ‘Hobbit’ film, the Internet was abuzz with fans expressing either their excitement about another trilogy, or fears that Peter Jackson has “sold out” and is going to ruin The Hobbit.

First of all, I’ll admit that although Professor Tolkien himself stated that The Lord of the Rings is an “unfilmable” book, Peter Jackson and his team did a great job bringing such a massive story to life on the big screen. Sure, it was by no means perfect – how could it be, given that so much was skipped over or simplified to appeal to those who hadn’t read the books? But it was a respectable attempt, and I think most of us can understand (and hopefully) forgive Jackson, who by now is considered the king of making lengthy films, for leaving certain things out.

I had just finished reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings about a month before The Fellowship of the Ring was released in theatres, so I never followed any of the news regarding the “making of” the films. I went into the theatre with an open mind and eager eyes.

With The Hobbit films, however, my perspective has already become slightly tainted. I am already aware of a female presence – which, by the way, I’m not happy about. I have no problem with a film including a strong female character or role model, but let’s be honest: Tolkien’s stories are mostly male-dominated. And there’s nothing wrong with the lack of a female presence. I’ve never heard anyone say, “You know, when Bilbo was off on his adventure, I always hoped he’d meet the love of his life and live Happily Ever After.”  Maybe that’s because in my experience, the Tolkien Community seems to have a higher ratio of male to female fans. In any case, it’s obvious that Peter Jackson and Co. are trying to appeal to both genders and ensure that Tolkien’s world is enjoyable to all audiences. But does that make it necessary to write in new characters?

Of course, this isn’t the first time Peter Jackson has exaggerated the role of a female character in Tolkien’s world (see Arwen), but at least in those cases he was using characters already in existence. If certain bits need to be cut out of a film to make it flow more smoothly and fall within a certain time limit, why waste that precious time writing in a completely new character? (And don’t even get me started on the Elf-Dwarf romance…)

My biggest concern, however, lies with the addition of a third film. The Lord of the Rings, a three book volume, rightly deserved three individual films (one could even argue that they deserved more). The Hobbit, a three-hundred page children’s story, can maybe get away with being split into two films. But to prolong the story telling over a span of three movies? Especially in what seems to be an afterthought? Forgive me for not seeing the possible justification in that one.

Sure, audiences who loved the Lord of the Rings films would love to see another epic action/adventure film from the director who proved that Middle-earth could, in fact, be brought to life on the big screen. And sure, there’s no better person for the job. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a job worth doing. Yes, Peter Jackson and his team are undoubtedly passionate about Tolkien, but at the same time, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” I personally see this as a matter of knowing when to step away.

If you liked what you saw in The Lord of the Rings films and want to learn more about the characters within, you should probably read the books. The experience becomes richer if you allow your imagination to guide you through the journey; why let someone else define the characters and locations of Middle-earth for you? The films are just an interpretation of Tolkien’s stories – much in the same way that songs and artwork “inspired by” Tolkien are – but they do not tell the whole story.

21 comments:

  1. All I thought of when I knew about the trilogy thing was "yay! Another trilogy!" and that it would be great to break down the story into 3 movies so they contain as much detail as we would like to see. And when people say that it is "unfair" that the 3 books of the lord of the rings got 3 movies while a single hobbit book also gets 3 movies, I think they have to look at it from a different angle: when Peter Jackson made the lord of the rings movies, he might have not expected that they'll get this much attention, fans and whatsoever, so he probably thought that including ALL the details from the books in the movies would just make them too long and people who haven't read the books might not appreciate their greatness and dislike the length of the movies. But in the hobbit, Peter's in a different situation, he knows that many Tolkien fans or just fans of the movies have gotten engaged with the trilogy and just want more and more! So making three movies for the hobbit would be something that's adored by others as much as the details it'll contain!.. And plus, the tale that the movies will cover won't only be within the hobbit's children story, it'll tell the pre-lord of the rings events from the RoTK appendices, so that'll need time and detail, and these things are wanted by fans.
    This post is an eyeopener though, it made me a bit worried that Peter miiiight go too far, but it is highly unlikely that he will, for he knows what to do and will, hopefully, deliver the essence of the story within the movies in the best way that he can.

