LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Peter Jackson’s two upcoming movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit have been given official names and release dates.
The first of the two films, which are currently being filmed back-to-back in New Zealand, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, arrives in theaters on Dec. 14, 2012.
The sequel, opening Dec. 13, 2013, will be known as The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Both will be released through Warner Bros.
The two prequels to Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy follow the adventures of Bilbo Baggins — to be played by Martin Freeman, with Ian Holm reprising his role as the elder Bilbo — in his quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the dragon Smaug.
The sprawling cast includes a number of other Rings veterans: Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey; Cate Blanchett as Galadriel; Orlando Bloom as Legolas; Christopher Lee as Saruman; Hugo Weaving as Elrond; Elijah Wood as Frodo; and Andy Serkis as Gollum.
Er – I already have a bad feeling about this.
First, in The Hobbit, Bilbo did not have a personal quest to ‘reclaim the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor from Smaug’. Rather, his services were engaged as a burglar (the word is used many, many times in Tolkien’s story) to assist the thirteen dwarfs led by Thorin Oakenshield in stealing their lost dwarf treasure back from Smaug. The motive is entirely and unabashedly materialistic.
But secondly, and even more alarmingly – what’s with this list of characters? Galadriel, Legolas, Saruman and Frodo do not appear in Tolkien’s story in The Hobbit! True, in the retrospective on the ‘Hobbit’ story that we get in places in The Lord of the Rings it turns out that Gandalf, Saruman, and Galadriel have been involved in a meeting of the White Council to discuss the identity of the Necromancer – but Saruman and Galadriel are not mentioned in the much simpler account we get in The Hobbit – and in the LotR Frodo is far too young to have even been born at the time of the earlier book.
Thirdly, it is somewhat misleading to describe The Hobbit as a ‘prequel to The Lord of the Rings’. This is to interpret it backwards from the perspective of the later and much more complex work. The Hobbit as Tolkien originally wrote it was a simple fairy story for children involving dwarfs and their treasure, a wizard, a dragon, and a rather unadventurous hobbit. When Gollum’s magic ring first makes its appearance in the pages of The Hobbit it is not the ‘one ring to rule them all, one ring to bind them’ that it becomes later in the reinterpretation found in The Lord of the Rings; it is simply a magic ring to make the wearer invisible. Tolkien actually began The Lord of the Rings as a sequel to The Hobbit, not the other way around, and the early chapters of the LotR are decidely Hobbit-like (indeed, in Tolkien’s first drafts of these chapters ‘Strider’ was called ‘Trotter’ and Bilbo’s nephew was not ‘Frodo Baggins’ but ‘Bingo Baggins’).
I am very much afraid that Jackson is going to give us, not The Hobbit on its own terms, but rather The Hobbit as it is re-interpreted in The Lord of the Rings. And since Jackson’s Lord of the Rings is already significantly different from the story Tolkien wrote, we are going to be even further away from the original in this so-called ‘prequel’. In my review of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings I wrote the following:
Tolkien started out to write a children’s book, a sequel to The Hobbit, but his older mythology got pulled into it and he ended up writing an epic saga. Some of the saga remains in Jackson’s movie, but he has seriously perverted it, importing into it elements of both the modern psychological novel and the shoot ‘em and kill ‘em action movie.
I then concluded:
I hope that people who see these movies will go on to read the books. My fear is that Jackson’s story line and characterisations will be established in the minds of most people as definitive; that when they think of Frodo and Elrond and Arwen and Galadriel, it will be Jackson’s characters they will think of, not Tolkien’s. To me, this would be a shame.
I already have similar fears for Jackson’s The Hobbit, and the movies haven’t even been filmed yet.