Monday, February 21, 2011

THERE AND BACK AGAIN: A Tale of the Doomed Hobbit Film

In 2002, the first of The Lord of the Rings trilogy movies released and made much more money than even the most optimistic estimates, was loved by the critics and fanboys and generally changed the course of humanity. In 2004, after the revelry of the 11-Oscar madness died down and the last of the champagne was quaffed, we were left with a cold emptiness. It was over. No more LOTR movies to look forward to; the adorable foibles of Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan were passé; Orlando Bloom stopped being the badass elf; Hugo Weaving turned out to be just a human and/or machine after all. Just long, dreary days stretched out before us, with nothing to look forward to except for the feeble comfort offered by the Extended Edition DVDs (You Harry Potter fans will soon know what I’m talking about, except of course, on much less epic level).

And then in 2007, from the ashes of our hopes and dreams, a fire was woken, a light from the shadows sprang, what were once just foolish rumours, were confirmed: The Hobbit was to become a film with Peter Jackson as executive producer! Not one movie, but TWO! Oh frabjous day! A reason to look forward to the next day, and the next and the next! A reason to check for updates on!

But cruel fate, evil movie moguls and worker’s unions conspired and the movie has still not become a reality. Initially in 2005, there was that squabble between New Line and P.J. And then, the Tolkien Trust joined the party and sued New Line too. That’s when the New Line executives dared to fire Our Saint P.J., call him “greedy” and said he would never direct another New Line film. Needless to say, Tolkien fans lost their shit and (presumably threatened to throw major hissy fits) eventually, New Line went crawling back to P.J. (I doubt fan outrage had anything to do with this decision, but we all want to feel like we were the ones responsible for The Hobbit’s resuscitation, so let us be).

In 2008, the awesome Guillermo Del Toro came on board as director, with P.J. to remain as executive producer. By all accounts, they were getting along like a house on fire. The storyboards were ready, the creature, costume and set designing was underway, filming was to start in early 2010 and everything seemed right with the world. If we couldn’t have P.J. as director, then Guillermo seemed the perfect choice. The Hobbit is not an epic on the scale of LOTR, but more of a fairy tale with dragons, swords and spiders. The man who directed Pan’s Labyrinth was the perfect choice, and P.J. seemed to like him so that was enough for us.

There were delays, and then more delays and MGM had a bunch of problems at its end and placating Tolkien fans was the last thing on its mind and finally in 2010, Guillermo left.

They say that principal filming is scheduled to start next month, but my poor heart can’t take any more disappointments so I refuse to believe it. The good news is, P.J. is back in the saddle as screenplay writer, producer and director. I’m not too worried since he’s a Tolkien veteran and all, but LOTR and The Hobbit are so different in tone, setting and principal characters, that one can’t help but be a bit paranoid.

A quick run through of the story in The Hobbit for those who haven’t read it or those who may have forgotten: Bilbo Baggins (the uncle of Frodo Baggins, the hero of LOTR) is living the quiet, respectable life in the idyllic land of the Shire, when the meddlesome and farsighted wizard, Gandalf pays him a visit at tea-time. And brings with him thirteen dwarves. The dwarves are on a mission: to go back to their ancestral home, Erebor and reclaim all their vast treasures of gold and gems. The only problem is, Erebor is currently the home of the cunning, wicked dragon, Smaug.

Gandalf ropes in Bilbo to join them as their fourteenth companion, and off they go, cursing Gandalf for saddling them with the utterly useless Bilbo. Or so they thought… till Bilbo repeatedly yanks their asses out of the fire.

What we can look forward to:

P.J. made it clear that he wanted as many LOTR characters as practicable to return. And he wants to flesh out the background story in The Hobbit. So we can expect a substantial amount of screen time dedicated to the White Council, Sauron being routed from Mirkwood and of course, setting the stage for LOTR. This makes a lot of sense, because The Hobbit has plenty of sequences when they’re trapped in prison or trudging down a pitch dark path through a forest. This stuff tends to get boring if more than 3 minutes is dedicated to it. Interspersing these scenes with exciting White Council meetings and the Dol Guldur battle would be perfect—and we know P.J. has a great editor who will ensure continuity (remember the masterful juggling of THREE major (and two-ish sub) story arcs in The Two Towers?).