    We don't have to worry ourselves too much, I think, for I don't think it will change anything. All we can do is wait and really see how the movies will be like!

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    1. Asma, you do make a great point; I'm sure Peter Jackson knew his LOTR films were going to be a hit, but he probably didn't think they were going to be among the highest-grossing movies of all time! So I can see why he wants to devote more screen time to The Hobbit.

      Don't get me wrong: I'm still just as eager to see these films as I've always been; but I've sprinkled my excitement with a bit of caution. In any case, I've already read the book, so I can still appreciate them as two separate entities.

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  2. I'd forgotten (perhaps on purpose) Evangeline Lily. Drat. Now that's a clear example of crowd-pleaser - I think she was in Twilight? Never watched it. To be honest even among the canon characters there are crowd-pleasers. Frodo is -17 yet he's in it - I'm guessing Old Bilbo is telling him the tale. Richard Armitage looks less like a dwarf than almost anyone, but he'll put bums on seats. Finally, Legolas plays no part in the book yet Orlando Bloom is popular so in the film he goes. As for strong women, Galadriel's in the White Council so that ought to suffice.

    In case you wondered, no I'm not a fan of using actors *just* because they're popular. I like them to suit the part.

    As for the three films, I think we'll have to take PJ on trust that any additional padding is canon material.

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    1. Evangeline Lilly was in Lost. I think she is a very attractive woman and would make the perfect Elf; however, that doesn't mean I want to see a character created for her in The Hobbit just to include a female in the story (I don't think being a "lovely person" really has anything to do with it, TJ). And as you said, Julian, the female presence of Galadriel is sufficient.

      One of the things I liked about the Lord of the Rings films was that they cast mostly unknown actors and actresses. I hadn't heard of most of them, so the entire experience was new to me. Granted, being an unknown doesn't make someone a good actor; similarly, being famous doesn't mean one lacks talent. I think in some cases, the casting for The Hobbit is good - Sylvester McCoy as Radagast, for instance? Brilliant. Even Martin Freeman as a younger Bilbo may turn out to be okay.

      But I agree with you, Julian, in that there seems to be a lot of "crowd-pleasers" in this trilogy: Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly... Tauriel doesn't exist, Legolas and Frodo are not mentioned in The Hobbit, and Richard Armitage looks nothing like a Dwarf.

      Guess we'll just have to wait and see how the films turn out...

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    2. I know on the outside it sounds like it shouldn't matter, but you'd be surprised at how much difference that being "lovely" can make. PJ is the type of director who shows a lot of loyalty to his colleagues, recasting them often (and, in the case of Andy Serkis, even allowing him to direct!) That said, if she were disagreeable in person, she probably wouldn't have gotten through the casting door. The role could have easily gone to 1000 other people whose appearances are equally elvin. So my instinct - and this is simply an educated opinion - is that EL's casting was based 50% on ability and 50% on the fact that PJ liked her personally.

      Actors often equate their LOTR experience as akin to being members of a family. And, as much as we would like for it to, that doesn't happen nearly as often as it should. It takes a special project, helmed by the right people, to create such an environment, particularly in the awful, narrow, shallow world that is Hollywood. Consider that and one begins to wonder more deeply about the inclusion of Frodo and Legolas. While their characters are not in the story, it undoubtedly meant a lot for Elijah Wood and Orlando Bloom, as people, to be included in the production.

      I admit that I seem to be arguing against myself here, in that such an act doesn't necessarily make the story any better; however, there is, in reality, much more to directing than calling out shots. It's an ENORMOUS credit to PJ that his actors care about him and care about the story he's telling. There are many directors whose primary motivations are their pay check, a date with the star, and and a shiny award for their trouble. Fortunately, that has never seemed to describe Mr. Jackson in full or in part.

