For a while I was very much on the fence about Peter Jackson’s decision to split The Hobbit into two films. On one hand, the book would more than comfortably fit in a nice three-hour adaptation. Anything over that seems like overkill with the potential to spread the narrative too thin. On the other, most of the padding was going to come from J.R.R. Tolkien’s own appendices, and I love Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy so much that part of me thinks the more screen time he devotes to that universe, the better. So I was basically torn, stuck in wait-and-see mode.
Now, there’s the news that Jackson wants to add yet another film to the story, stretching The Hobbit into a whole new trilogy, and a very specific quote he gave in an interview with Deadline.com has me convinced it’s a terrible idea. Here’s the full quote. I’ve highlighted the particularly troubling part.
“So we haven’t just adapted The Hobbit; we’ve adapted that book plus great chunks of his appendices and woven it all together. The movie explains where Gandalf goes; the book never does. We’ve explained it using Tolkien’s own notes. That helped inform the tone of the movie, because it allowed us to pull in material he wrote in The Lord of the Rings era and incorporate it with The Hobbit. So we kept the charm and the whimsy of the fairy tale quality through the characters. Through the dwarves and Bilbo, who is more of a humorous character. He doesn’t try to be funny but we find him funny and find his predicament more amusing than that of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. That was more serious. So the whimsy is there, but tonally I wanted to make it as similar to The Lord of the Rings, because I wanted it to be possible for the people, the crazy people in the world who want to watch these films back to back one day…“
See my problem here? Jackson is admitting that he wants to fundamentally change (or at least balance) the tone of The Hobbit in order to make it fit more smoothly with The Lord of the Rings. He wants it all to feel like one big epic saga. Quite frankly, I find that decision to be a boring and obvious one. Everything’s a saga these days. Everything wants to be Star Wars or Harry Potter. Every big genre movie is treated like a franchise starter, with future storylines being teased in post-credits teasers and further adventures being scripted before the first film is even released. This is the way Hollywood works today. And, ironically, the success of the original Lord of the Rings films is part of the reason why. But it’s still troubling to me that Jackson is going that route with The Hobbit.
I’d find it more exciting had Jackson bucked the trend entirely and said, “You know what? The Hobbit is a different animal than The Lord of the Rings. It’s not as epic, but it doesn’t need to be as it’s not a full extension of that saga, but rather a earlier, lighter adventure from the same universe. For those who have seen Lord of the Rings, there are characters here you’ll recognize and plot lines that will hint at what’s to come, but The Hobbit is a story that can also stand entirely on its own.”
Honestly, wouldn’t that have been the more daring, unconventional decision to make? You’d still have Gandalf. You’d still have Gollum and the one ring. You’d still be able to box all of the films together into a big Blu-ray set somewhere down the line. But I think it’d be kind of neat to see a single Hobbit film that offers a different take on this particular cinematic universe — one that’s a bit more fantastical and whimsical and complete onto itself. Instead, it now sounds like we’re going to get The Lord of the Rings prequels, Episodes I, II and III.