Monday, 4 April 2011

The Hobbit: Tolkien Phantom Menace?

Talk of a Hobbit move has been ongoing ever since the Lord of the Rings was a smash in 2001. But is going back and making the prequel a mistake, particularly considering the reception the Star Wars prequels got from fans?

It would be hard to argue Star Wars I-III weren't successful. They made tons of cash, flogged a shed load more merchandise, old and new, and were fairly well received by critics (all certified 'fresh' on Rotten Tomatoes). I don't doubt that the Hobbit films will be successful in these ways, but what will the fans think?

The Lord of the Rings was, of course, mega successful in all ways it's possible for a film to be successful, so the demand for the Hobbit films was always there. However, it wasn't as straight-forward as that as there was controversy over the rights, and Peter Jackson had not left production company New Line on the best of terms, following a legal battle over merchandising.

When the Lord of the Rings was made, there was the challenge of cramming such an enormous book into 3 long films. A lot had to be cut out, but the soul of the books remained and fans were happy. The Hobbit faces the opposite problem. Its source book is the perfect length and structure for a 2hr film. It's almost as if it was written to be made into a film. However, the film's producers have opted to make two, either stretching the narrative of the book over two films, or having one Hobbit film and one film of 'other tales' from Middle Earth. Now I'm not a cynic, not when it comes to Peter Jackson and Tolkien-based films, but I can think of no other angle to view this from than an attempt to milk more money out of a short novel.

This is pretty similar to Star Wars. The original trilogy was being made up as they went along, but the prequels could never go far from the baggage of explaining Darth Vader, which was essentially their purpose, so were limited in the course the story could take. So it felt that there was a bit of stretching going on, taking 3 films to explain what could have been done in one.

Also there's the issue of familiarity. The Hobbit has a very different tone from Lord of the Rings, and only a couple of the same characters pop up (Elrond, Gandalf, Bilbo and Gollum), yet it has been announced that Elijah Wood and Cate Blanchett are to return (Galadriel and Frodo). How can this be? This lends support to the 'other stories' theory. This also emphasises how prequels were never part of the original plan, as older actors will be playing younger characters, like what happened to Hannibal Lecter in Red Dragon or The Emperor in Star Wars I-III.

There's also the issue of anticlimax. LOTR was about going against the odds and saving all the free peoples' of Middle Earth, and ends with  our much-loved characters sailing to the West. The Hobbit is about a bunch of Dwarves (half of whom are basically just running jokes, like fat Bombur) going on a treasure hunt. How is seeing Sir Ian take Tim from The Office to steal some treasure going to compare with the epic battle with the Balrog, or the painstaking crawl up the slopes of Mount Doom? Even if they do a great job making the films, they will never compare to the originals.

I will just have to put all my faith in movie franchises in The Dark Knight Rises, which seems to be bubbling along nicely...

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