      I hope everyone will forgive me if I sound overly contrary in my comments. I am simply trying to expand our discussion with a perspective beyond literary scholarship - that of the actors and filmmakers. It's one thing to imagine ourselves in their shoes, telling the stories we love; it's quite another to do so while having millions of fans mail you their suggestions, while a cranky studio exec points to budgets and demands tighter deadlines. It is for that reason that I try and reserve judgement on creative choices until the full story has been told. It's the least we can give to the filmmakers who have given up so much of themselves simply so we can be entertained for a few hours.

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    3. (Maybe I was rash in saying personality makes no difference.) I just mean that while she may be a lovely person who's a pleasure to work with, I don't think that's enough to warrant a character being created for her. But then again, I don't know what her relationship with PJ (or even the rest of the cast/crew, for that matter) is like. I can understand him wanting to bring back old friends like Elijah and Orlando, despite neither of their characters being in the story, either. But alas, that's a personal opinion and I'm purely looking at it from a literary perspective here. Of course casting makes all the difference. If nobody gets along and everyone's just in it for the fame/fortune, it's probably not going to be a very satisfying movie.

      I hope I don't sound like I'm backpedaling at all; you bring up valid points, and I think it's necessary to approach this from all angles. I don't know much about film-making, as I'm sure some of my statements have shown, so it's good to bring some of that into the discussion.

      Although I have my reservations, I am doing my best to keep an open mind and reserve judgment until I've actually seen these films. I do think that's only fair, especially where PJ anc Co. have put so much time, effort, and love into these films. And don't get me wrong; I definitely applaud his devotion!

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  3. Evangeline Lilly was NOT in Twilight...she was, however, in "LOST" with Dominic Monaghan, whom she dated for many years, and who also introduced her to Peter Jackson while on a trip to NZ. My guess is that's largely how she ended up in the cast. Also, she is, by all accounts, a lovely person.

    In regard to the discussion at hand, Britta, you piqued my interest when you mentioned that Tolkien considered LOTR "unfilmable". I have previously heard that comment attributed to the late Stanley Kubrick, who famously toyed with the idea of adapting the films in the 1970's. As a film scholar, it would be really interesting to know when Tolkien himself expressed such an opinion and, perhaps, what his rationale was at the time.

    In 1950's, 60's, and 70's, I would have certainly agreed with both men — the technology simply did not exist to render the worlds as vividly as Tolkien described. Even by 1977, with the fledgling ILM team at his disposal, George Lucas was still making enormous compromises in his original vision for "Star Wars". To hear Lucas tell the story, it took until the late 90's (and the inevitable advent of EP 1) for CGI and motion capture technology to develop sufficiently to support a fantasy story of that magnitude. And that, not coincidentally, is when PJ's LOTR series also begin to gain traction. (As did, regrettably, a large number of poor imitations. It is from this era that I've evolved an adage for young filmmakers - just because we can, doesn't mean we should. )

    As I look at the stories in a modern context, therefore, I'm not sure that we can be absolutely certain what the author's original intent was. Like most people of his era, he could hardly have envisioned the state that technology would find itself in at the turn of the century. Had he known, for example, that we could render Smaug as a walking, talking, (flying) creature virtually indistinguishable from the actors on screen, perhaps he would have felt differently? Even insomuch as the heroines are concerned, the traditional hero's journey remains an exclusive Boy's Only Club. But, had Tolkien been born today, perhaps he would feel differently about the role women could play in his tomes? Perhaps Tauriel is a character he WOULD have written given a different perspective?

