Peril and Slapstick

by Varda

Long ago when the Hobbit film was first planned I think I put up some posts remarking that the tone of this first book of Tolkien's was very different from LOTR so unless it was changed drastically in the filming, a cinema version was not going to be some kind of LOTR prequel. The Hobbit, I think I pointed out, was a children's book.

I did not want to put a hex on anything but after the films were all out and the world moved on I do think we all suffered a sense of loss. The conventions died out and even our own board slowed down. Or boards, sorry. I think there was a bit of desperation in the anticipation for the Hobbit. Maybe it would recapture the magic.

I was sort of surprised though when I bought Empire this month (a very nice Hobbit cover with a very grey Gandalf on the front) and read a frank interview with Jackson where he too commented on the 'juvenile' tone of the Hobbit;

'''Peter Jackson never wanted to direct the Hobbit. Urged that it was the perfect project with which to follow the success of Rings, he smiled evasively and insisted to one and all that he was done with Middle Earth as director..Hence, Mexican fabulist Guillermo del Toro, a figure even the most areent of Jacksonphiles agreed made a fascinating substitute.

Jackson's qualms about adapting the prequel went deeper than just Tolkien fatigue. ''The tone worried me..' as is well known, The Hobbit was written as a beside story for JRR's children. It is whimsical, almost comic. There is little of the portentous weight of Rings, and frankly, for all its rich storytelling, the book flirts with the juvenile. Jackson wasn't sure how to handle that ''It isn't just the characters, or the dialogue; it's the actual narrative. You get a whole sense of The Hobbit being a children's book.''

...Jackson could not fathom portraying 13 irritable dwarves (with the exception of stoic leader Thorin, The Hobbit's 'fellowship' is depicted as an obstinate mass) and their more self-serving quest to reclaim both their homeland (the geologically dubious Lonely Mountain) and a hoard of treasure from a smug dragon named Smaug - conferring the Hobbit with more ambiguity than its sequel. A journey frought with both peril and slapstick.
''We were happy putting it in someone else's hands'' he admits.


'As Del Toro departed (jackson) began rediscovering his Tolkien mojo. Slowly, surely, he found he knew exactly how to make The Hobbit. HIS Hobbit. A trick he mastered with Rings; - trust the book.

''The tone is actually the part of it I am enjoying the most, which is ironic...we are being more humourous than LOTR but that is the characters. I'm dealing with a whole bunch of extenuate and forthright dwarves who are not afraid to say what they think. They have a healthy disregard for the icons of Middle Earth.''

If you want the straightforward answer to how Jackson discovered he wanted to make The Hobbit, it's dwarves. They suit him. He's been having a ball delineating Nori from Ori, Oin from Gloin, developing raucaus personalities and outlandish (but practical) looks for 13 catankerous elf-haters. Then finding the actors to climb beneath their unkempt beards. Even the most cursory of glances at Middle Earth's ''Dirty Baker's Dozen'' ..conjures up a salad bar of Vikings, Picts, druids, heavy metal bassists and conceivably in tangential tribute to Jackson's forthcoming production of Tintin - Asterix's BFF, Obelix.

''They don't know what to make of Gandalf, they think Bilbo is a wuss and Elrond a prissy headmaster type'' delights a besotted director. Watching them (plus Bilbo) stomp and squabble about set (off and on camera), Time Bandits springs to mind, or the anarchic joy of early Jackson; Bad Taste, Braindead, those scurilous Feebles. Yesterday they filmed the world's first 'Dwarf wedgie'(''we found it in the appendices'' swears Jackson) while Stage K is utilising a mysterious ''snot gun''. Those bloody-minded cannonballs provide an opportunity to send up the gravity of Rings, even as they lay its groundwork.'

There is a lot more to this article and it describes the sense of reunion on the set plus the vast new cg effects, which have apparently brought James Cameron to watch and learn. It also mentions the film's parallel plot line where Gandalf and Elrond investigate Dol Guldur, but the above seems the heart of Jackson's approach to The Hobbit and I thought you guys might be interested. Because it set my teeth on edge, I corrected the article's horrible
'Middle-Earth' to 'Middle Earth'.

I admit I am not gagging to see a 'Dirty Baker's Dozen', but as I have often been counselled on this site, I will wait and see. Jackson has promised that we will see 'more of Middle Earth', and that should be good, although it won't work as a fantasy travel film.

My own private dream would be to see The Lord of The Rings done again, by someone else, preferably as a tv series. Given the gorgeous production values (about the only values) of Game of Thrones, and the vast sums dedicated to that kind of series, cost can't be a valid reason why not any more. I have always said Jackson did a great job, but this is a story that can be told again and again and by other talented and inspired people (Even Del Toro apparently favoured a Steam Punk look to the Hobbit). Jackson made his mistakes; remember the coach and four he drove through the plot of The Two Towers; the assassination of the character of Faramir or Arwen the Warrior Princess. Maybe someone else, given more time and resources, would not have to make such compromises.

Just my humble opinion, of course