When Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson announced The Hobbit would be adapted into a trilogy and not the originally planned two films, there was an audible groan that permeated through the entire Tolkien fandom. “Two was bad enough!” “How can he make one book into three films?”
If we look at the success of Lord of the Rings we can empathise with his decision. 249 critical film awards, including 11 Oscars for the final instalment, the ninth highest-grossing film franchise of all time and millions of fans who were, for once, satisfied with a cinematic adaptation. As a business-savvy filmmaker, Jackson would be very aware of the potential to mint some more cash from an already lucrative franchise, much like George Lucas and his returns to Star Wars and Indiana Jones. And unlike Lucas, Jackson’s film making has rarely, if ever, been called into doubt. That being said, there are some genuine concerns regarding his voyage back to Middle Earth.
Firstly, the length of The Hobbit is not enough to facilitate a fully formed trilogy. Lord of The Rings drew from 1,031 pages for inspiration; The Hobbit comprises just over 400, including crucial appendices from the former. As a trilogy, Lord of The Rings benefited from its lengthy source material because Jackson had enough room to tinker with the elements he wanted to convert to the screen, such as omitting Tom Bombadil or changing Saruman’s death. This pick-and-choose technique has largely worked for other series such as Harry Potter and the more recent Marvel films.
On the other hand, adding material to draw out a film series can prove to be disastrous. Take Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part III. After using up the original novel for the first two entries, Coppola made the mistake of extending the universe into a third. The result was a less than warm reception that has remained a stain on his legacy.
Jackson runs the risk of doing the same with The Hobbit. Moreover, material from Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, which also covers the same time period, cannot be used as Jackson does not have the rights. This means he is drawing from only one source and potentially risks extending it too far.
At its heart, The Hobbit is an adventurous, light-hearted road-trip. It was intended as a children’s book with the focus firmly on Bilbo and his thirteen companions with occasional appearances from Gandalf. Jackson’s additions, without revealing any spoilers to the uninitiated, are likely to focus on the efforts of Gandalf – along with Galadriel, Elrond,
Saruman and Radagast the Brown – to tackle a growing evil when he is not accompanying the others. Tonally, this would be completely different and may clash with the image many fans have of The Hobbit. Even more worrying is the potential for these additions to overshadow the central plot of the film. The one element in his favour is that he is still working from Tolkien instead of creating his own misguided contributions.
Some might say that Jackson is just trying to recapture the magic of Lord of The Rings; understandable, given their success and his own devotion to Tolkien. But how many people are likely to swoon over something they have already seen once? It didn’t work for Lucas and his prequels, after all.
At the end of the day though, many fans – including sceptical ones like myself – will be queuing up to watch all three instalments. It helps that Jackson is both a devout Tolkien fan and a master filmmaker: it couldn’t be in safer hands. Besides, it’s much better to be cautiously pessimistic and be very pleasantly surprised than to be annoyingly optimistic
and be disappointed beyond belief.