Frodo was not a hero. He never wanted to be one, and just about managed the task of destroying the One Ring because of his good heart and steadfast companion. His reluctance and his fatalistic sense of duty are made very clear. Which explains why Elijah Wood’s (beautiful) eyes had that shocked/pained/sad expression for pretty much 2/3rds of the movie.

Bilbo on the other hand, is as heroic as they come. He is resourceful, incredibly smart, likes shiny things and makes no bones about it, but above all, has his heart in the right place. Within two chapters, he’s already leading the Company, and is pretty much the only reason they make it to Erebor and live to tell the tale. And Bilbo never stopped wanting adventures—yes, the Shire is all very nice to come back to and drink that pint of ale, but his heart really lay on the road and all those strange, wonderful places that they led to. So don’t expect actor Martin Freeman, who has been signed on to play Bilbo, to look scared or sad. I think he has that perfect Bilbo look: a mixture of craftiness, humour and innocence.

(Ian Holm turned down the role of Bilbo, because of age and related problems. But rumours have it, that he may play old Bilbo. Which is infinitely more preferable to Freeman in old person make-up.)

So far, Ian McKellan, Cate Blanchett and Andy Serkis have agreed to return (THANK GOD). Orlando Bloom is also in talks to reprise his role as Legolas. It makes so much sense to have Legolas there during the events of The Hobbit, because he was King Thranduil’s son, and while he was thought of much later by Tolkien, no need to leave him out of the adventures, surely? I also remain hopeful that Hugo Weaving will agree to play Elrond, who has an extremely important role in the book.

Young Saoirse Ronan is in talks to play a woodland elf, Itaril. Since she’s a big star these days, no doubt they’ll pad up the role sufficiently. Hopefully it won’t be some totally unnecessary, space-filler character whose job is to look luminous and speak breathily.

According to IMDB, Christopher Lee is to reprise his role as Saruman, but he has been quoted as saying his age/health doesn’t permit him to travel to New Zealand for the filming. So very possibly, the White Council sequences might be filmed in the U.K.? Whatever the details are, I'm just glad he's on board, because he has some very interesting ideas to show the corruption of Saruman.

As for Thorin Oakenshield, he is to be played by the incredibly handsome Richard Armitage.

Too bad most of his face will be covered by a beard though.

What we hope they won’t do: Like I have said before, the temptation to have a dozen nods and winks to the older movie(s) at every turn is very strong. Look at what George Lucas ended up doing with the Star Wars prequels. I hope P.J. won’t feel tempted to shove in 4 adorable hobbit children, two of whom are playful and mischievous, one is grave and serious and the last one is an aspiring gardener. Strictly speaking, the four hobbits from LOTR were not even born at the time of the occurrence of the events related to the dragon so it would be cringe-worthily stupid to have them there.

I also get that P.J. and crew had a really great time filming LOTR and want as much of the original cast back, but so long as they don’t try to awkwardly shoe-horn characters who don’t belong there, I'm down with it.

Finally, the Dragon. Now, I know that Smaug will be superbly animated, since P.J. spared no expense on the animation budget in the past: in LOTR, the cave troll was life-like, the Balrog terrifies me in my nightmares still and all the other myriad creatures were convincing. Even so, a sentient beast who is famed for being cunning with his words is a sticky proposition that can trip up any film-maker, so we hope P.J. and crew have a game plan in place.

Just make the movie already, guys.


  1. Richard Armitage will forever be Mr. Thorntorn. :D I first saw him in the North and South miniseries DVD and have loved him since then. :D

  2. I heard P.J just started filming! He started with the scene where Frodo forgets Bilbo's birthday. Some real emotion here, real tears in those Magic Frodo eyes! Just amaaaaazing!! Go P.J!!!

  3. Nobody quaffs champagne, Lekha, dumbass. But apart from that, you and I are totally watching this movie together.