When it was announced that Tolkien’s The Hobbit was to be made into two films by Peter Jackson there were mixed thoughts. I initially couldn’t see past the marvellous idea that the Lord of the Rings set up was being continued, but since then George Lucas announced his sale of the Star Wars franchise to Disney, and that another painstaking, excruciating trilogy would be made, no doubt including a distant relative of Jar Jar Binks to ruin a further generation’s perception of Star Wars. This opened my mind to the fact that maybe my favourite directors when I was growing up were just money-grabbers and that The Hobbit wasn’t being released as a testament to Tolkien, more as a testament to Jackson’s bank account in Switzerland.
I think I found watching An Unexpected Journey a bit of an awkward journey, constantly expecting James Nesbitt to read us something from the Yellow Pages as he did years ago, or that Bilbo would turn and look disapprovingly at the camera, old habits die hard you see.
The movie itself was far better for Lord of the Rings than The Phantom Menace was for Star Wars, and although this may be because Jackson had a foundation laid out for him by Tolkien, it is still more convincing as a compliment to the franchise. However, we shouldn’t let this fool us. With The Phantom Menace being made a good 30 years+ after the original trilogy, it obviously didn’t feel Star Wars-y, whereas the familiarity for The Hobbit remains as it is only ten years after the first film’s release. In reality the movie seemed to repeat itself and get fairly tiresome, it was essentially Bilbo getting in trouble followed by Gandalf saving everyone’s lives. This happened far too often for it to become an engaging film; the only engaging bit was the ‘Riddle Scene’, even then that was only because it was as highly rated and talked about as a Tarantino ‘masterpiece’.
The title, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, may be used by Jackson as a juxtaposition to the actual film, as the journey was quite expected by the audience, we knew that they would escape the goblin king/John Prescott look-alike, we knew they’d escape the trolls in the wood [SPOILER], and if Gandalf disappeared at some point, we knew he would turn up again and save the day. So maybe Jackson is using the title to directly contradict the storyline, an idea so strong it would make your mind explode. Clever thinking Jackson, clever thinking.
Of course, the storyline would be predictable to those of us who have read Tolkien’s children’s book; but maybe we’d have been thrown by the fact Jackson could split it into three blockbuster films; he’ll probably end up stretching it to four and include Jason Statham, he seems to like starring in action franchises. Who knows, maybe Expendables 5 will feature Bilbo Baggins alongside John McClane and Rambo.
Another thing about releasing The Hobbit as a series of films is that some may feel that it ruins the children’s book. My reason for saying this is that because it is such an iconic children’s story, making it into a film may ruin the magical element of imagination for the reader/audience. This may not have been the case for Harry Potter, or have any symmetries with bringing out The Phantom Menace, but The Hobbit is more of a children’s book, and more about a child’s wild imagination.
There are some clear similarities between the Lord of the Rings franchise and Star Wars franchise, the main one being their ability to excrete money from all ends. Both directors have brought out various versions and box sets of their films, with many fans despairing at the extended box sets and extended blu-ray box sets in LOTR and the DVD turned blu-ray box sets of Star Wars. Bringing out so many variations frustrates fans that they can’t afford to collect everything, but it is such a cash cow for the directors – they know what they’re doing.
I fear the worst for Jackson, what if in ten years time his Lord of the Rings film brand is bought by someone like Rupert Murdoch and transformed into some sort of mass omnipotent, omnipresent institution that watches and controls our every move. Clearly George Orwell was onto something with 1984, little did he know that it would be goblins, orcs and dwarves controlling us instead of Big Brother, at least maybe then Prescott could lead the country…
I think the overwhelming fan base for LOTR would be too much for anyone to ignore Tolkien’s Hobbit and stretching the short children’s book out into three mature films will get him a lot of money, at the same time as losing his credibility; essentially, I think Peter Jackson knew what backlashes creating The Hobbit films would bring, and was prepared to lose his dignity for a good few hundred million pounds.