“The Hobbit” conundrum

I wrote the start of this before I had seen the first film “The Hobbit : An Unexpected Journey”, on the topic some folk were raising about the multiplicity of the films of the short novel “The Hobbit”. I’ll leave aside the 3D or 48fps, so far I haven’t found an issue with that. So, why more than one film.

Now, I have yet to be convinced about THREE films, and I am aware that “King Kong” could have been a tighter film if some of the action sequences weren’t so grandiose, but I can see why “The Hobbit” can be more than one film, and it is a problem that the book now has too.

“The Hobbit” is a children’s story that is complete within itself. Filming that is probably a one film task. It has been a one film task before. But it has a sequel. That sequel puts more pressure on “The Hobbit”.

J. R. R. Tolkien actually did a bit of retconning (*) to “The Hobbit” after “The Lord of the Rings came out”. Gollum was originally truer to his word, betting this ring that he owned as a prize in the Riddle Game. Since he was unable to deliver, because he had lost it, he showed Bilbo out and they parted on good terms.

That doesn’t fit with the addicted victim of The One Ring that Gollum became, so that had to be changed.

Lord of the Rings covers it too. In the Council of Elrond, the whole history of the Ring is told, including the reason for and consequence of Gandalf’s side trip in “The Hobbit”. The film LoTR doesn’t cover much of this, it is unnecessary to that film because it is NOT a sequel to a Hobbit film. However by the time of LoTR, these events had assumed a great significance to the plot of the sequel. (**)

But now the film LoTR will have the work that they are sequels to to cope with, but you cannot change the LoTR films to put back in exposition that put the events of “The Hobbit” into their new perspective. If you film “The Hobbit” as is, then elements won’t gel with “The Lord of the Rings”. So the things that were explained in “LoTR” now have to take place within the context of “The Hobbit”.

In and of itself, “The Hobbit” is a children’s story. LoTR started off as that, but changed. The change in tone is noticeable particularly at the Barrowdowns, and gets darker thereafter.

LoTR is not story for young children, so having filmed it after, the Hobbit can either stand out like a sore thumb, or it can match, and we already Tolkien preferred to make it fit.

So if you, as the film maker, have decided to make it match, so you have to include things that foreshadow LoTR, including what Gandalf did on his side trip, which means you have to give that context. It can’t just have been “Right, nipping off to do a thing, oh look it’s finished”.

There is suspicion, doubt, realization, debate, what action to take, then performing those actions, dealing with setbacks and consequences.That, I reckon, pushes “The Hobbit” into two films without a sense of padding. There are other things that can be shown, the decisions that lead to certain actions that happen with the genesis of that action only briefly referred to, these can be put in their proper place and context.

Is it three films worth? I do not know, I have yet to be persuaded, but it is certainly more than one, and I think people who are looking askance at that will find themselves wrong.

Others may be just “knocking the popular thing” that we humans do so well, perhaps an understandable suspicion after the “Start Wars” prequels, but on that score I’ll decide when I see them all.

(*) Retroactive continuity, changing a work to fit a later work that contradicts it
(**) SPOILER ALERT – Highlight the text below if you want to read my thoughts on “The other things”

  • Firstly of course the ring changes to the “The One Ring”, that is a important, but doesn’t jusitfy extra time
  • The death of Smaug becomes more significant, because he cannot then become an ally of Sauron
  • The Battle of the Five Armies becomes more significant, because that breaks Orc power in the Misty Mountains, again removing forces that Sauron could have called on later
  • The biggie though is the Necomancer. Barely a name in “The Hobbit”, he is the Enemy of LoTR. He is driven out from Dol Guldur, though he may have been ready to leave anyway. Saruman counsels caution, and we know by LoTR why, but he is still trusted here. This part is required, and needs setting up and carrying through as discussed earlier

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2 Responses to “The Hobbit” conundrum

  1. Kermit says:

    not a bad evaluation, but I’ll propose an alternate possibility.

    “LoTR is not story for young children, so having filmed it after, the Hobbit can either stand out like a sore thumb, or it can match, and we already Tolkien preferred to make it fit.”

    “…So if you, as the film maker, have decided to make it match, so you have to include things that foreshadow LoTR…”

    now, I’ll grant, it appears that Peter Jackson (I call him “PJ” for short) *has* decided to make “The Hobbit” in the same…flavor…as his “Lord of the Rings” movies. I, however, and I’m not alone on this point, feel that this may have been a poor choice.

    As you’ve already pointed out, “The Hobbit” is *not* at all in tone or general content, at all like “The Lord of the Rings”. While the activity within “The Hobbit” meshes with Tolkien’s later works, the story as it exists, stands in a very different light. There is, I feel, *NO WAY* to make “The Hobbit” feel like “The Lord of the Rings” without fundamentally changing the nature of “The Hobbit”‘s original story.

