Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy: Terrible idea or geek opium?

The "Lord of the Rings" director seizes the opportunity to make a grandiose prequel trilogy. Not everyone approves

Topics: Movies, Peter Jackson, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien, Science Fiction and Fantasy,

Peter Jackson's "Hobbit" trilogy: Terrible idea or geek opium?Martin Freeman in "The Hobbit"

There are two major strains of reaction to Peter Jackson’s announcement that his long-brewing film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” which had already swollen from one movie to two, will now be a trilogy extending into the summer of 2014. I feel both of them at the same time: I’m excited, and I fear the worst. (Of course, that’s how I feel almost every time I watch a movie, but never mind.) On one hand, surely this is the most serious case of sequel bloat and metastasis in pop-culture history. On the other, if anybody can pull it off, Jackson can, and the idea of transforming his “Hobbit” movie into a wide-ranging “Lord of the Rings” prequel has enormous fan appeal, not to mention enormous financial appeal.

In recent years, we’ve gotten used to the phenomenon of final-chapter mitosis, with the last installments of the “Harry Potter,” “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” adaptations all being split in half, to greater or lesser effect. (While I pride myself on my contrarian defense of the “Twilight” movies, “Breaking Dawn Part 1” appeared to be an extended commercial for some unidentified commodity: A Club Med competitor? A feminine hygiene product? A cologne aimed at gay men?) But Jackson’s “Hobbit” announcement surely breaks new ground in terms of ambition or chutzpah or hubris; as a headline on the site Badass Digest put it yesterday, “It’s Official: 300 Page Children’s Book to Be a Trilogy.”

Of course, if anything at all is clear about this situation it’s the fact that Jackson, along with co-writers Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro and Fran Walsh, have taken on something much larger than a straightforward adaptation of Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy classic, which first opened the door to Middle-earth and the story of the One Ring. (It’s hard to imagine anybody reading this article who requires a spoiler warning, but here it is!) It’s obvious that Jackson takes his self-appointed role as inheritor and interpreter of the Tolkien mythos extremely seriously, perhaps too much so. My guess is that he’s seizing the opportunity to harmonize the lighter, fairy-tale atmosphere of “The Hobbit” with the grander, mythic universe of “Lord of the Rings,” something Tolkien himself only partly succeeded in doing.



To cite the most famous example, when Tolkien first wrote “The Hobbit,” he didn’t yet know that the magic ring Bilbo Baggins gets from Gollum was the most powerful and most accursed artifact in all of Middle-earth. In the first edition, Gollum apparently loses the ring to Bilbo in a bet, and they part on friendly terms. The more famous and fateful version, in which Gollum’s somewhat justified imprecation – “Thief! Thief, Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it forever!” – presages what is to come, was not introduced until 1950. A decade after that, Tolkien reportedly set out to rewrite “The Hobbit” so that it synchronized more closely with “Lord of the Rings,” but abandoned the effort after a few chapters. (Mercifully, however, he did remove references to the High Elves as “Gnomes” by the mid-‘60s.)

In Jackson’s Facebook post yesterday, he wrote about watching a rough cut of the two-part “Hobbit” movie with Walsh and Boyens, and feeling delighted with the story, the characters and the cast.

All of which gave rise to a simple question: do we take this chance to tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as the filmmakers, and as fans, was an unreserved ‘yes.’

We know how much of the story of Bilbo Baggins, the Wizard Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur will remain untold if we do not take this chance. The richness of the story of “The Hobbit,” as well as some of the related material in the appendices of “The Lord of the Rings,” allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the part he played in the sometimes dangerous, but at all times exciting, history of Middle-earth.

Now, I’m sure some deeper practitioners of Tolkien science will be able to correct or amplify what I’m about to say, but the wizard Gandalf (so memorably portrayed by Ian McKellen in the LOTR movies) spends much of “The Hobbit” missing in action, the Necromancer (aka the great and terrible Lord Sauron, he who forged the Ring) is a shadowy offstage figure who plays no direct role in the book, and the Battle of Dol Guldur (that would be the Necromancer’s fortress in Mirkwood, naturally), while contemporaneous with Bilbo’s adventures, is only cryptically alluded to but never explained. So one way of describing this movie project is to say that Jackson and his collaborators are indeed telling the story of “The Hobbit,” but abandoning the ground-level, hobbit’s-eye view of events relied upon in Tolkien’s original novel.

Does that sound alluring? A full-bore, geeked-out, three-part prequel to “Lord of the Rings,” drawn both from the text of “The Hobbit” and from Tolkien’s ancillary, explanatory material, that takes us all the way from the Englishy innocence of Hobbiton to Smaug’s horde and the Battle of Five Armies and back again, leaving us at the doorstep of Bag End and “The Fellowship of the Ring”? Sure, yeah, it does; I already have the evenings of Dec. 10 and 11 blocked out as probable dates for the press screening of the first film. But like a lot of other lifelong Tolkien fans, I’m not convinced this is a good idea. Stretching this rather modest novel over six to nine hours of movies in quest of an undeniable worldwide windfall is possibly or potentially dangerous, like the work of someone who has tasted the devil’s candy and survived and now wants more and more, someone filled with the arrogance of immense success who believes he cannot possibly fail. It sounds a bit – just a bit, mind you – like a case of someone who has held the Ring in his hands and now wants it back.

Rumors abound (without any basis I know of) that Jackson’s “Hobbit” movies will include newly invented characters who appear nowhere in Tolkien, or that the whole project has now crossed an invisible line that separates literary adaptation from free-floating inspiration or glorified fan fiction. We’ll have to see about that, but Peter Jackson is now at the helm of a huge enterprise that is simultaneously much larger and much smaller than the world of Tolkien’s writing.

There’s nothing fake or mealy-mouthed about Jackson’s immense admiration for the late author, or his genuine desire to tell the stories the best way he can, but I fear that he now believes he has inherited Tolkien’s mantle and can do no wrong. I really hope these movies are terrific, but I feel a pang of identification with the “intellectual despair” expressed by Christopher Tolkien, the writer’s 87-year-old son and literary executor, who broke his long silence on the Jackson movies in a recent interview with the Paris newspaper Le Monde. In the midst of his struggle to stop “Lord of the Rings” theme-park rides and Las Vegas slot machines – and his lawsuit against New Line Cinema seeking film profits, which yielded his family trust an estimated payment of $38 million – Christopher says his father has become a monster, “devoured by his own popularity and absorbed by the absurdity of our time.” The gap he perceives between “the beauty and seriousness of the work” and its commercial translation, Christopher says, “has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of this creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: Turning my head away.”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>