Since the announcement that The Hobbit will be a trilogy, the Internet has been abuzz. The Tolkien fan base has been divided into two camps: those who are elated at the news, and those who believe that it’s a terrible idea.
Those who are apprehensive of the films becoming a trilogy have raised some valid concerns. For this post, I’ve identified three of the most repeated concerns, and will show why they should be dismissed.
This is About Money
It’s a recent trend to take the final book in a series, and divide it into two films. Famous examples of this are the finales of the Harry Potter series and the Twilight Saga. Whether or not this is positive, one thing is for certain: the studio will make more money from two guaranteed hits, as opposed to just one.
When Peter Jackson began talking about extending his two film adaption into a trilogy, there’s little doubt that MGM and Warner Brothers were excited by the thought of more money. But what about Jackson himself? What is motivating him?
I’ve never met Peter Jackson, but I feel like I know the man. Having sat through countless hours of DVD commentaries and special features, including extensive behind the scenes documentaries, I know how he works as a filmmaker. And if there’s one truth that I’m convinced of, it’s that Peter Jackson is an artist with integrity. He is driven first and foremost by his desire to tell a good story, with all other considerations being secondary. If you doubt this, watch the four and half hour documentary by Costa Botes.
If Jackson wants to film The Hobbit as a trilogy, it’s because he believes that this is the best way to tell the story that he envisions.
The Hobbit is Too Short
Another common objection is that The Hobbit is only one book. It made sense for The Lord of the Rings, which is three volumes, to be filmed as a trilogy. But it’s impossible to stretch The Hobbit into a trilogy without running out of material.
To see the other side of this, first consider how much was cut out of Jackson’s interpretation of The Lord of the Rings. Think about the absence of the Barrow-Wights, Radagast, Tom Bombadil, not to mention the Scouring of the Shire. There simply wasn’t enough time to fit everything into just three films.
Still, even if Jackson includes every event in The Hobbit, it is hard to imagine filling three epic-length movies. So what does Jackson plan to do with presumably nine hours of screen time?
As he has stated, Jackson intends to film other events that were in the background of The Hobbit. As fans of the book know, Gandalf alludes to an evil Necromancer taking residence in Mirkwood, and vanishes for half of the adventure. What was Gandalf doing during his absence?
As explained in the appendices of The Return of the King, Gandalf and the White Council were planning an assault on the fortress of the Necromancer, which culminated in the epic Battle of Dol Guldur. The details of this storyline are fleshed out even further in Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth. The Necromancer, as it turns out, is none other than Sauron himself, and the events in this storyline set the stage for The Fellowship of the Ring.
Again, these are events alluded to in The Hobbit. The difference is that rather than having characters speak of them in passing, Jackson is going to show them to us as they unfold. And if he does justice to this storyline, he has more than enough material to fill an epic trilogy.
The Hobbit is a Children’s Book
This objection stems from the perception that The Hobbit is a light, whimsical children’s book. Jackson cannot translate it into a Lord of the Rings sized epic without drastically altering the tone.
There is some truth to this. The tone of The Hobbit is considerably different from the later trilogy, and to keep it consistent with his Lord of the Rings films Jackson will have to make it more “grown up.” But the good news is that if you are looking for a whimsical, child-friendly interpretation of The Hobbit, one already exists. The Rankin-Bass version of The Hobbit still holds its own, and there’s no reason to revisit that approach.
Instead, Jackson is following Tolkien’s own lead by reframing The Hobbit in light of the greater history of Middle-Earth. When Tolkien first wrote The Hobbit, he didn’t realize that he was setting the stage for a three-volume history of the War of the Ring. After The Lord of the Rings was published, Tolkien went back and revised his children’s book to make it fit into the larger picture. This involved changing some events, as well as including the allusions to the Necromancer storyline. This was in keeping with what he did in the appendices of The Return of the King, where Tolkien spelled out the epic events taking place in the background of The Hobbit.
While Jackson’s version of The Hobbit will differ from the children’s book, it will be consistent with Tolkien’s larger vision of how the story fits into the history of Middle-Earth.
A Cause for Rejoicing
Peter Jackson did what was thought to be impossible: he delivered a faithful, spell-binding adaptation of a book that was thought to be “unfilmable.” While his version of The Lord of the Rings differs in some respects from the source material, it is faithful to the spirit of Tolkien’s work.
There is no reason to believe that Jackson would do anything to deviate from his prior faithfulness to Tolkien’s vision. On the contrary, the evidence shows that he will once again deliver a film that captures the essence of the source material. His behind the scenes videos from filming The Hobbit, as well as the footage shown at Comic-Con, make this clear.
For those who cherish every minute spent in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, there is no reason to fear a third Hobbit film from Peter Jackson. Instead, this is a cause for rejoicing.
Do you disagree? Tell me where I’ve gone wrong.