    I’ve seen the movie, and I can tell you, as a stand-alone fantasy adventure, “The Hobbit” is enjoyable, and even dramatically powerful in places. But, while it occasionally…tastes…like “The Hobbit”, it ultimately fails to capture the unique magic of that childhood fairytale. However, it *also* fails to really re-capture the historical scope and epic world-changing history feel of “The Lord of the Rings”, precisely because none of the primary content of “The Hobbit” was ever like that.

    Honestly, I think PJ would have been better off for everyone, leaving the “The Hobbit” as standing out like a sore thumb, as you put it. It isn’t supposed to feel like “LOTR”; it doesn’t have the content to do that – so you either have to make up content and stitch it onto an existing story, and have that awkwardy frankensteinien mish-mash of story-types, or settle for moving away from the epic fantasy of “LOTR”, and telling the simpler, still engaging, but very different in flavor story, of “The Hobbit”.

    I feel it was this unnecessary desire to recapture the grandeur of “LOTR”, and by extension, not really appreciating the value of the unique and different grandeur that “The Hobbit” possesses on it’s own, that made me less engaged by the story than I was really hoping for.

    In the end, there are still two movies to be shown, and it’s possible that elements that were being established in the first one will take some time to bear fruit – the movie is still pretty and fun, so I’ll watch the next two – but so far, there is something lacking, and the effort to fill the hole with pushy name-dropping from “LOTR” is not satisfying me.

  2. hurcheon says:


    Thanks for answering. I am not saying Mr Jackson is perfect. I would, for example, have prefered the eerie majesty and terror of the procession to the Stone of Erech, to the fight and weird recanting that we got.

    And no to shieldsurfing elfs.

    However, though I might have agreed with you on your point, in which case I would never have written my post, the thing that stops me is this, Tolkien did not hold his work as perfect (or even as finished)

    I spoke earlier of his retconning the hobbit as far as Gollum is concerned, and also in the following
    “Svefgyl bs pbhefr gur evat punatrf gb gur “Gur Bar Evat”, gung vf n vzcbegnag, ohg qbrfa’g whfvgsl rkgen gvzr
    Gur qrngu bs Fznht orpbzrf zber fvtavsvpnag, orpnhfr ur pnaabg gura orpbzr na nyyl bs Fnheba
    Gur Onggyr bs gur Svir Nezvrf orpbzrf zber fvtavsvpnag, orpnhfr gung oernxf Bep cbjre va gur Zvfgl Zbhagnvaf, ntnva erzbivat sbeprf gung Fnheba pbhyq unir pnyyrq ba yngre
    Gur ovttvr gubhtu vf gur Arpbznapre. Oneryl n anzr va “Gur Uboovg”, ur vf gur Rarzl bs YbGE. Ur vf qevira bhg sebz Qby Thyqhe, gubhtu ur znl unir orra ernql gb yrnir naljnl. Fnehzna pbhafryf pnhgvba, naq jr xabj ol YbGE jul, ohg ur vf fgvyy gehfgrq urer. Guvf cneg vf erdhverq, naq arrqf frggvat hc naq pneelvat guebhtu nf qvfphffrq rneyvre”

    (use rot13.com to decode if you wish, might ber spoilers from your point of view)

    There is another thing that lets me go along with this updating of The Hobbit to be of a piece with LoTR. When he wrote LotR, Tolkien saw the relationship between Arwen and Aragorn as part of the story, but he could not think of a way to intercut it into the main narrative, so it became Appendix A.

    Tolkien knew the limitations of the art form he was using to express himself, and he modified his story to adapt to that.

    Peter Jackson found a way to interweave the romance in, though thankfully he withdrew from having Arwen appear at Helm’s Deep (The Elves I can live with as echoes of the War in the North_East that involved the Dalemen, Dwarves and Elves against the Orcs and Easterlings). Similarly he had the major crush Éowyn had on Aragorn in, as it should be (in some drafts Arwen did go to the West and Aragorn ended up with Éowyn). Tolkien did not perceive his own work as sacrosanct. He sold the film rights thinking he had got the better of the deal as he considered it unfilmable.

    Which brings us back “The Hobbit”. Your choices are
    – Leave it unfilmed
    – Do it as in the book (do you go for 1st edition, with a good and kindly Gollum though?)
    – Do it, but ensure it is of a piece with LoTR
    – Do it but change everything but the name and cast a time limited celebrity in the lead role

    You can make good and valid arguments for each of the first three three, and none for the fourth but if you decide to go for the third option, then you have to hold your nose, dive in .

    I might never convince you that the third option is the best, but, having done so, what he is doing is the right way to go.

    As you say though, he has yet to pull off the whole, we shall see

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