The first chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book is titled “An Unexpected Party” and that’s exactly what’s just transpired in the film adaptation. Peter Jackson has just announced that THE HOBBIT will go from being a two-part feature film experience to a trilogy of films. The original Tolkien book was a slender volume, compared with the sprawling opus of the Lord of the Rings books (FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, THE TWO TOWERS, RETURN OF THE KING).
There was no doubt that the LOTR books would be a trilogy, but that was a problem for me in the film adaptations. As great as the storytelling and the visual innovations were, the LOTR trilogy was exhausting and the audience was dragged through to the end because there were three books to do justice to.
I suspect, however, that THE HOBBIT will not be so cumbersome even in its three-film expansion. The production was made without the pressure of covering multiple books and that will make a difference onscreen. The fantasy world of the LOTR is very detailed and dense, but with more time breathed into THE HOBBIT, there is the greater possibility of comprehension and accessibility for newcomers.
Of course, Peter Jackson will be accused of going for the “money grab” by extending THE HOBBIT to three films. I think that’s bitter bollocks. The man is obviously committed to the Tolkien legacy and he will, no doubt, provide as magnificent an experience as possible in each installment. And tellingly, if you’ve seen photos of Peter Jackson prior to filming THE HOBBIT and the photos of him now, two years later, you’ll see that he’s gained weight again and he looks like an ungroomed insomniac. It takes a personal toll to mount such a production that’s not just another blockbuster down the assembly line.
That said, I have to say that I don’t believe the films themselves can be as glorious as their mammoth making. If you’ve seen the video blogs from the set of THE HOBBIT, you’ll get a sense of what I mean. Peter Jackson assembled an army of dedicated actors, technicians, producers, artists, and staffers who worked harmoniously together on a beautiful dream. These were men and women, working shoulder to shoulder, from beginning to end — something that is intrinsically lacking in Tolkien’s original works.
It is my contention that you cannot have a truly great story without both sexes in the mix and with near equal importance. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is one of the greatest movies of all time, but it can’t be THE greatest because it has no women in it. In the LOTR, there was Liv Tyler in a glorified role that was largely sleep-inducing; Miranda Otto’s role in the last two LOTR films seemed downsized due to the enormity of the already-established male canvas; and the luminous Cate Blanchett will appear in THE HOBBIT as well, but as with LOTR, it will be all too brief.
LOST veteran Evangeline Lily has a specially written part in THE HOBBIT, but any writer can tell you that it’s a very different thing to start a story with a female character in a leading role versus inserting one in after the fact. No matter how well-intentioned, the effect will be limited because THE HOBBIT is an established legend and you can’t rewrite history — even in the fantasy genre — and be representative of Tolkien’s vision.
Nevertheless, I plan to be there in the theatres for all three installments of THE HOBBIT. They are meant to be seen on the big screen. And any prestigious project that can boast actor Richard Armitage (as dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield) in three feature films is more than worth the price of a ticket (or three). Armitage deserves his breakout chance after appearing in TV fan favorites like the costume drama NORTH AND SOUTH, the adventure series ROBIN HOOD, and the spy drama MI-5 (a.k.a. SPOOKS). It will be a challenge to recognize him under all the hair, makeup, and costuming, but trust me, Armitage is a soulful onscreen presence.
• Why the Lord of the Rings Trilogy Fell Short (January 12, 2010)