    I know this makes me a "Living Constitutionalist", as it were, but I think filmmakers need to tell stories for THEIR audiences. Peter Jackson's LOTR may not have been perfect for many fans of the book, but a LOTR written to appeal solely to a 1950's-era J.R.R. Tolkien would have been a misguided effort, and one probably lost on the majority of modern-day viewers. (Contrast LOTR, for example, with Harry Potter, who was written over the watchful eye of a very living J.K. Rowling. For all their digital glamour, the films continue to be very poor imitations of the original stories.) In the end, I would rather my future daughter have the opportunity to see PJ's treatment of Tauriel than pretend such a character could not exist. Moreover, while I cannot be certain that Tolkien-the-Author would approve every change, I have little doubt that Tolkien-the-Mythologist would be incredibly gratified in the knowledge that modern day storytellers continue to populate the vivid world that he imagined.

    Sorry this is so long. I've had a lot of coffee :)

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    1. TJ, I'll see if I can find the specific quote where Tolkien calls his works "unfilmable." I know it's generally attributed to him, and I think it's because Tolkien preferred the power of words to technology (which he considered to be “black magic”). He wanted to excite people with his words and make them experience Middle-earth through their imagination. I obviously can’t speak for the Professor, but I can’t imagine he’d have been happy at the thought of Middle-earth turning into an on-screen delight. (Especially in the case of The Hobbit – in bringing the story onto the big screen, you cut out the most important part: the narrator. So right there, much of the story’s charm is lost.)

      And we also have to remember: Tolkien did create several heroines in his other stories (Éowyn, Lúthien, etc.), so it's not like he’s completely left females out of the equation. Maybe if he had been born in another era, he would have chosen a female burglar for The Hobbit; but without knowing whether or not that would be the case, does anyone have the right to alter his story on mere speculation? I think we live in a society where everyone needs to feel included – we can’t leave anyone out, or else they might protest and not watch our films and give us their money. Personally, I’d rather my child read the true story of The Hobbit – as Tolkien wrote it – than watch an imitation in which the story was altered to make it more visually appealing or audience-friendly. If I want my daughter to have a strong female role model in her life, I’ll get her to read The Tale of Beren and Lúthien :-)

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  4. Britta,
    Yeah I see your point but I'm excited. Maybe I fall under those that want to see more and more but I see what you're saying. Too much of a good thing may be a problem.

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  5. I was just blogging about this yesterday. At first I was excited about two movies becoming three, but I am worried about it becoming a diluted and commercial story. I guess this is what happens when people are making money on old classics. And I totally agree with the nonsense of writing in new characters (I actually didn't know about this before even though I had read about Evangeline Lily being involved in the movie, to be honest I was hoping she would only play a minor part). When it comes to the Arwen in LOTR I thought it was in it's place as she is an exsisting character and regarding the "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen" already being there.

    I am currently catching with my old The Hobbit paperback, and I really hope that the movies will be a pleasant surprise for us Tolkien fans.

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  6. But I think that's the difference between media. A film will never be a book and I don't think it should ever pretend to be. I had a history professor who would often quip that when one takes on too many tasks, one ends up doing them all, badly. In the case where I was the recipient, she was trying to get across that I was attempting to write both a history and religious studies paper simultaneously and accomplishing neither to it's full merit. Despite the fact that my paper would lose "perspective", I needed to focus my efforts on one discipline, thereby ensuring that at least one argument could fully succeed.

    And I think the same logic applies in this instance. I do agree that we should not compromise our integrity simply so that everyone can feel included. However, I would like to believe that PJ is making the best FILM that he can and, in so doing, has had to reinterpret Tolkien's vision to make his own stronger. As the primary author of that medium - of LOTR/The Hobbit as a film - I do believe he has that right. Then again, perhaps this simply illustrates the difference between majoring in Film and majoring in English :)

    As pertains to our "daughters", I would hope they'd have the good sense to see/read BOTH works and access for themselves how best the story moves them. And, if all else fails, they can always watch "Brave".

    Thanks for the prompt response!

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    1. You make an absolutely valid point. No matter how hard anyone (PJ or otherwise) tries, the films will never be exactly like the book. And I'm perfectly okay with that. I just wish they didn't feel the need to make dramatic changes. I would be fine with Tauriel playing a prominent role -- provided she actually existed in Tolkien's legendarium.

