Finally! Nine long years after Peter’s Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy ended, his vision of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” hit theaters this past weekend, quenching die-hard J.R.R. Tolkien fans’ thirst for a film adaptation of the beloved first book in the series.
I asked a good friend of mine if he planned to see the movie, and, after scrunching his face in disgust, he said, “Nah.”
“But you own 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy on DVD. You loved it,” I said. “I don’t understand.”
“'The Hobbit,'” he informed me, “is different.” It was a distinct part of his childhood. And he, in turn, read it to his son, passed it down from generation to generation. “I’m afraid Peter Jackson is going to f#%$* it up,” he said.
Apparently, it’s not just my friend who feels this way. Many Tolkienites have concerns about Jackson’s decision to take the relatively short, simple story of “The Hobbit” and make it long, complex and grand on the same scale of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which wasn’t written as a children’s story at all, but rather as a piece of adult literature that many people claimed was an allegory for World War II (Tolkien himself denied this, though hinted that it may better represent World War I). It introduces us to the expansive world of Middle Earth. “The Hobbit” is what started it all. It is sacred ground. And, according to the mixed reviews I’ve read, there may be reason for that fear.
Three movies for a roughly 300-page-long book, expanding one-sentence scenes in the book to five- or 10-minute sequences in the movie, adding characters, using the appendices from “The Lord of the Rings” books and handwritten notes that Tolkien himself jotted down during his long journey of writing the trilogy—is it too much? Is it possible that Jackson has too much passion for Tolkien’s work? Is it possible that he’s too close to the source material? I think the jury is still out on that one, but it doesn’t look good.
I’ve never read any of Tolkien’s books, never interested me. But I understand my friend’s and other fans’ uncertainty about Jackson’s adaptation. I feel the same way about certain comic book movies and the liberties Hollywood directors sometimes make with the characters—because they’re my beloved characters. Fanatics of geekdom are often not big fans of change. And our expectations are incredibly, sometimes unreasonably high. This, combined with the inability to step back and think objectively about the flow and pacing of the story, leads to something I like to call the “George Lucas dilemma.”
It’s a simple calculation: Impossibly high fan expectations + director too close to project = letdown.
It’s the perfect storm of moviemaking. And George Lucas, unfortunately, is its most famous victim. You know what I’m talking about. His constant tinkering of the original “Star Wars” trilogy, his prequels, the insanely high expectations from the largest fan base of any film in moviemaking history .... Even if "Episode I," "Episode II" and "Episode III" were great, they still would have let fans down. And so goes the same for “The Hobbit.”
When Jackson released “The Lord of the Rings,” nothing like it had ever been done before. People said those books were un-filmable. Jackson proved them wrong. Sure, it had its critics. Movies of this nature always do. He left this out, or he didn’t do this scene right. But overall, he nailed it. Collectively, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy sold more than $2.9 billion in ticket sales worldwide. So, of course, with “The Hobbit,” the expectations are much higher.
Let’s face it. Part of the responsibility also falls on us, the fans. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we burden ourselves with such high hopes? We know that these films will never meet our impossibly high expectations. Yet, we hope. And we pray. And we pay small fortunes to go see them, and we are, for the most part, disappointed. As I write this, I think about “The Avengers 2,” and, of course, I hope and pray it’ll be as good, if not better, than the first one. I just can’t help it.
Perhaps my friend has the right idea. Maybe it’s better to not see the “The Hobbit” (or any followup movies, like, say, the new "Star Wars" films) at all, avoiding the inevitable disappointment we’re most likely to feel after having seen it. Why ruin the perfectly good movie of memories from the original already playing in our heads?
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Have you seen “The Hobbit”? Let me know in the comments below.
Charlie Moss writes about local history and popular culture, including music, movies and comics. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.