JRR Tolkien is one of my favorite authors. The Lord of the Rings is full of the stuff of life: themes and values worth thinking about, running right along great characters and a fantastic story. The Hobbit is also great fun in a more lighthearted way, with a delightful focus on how Bilbo grows and changes over his journey.
I also enjoy the three Lord of the Rings movies. They’re a little off from the excellent approach of the books (more and more as the three movies progress, actually), with elves that are more arrogant jerks than intriguingly alien, and with lords of countries that are villainous, rather than shown in shades of grey. As is almost universally the case (though not always), the books are better. Still, the three movies are engaging, doing so by maintaining their focus on a small group of characters that we grow to understand and care about.
I wish I could say the same for The Hobbit movies. And that’s the problem right there, the plural. I was reminded of this when I saw the preview for the second of the three movies (you can check the trailer link here). The three Lord of the Rings movies somehow managed to cover the content in three large books, doing a fairly good job of paring things down while staying true to the source material. With The Hobbit, Hollywood has decided they’re going to take one book and make it three! Whee! Yet another trilogy!
To be honest, I could understand if they had two movies to cover the storyline of the book, because a lot of things do happen. But they’re doing these three movies by tacking on a lot of stuff found in Tolkien’s side writings and appendices, trying to make a united whole that goes over the course of three films. The problem with that is these side writings are good fun if you’re interested in Tolkien, but terrible if you’re trying to make a focused narrative: there is a reason they’re in appendices and side writings. Tolkien was notorious for following side plots and writing about random things (The Hobbit grew out of a random note he put on a student’s paper that he was grading!), but he knew pretty well that you couldn’t have all that stuff crammed into a good book. And when he didn’t, his editor wasn’t scared to say this isn’t going to work.
I wish someone had said this to Peter Jackson and the rest working on The Hobbit movies. You can tell there’s a good story in the first movie. It’s the one that’s like the book, just following Bilbo, the dwarves, and Gandalf on their way to The Lonely Mountain. But this great story loses focus on this small group of characters (that we could grow to understand and care about) to keep throwing in stuff about other things going on in Middle-Earth at the time.
I was doing my best to hold judgement on this trilogy process until all three movies came out, but there isn’t any real need. You can see from the trailer that the second is going to be like the first. We’re going to have some sideplot with Legolas, even though he has little to add to the narrative of The Hobbit, and then he’s going to have lots of moralistic discussions with some woman that has equally little to do with the real plot (if he just had a cameo like Frodo does in the first movie, that would be fine). And every time the storyline with the dwarves and Bilbo gets going, we’re going to sidestep over to Gandalf and Radagast doing some… other unconnected stuff.
Peter Jackson is clearly able to have focus–we can see it in his Lord of the Rings movies. But he’s just taking on too much to handle with this script. An over-bloated script will be an over-bloated script, no matter what you do with it. If this was in a writer’s workshop, everyone would be saying, “you have some interesting things in here, but there’s too much going on all at once. Try to trim out some of these side tangents, or at least figure out which story you want to focus on.”
Whether it’s the Hollywood movie machine, Peter Jackson, or some wicked combination of all, these three movies are going to try to do too much and satisfy no one.
Oh, and I’m not even going to get into the random action bits that don’t need to be action bits. The barrel ride scene could be full of fun, beautiful, and peaceful visuals (remember the majestic lighting of the signal fires in Return of the King?), but it’s going to be a chase scene. Yes, a chase scene. Does this even make sense? What were they thinking, and how do you even swing a sword in a barrel without it tipping you over completely? … oh, I started. *ahem* I had better stop.
But I’ll dream and wish for a DVD cut of The Hobbit that only follows Bilbo’s journey. Hey, Swedish-sized hobbits can dream.