      And I'm even okay with them pulling some material from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, if it'll help explain to moviegoers where Gandalf disappears to throughout the story, and if it'll help explain any characters' backstories. Again: I just don't like the idea of new material being written in.

      I guess another issue I have (and maybe it's a personal hangup) is that many of those who haven't read the books may only go and see the films, and thereby miss out on the original story. The films are just adaptations, which should be enjoyed in addition to the book, and not as a substitution.

      And yes, of course I'd love for my children to experience both versions. But not one or the other.

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  7. You know, in thinking about this in greater detail (and less coffee) I think my main concern is that Peter Jackson will unfairly be labeled a sellout or profiteer based on his directorial decisions. It's very easy to say, "Oh, the studio just wants to make more money", which of course is true, but I've never seen PJ in that vein. To me, he has always been a filmmaker first and a producer second, which is something I greatly admire. Indeed, I remember a rumour circulating in 2004 that the Extended Edition of ROTK was going to be nearly five hours long. Of course it wasn't, but it wouln't have surprised me if such a cut existed.* Rather than megalomaniacal revisionism, however, I think that Jackson suffers from too-much-of-a-good-thing. Clearly, he loves telling this story. And he wants to tell it and tell it and TELL it. And, given the enviable BO returns, I'm sure that Warners is more than willing to accommodate that interest.

    In all honestly, I do have reservations about the artistic integrity of adding an entirely new character where none existed. And I do hope he proves that she was an important addition that reinforces the story in a meaningful way, perhaps one that was otherwise impossible. If not, I simply hope that jaded theatre goers don't misconstrue his real intent, which I believe is to share a story for which he has great passion, rather than to line his pockets with the ongoing fruits of fandom. I mean let's face it - the guy made enough on LOTR to buy a diamond-encrusted helicopter that runs on fairy dust, so an additional $9.50 probably isn't going to make much of a difference.

    *This notion, while fairly absurd, is not without precedent. There is an oft-cited rumour that original cut of Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocolypse Now" ran seven hours. I'm not sure how substantive that is; however, there IS an unreleased "bootleg" cut that runs 289 minutes, or 4.8 hours. Given the amount of material Jackson had to work with on LOTR, it seems feasible that a comparable amount of footage existed.

    And, Britta, yours might be the only blog on all the internet that requires a footnote function ;)

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  8. Well, I am excited about a third Hobbit movie. As mentioned above the creation of new characters and how *hollywoodesque* this may result is my concern.

    I don't think the problem is in storytelling because with all the details about Middle Earth, lore and everything else I'm sure they can tell the story in three films without making it boring. The issue again may be in the adaptation... I've mentioned before in this blog that my concern was that now, after the LoTR trilogy, studios will demand more, the experiment was done and it worked beyond expectations so now they will risk a little more.

    Peter Jackson also said that one of the major stress points while adapting LoTR was the fact that they needed to please Tolkien fans and at the same time hook new people who were not familiar with the trilogy. Now, after we were all pleased with the result that pressure is not gone but it is not a priority.

    An example: from the LoTR Trilogy I didn't like that part when Sam makes that speech in Osgiliath... to me it was exagerated. It was presented in the appendix (DVDs) as something it must be done but it felt to me something Philippa Boyens wanted to do with Jackson and Walsh. Yes, this is a very personal opinion but it feels to me like a taste of what the Hobbit may bring if the films are too influenced by studios, marketing and other non art related stuff.

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    1. Right! If they do draw from the appendices, then there are a lot of great stories to tell. And I'd much rather see them extend The Hobbit into three films in this way than by creating new material just to hook new people.

      But I do see it from his perspective: though he's passionate about Tolkien, he does need to make money, after all. And I imagine it's extremely difficult to please both book purists and casual moviegoers who maybe have no interest in reading any of Tolkien's books. I just think he could hook people without changing too much of the story. But alas, you can't make everybody happy. And with the success of The Lord of the Rings films, I do agree that that original pressure has become less of a priority. PJ and Co. can likely do whatever they choose, and the studio will back them 100% because it will make them money.

