How do you cut The Hobbit in half?
What a strange volte face there has been in the attitudes of Hollywood studios in the last 30 years. Originally, JRR Tolkien's tales of Middle Earth was a literary series which producers struggled to squeeze into uncomfortably curtailed celluloid confines. These days, they're being encouraged to expand far beyond their natural boundaries.
This week, The Hobbit's writer and producer Peter Jackson revealed the ramifications of the decision he and director Guillermo del Toro made earlier this year to scrap their initial plan for the two-film project. There will be no Saruman, no Aragorn and no Gimli the dwarf, all stalwarts of Lord of the Rings who nevertheless do not feature in JRR Tolkien's earlier tome. "Gandalf, being a 2,000-year-old wizard, is still around and plays a major role in The Hobbit, and we're having Ian McKellen reprise," said Jackson. "There's a couple of other characters: Elrond, who was played by Hugo Weaving [in the original films], and there's a possibility of Galadriel, who was played by Cate Blanchett."
And that's it. The comments put to bed any lingering expectations that Jackson and Del Toro might be tempted to include characters such as Aragorn and Saruman, who could have been woven into the film without deviating too far from Tolkien's original story. The last vestiges of the pair's initial plan, announced back in 2008, for one film based on The Hobbit and a second to bridge the 80-year gap between the end of the book and the start of The Lord of the Rings, seem to be gone (and good riddance, I say).
The absence of Saruman and Aragorn, in particular, suggests that The Hobbit will just be The Hobbit, pure and simple. There will be no expansion of Gandalf's meeting with the White Council, mentioned in the book but not depicted, and no recreation of Aragorn's early struggles or his long hunt for the creature Gollum. The two films will be based entirely on Tolkien's 300 plus-page novel. And even though I'm pleased that the bridge movie has been banished forever, that still strikes me as a bit of a stretch.
Not so long ago, in the final years of the 20th century, Jackson was planning to film the whole of the 1,000-page-plus The Lord of the Rings as two movies (it ended up being three thanks, weirdly, to studio intervention), and not so long before that, we had the 1978 Ralph Bakshi version, which crammed around half the book into one film, and was such a box office failure that no one ever gave him the cash to make a sequel. The Hobbit has also previously been filmed, as a 1977 animated version which ran to just 78 minutes.
Jackson and Del Toro are planning two three-hour movies, a decision which smacks heavily of commercial opportunity. The Lord of the Rings trilogy made more than $1bn globally and stands as one of the top movie franchises of all time. Naturally, the money men want to squeeze as much cash as they can out of The Hobbit, but the book is a fairly breezy tome with a pretty linear narrative that would best be adapted into one great movie, not stretched out into two in order to fit Rings' epic format.
And if The Hobbit is to be diced up, where is the natural split? Del Toro has hinted that it will be at the point where Bilbo Baggins proves his worth to the dwarves and becomes the true leader of the company attempting to wrest control of the Lonely Mountain from Smaug the dragon. That would make a sort of sense (presumably it would be after the escape from the wood elves) except that the Mexican film-maker has also said that the Battle of Five Armies will be shown just as it was in the book, in which Bilbo was passed out for much of the duration. So where, exactly, is the three-hour running time coming from for the second film?
On the other hand, six hours should certainly give Del Toro and Jackson plenty of time to cover all the events in The Hobbit in detail, from Bilbo's terrifying encounter with Gollum to the strength-sapping journey through Mirkwood (and those hideous giant spiders) and the company's brush with the elves. But I can't help thinking that the point where the first movie ends is going to seem like even more of an anti-climax than the finale of Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring. People accepted The Lord of the Rings being split into three parts because, not only was the original book published as a trilogy, it was the only way to bring the story to the big screen, certainly in line with current cinemagoing habits. The Hobbit is not a natural two-movie project, and it remains to be seen whether Del Toro can pull it off.
What do you reckon? Are you disappointed that the film-makers seem to have bowed to commercial pressure here? Or are you just pleased that every last ounce of Hobbit magic will most likely make it into the final cut?
Source: Guardian Online