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  9. I think you've nailed it, Britta! This third film, in my opinion, shows that the movies are purely commercial, as Christopher Tolkien said: “The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has gone too far for me. Such commercialisation has reduced the esthetic and philosophical impact of this creation to nothing." Tolkien has become one more money-making project for Hollywood. With this third Hobbit movie they have gone too far, I compare it with when a music band is going to release an album, but then decide to split it into two, only for monetary purposes.

    And as some people have been quoting already: "“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

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    1. I am so glad you brought up both of those quotes! I think they are both very befitting of the situation, and the latter quote sums it up quite nicely: three films aren't necessary in telling the story of The Hobbit.

      I think it's great that it will get more people interested in Tolkien, but on the other hand, I think it may also turn people off: what will happen when they go to read The Hobbit, and there's no Tauriel, no female characters, and no romance? Worst of all, what if people actually prefer PJ's version to Tolkien's? That's what I'm most afraid of.

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  10. I'm having mixed feelings about the whole thing. On the one hand, I'm extremely thankful for the film adaptations in general. If there had been no LOTR films, I might have never heard of Tolkien, and a large part of my life that I enjoy very much would never have existed. (Is that how you discovered Tolkien as well, Britta? You mentioned that you finished reading LOTR just before the movies).

    On the other hand, I'm very much a purist. I understand that material has to be cut, but I absolutely hate the idea of any new characters or story lines being added to an existing story. If the story needed them, they would have been there originally.

    One film definitely felt like not enough to me, two felt just right, but three feels like a little much, especially when you take into account the amount of book material going to be covered by each trilogy. I think it comes down to this: if this extra film is for showing more of Tolkien's story (as PJ seems to be claiming that it is), I'm all for it. If the Hobbit trilogy is going to require a lot of new characters and stories to fill it out, I'm against it. The reason we watch the films, after all, is to see with our eyes the characters and stories that we already care about.

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    1. I definitely think it's good in the sense that it will likely get many moviegoers to read The Hobbit for the first time. But I could never imagine seeing a film adaptation before reading the original book. By the time one goes to read the book, they'll already have the film's version imprinted in their imagination. (Thankfully I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings before the films came out; but I was aware of Tolkien even before then. I think I found out about the first movie a month or so after I'd finished reading the trilogy.)

      I liken it to the stories they used to (and hopefully still do) teach in middle and/or high school: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Great Gatsby, Great Expectations, etc... Teachers always have their students read the book first; if they're lucky, they get to watch the film after that. I guess as an English major and a (moderate) purist, I just hate to see Tolkien's story changed around just to draw in more viewers.

      I hate to insinuate that PJ has sold out or is simply looking to make money, but it certainly feels that way, especially knowing how the Tolkien Estate and the late Professor's own son feel about the films. I know PJ is very passionate about The Hobbit and wants to share this wonderful story; but at the same time, I think someone that devoted should be a bit more considerate of the wishes of the author's own family!

      If he does end up drawing from the appendices, rather than go crazy adding new characters or material, I'll be okay. But Tauriel and romance are all the changes I'll be able to - at best - tolerate.

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  11. Whilst I admire PJ and the LotR film trilogy(and have even been to NZ to see the films' locations) I don't like that he has split "The Hobbit" into three lengthy films and added 'new' bits in. When the first "Hobbit" film rumours came out, there was to be one film to cover the original story and (so I understand) he had been given permission to write/film a bridging story to link "Hobbit" with LotR. That sounded very intriguing to me and I was excited at the prospect. However, stretching the "Hobbit" into a film trilogy is just blatant cashing-in. I have not been to see "An Unexpected Journey" on principle. Furthermore, I'm prepared to wait until all three films are released on DVD as a budget boxed set. PJ is just being greedy and if he claims to love the stories as much as he says then why is he trying to 'bleed them dry'?

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