The Hobbit: Book to Film: A Jaunty Discussion By Rachel and Elena

First question to ponder: Why are you interested in this adaptation?

Elena-

The Hobbit was the book that got me into reading, into fantasy, and into wanting to write my own stories.  Its influence on my life has been far-reaching and profound.  Of course I am going to see this movie when it comes out.  (Actually, I take back the “of course.” There is no of course about it…I have yet to see a single film version of Pride and Prejudice because I have yet to see a cast list that I think can pull it off to my standards, which, if you’ve been reading my column for two years, you know are high.  So it is not a given that I would see this film; therefore I am making a positive declaration:  I am going to see this movie when it comes out.)

However.

I am deeply ambivalent about this film being made.  On one hand, I really loved The Fellowship of the Ring and saw it about six times in the theater.  On the other hand, by The Return of the King something had changed for me—I think it was the CG that became more prevalent as the story moved into more large-scale action and fantastical events—and I haven’t seen it after that first watch in the theater.  And The Hobbit is actually dearer to my heart than LoTR (which is plenty dear to me), so the stakes are higher.  If they get it right, I will love this movie.  If they get it wrong I will actively hate it rather than being confused and underwhelmed and indifferent.

When del Toro was on board as director I was excited about it without any mixed feelings.  He has proven to me to be a director of true artistic vision, and someone who relies on a mix of models and CG that is heavier on the models than Jackson’s approach.  With the story of the The Hobbit as presented in the book, there isn’t much large-scale action, and I have much more faith in del Toro to take the longer route with old-school effects than I do in PJ.  So while I’m not trying to say I think Jackson sucks or that this movie inevitably will, I am, as Tim Gunn would say, concerned.

Rachel-

First, Colin Firth will always be my Mr. Darcy. With the frock coat and the curly hair and the intense looks…oh, yes.

Where was I? Oh right, The Hobbit film.

I can’t remember first reading The Hobbit. It’s one of those books that has just always been there. I probably picked it up in elementary school. I have a set of The Hobbit and LoTR that my mother had when she was a child that she passed on to me. They’re in a golden box, and I remember being young and wondering what all the symbols shown on the box meant. But I do remember that I read The Hobbit first, because when I first picked up Fellowship I thought, “Who the heck is this ‘Frodo’ guy? I want to know what is going on with Bilbo!” Which is pretty funny, because as an adult I usually say that LoTR is my favorite over The Hobbit.

Because of that and because I already feel that PJ has produced probably the best book to film adaptation that I will ever witness (I still sob like a child whenever I watch the films), I am not hanging on to The Hobbit as much as I could be. It isn’t my favorite of Tolkien’s works, and I guess there just isn’t as much pressure on my end for PJ to knock me out of the park. I trust that PJ’s standards probably far exceed my own standards, and really, I’ve no reason to expect anything less than a masterpiece of fantasy film when it hits theaters.

That being said, I’ve been hit by how many times PJ has referred to how tired he is or how long it is taking and the like in those “making of” vids being released. Maybe I’m projecting? But when you compare current PJ to the PJ in the extended edition vids…he seems like a guy who really wanted del Toro to be the director and has stepped up to finish the project his way rather than see it languish.

I think del Toro would have been brilliant! He’s so willing to let things be odd and ugly, and I think that is just the angle The Hobbit could have used to help it stand up to the behemoth that is LoTR.

At the same time it’s not like PJ doesn’t have his own experience with the weird. I’m very interested to see what PJ, lover of monsters, does with the trolls and goblins and Smaug! I think it will be crazy awesome, even if PJ is working towards a resolution rather than a vision because I have a lot of faith in him. He really loves these books.

Elena-

I just have to interject here on the subject of Mr. Darcy.  I imagine Colin Firth plays him to my standards.  What I do not imagine is that Kiera Knightley plays Elizabeth to them.

Also, Rachel encapsulated perfectly my feelings about why del Toro would have been amazing bringing this text to life because he’s “willing to let things be odd and ugly.”  Jesus Christ, yes.  Shit got way weird and way ugly in the cartoon.  I want that strangeness again!

 

So, what would make it suck?

 

Rachel-

I might be concerned about PJ’s enthusiasm (and I’ll be the first to admit it is really just my opinion based on a few interviews I’ve read, and perhaps my own perceptions are flawed) but in general I’m not worried that PJ will slack on the quality of the production. What concerns me the most are all the things being added. There is supposedly enough material to make two movies. What? The Hobbit is the perfect adventure story. The perfect two and a half hour adventure story. So what is all this extra stuff? Supposedly it is all coming from the unpublished notes and stories, basically, “What was Gandalf doing when he wasn’t with Bilbo and co.?”

Will flipping back and forth between Bilbo’s story and the greater story that connects back to LoTR (which has arguably been thoroughly explained already) cause Bilbo’s story to creep along in fits and starts? I’m not convinced we NEED to know exactly what Gandalf is up to, because we learn all about that in LoTR.

Plus, there’s all this news about Evangeline Lilly as one of the Mirkwood elves. Huh? Casting of this made-up elf aside, why do we need a new elf? Is it solely to add more female characters to this sausage fest? I can understand the impulse to do so. Clearly addressing the lack of female characters is something PJ has previously been concerned with. Remember those cut scenes of Arwen at Helm’s Deep? Or the scenes that stayed in the film where Arwen replaces Glorfindel? It’s hard to see an epic tale with Eowyn as the only badass lady, and she ends up spending the end of the story mooning over men!

Sure, I wish there were more women with swords kicking butt in Middle Earth, but Tolkien didn’t think so. Maybe he thought Eowyn was enough. Maybe he honestly didn’t believe women should be kicking butt. Maybe he was adhering to the trends he found in the European stories he was emulating. Do I appreciate that PJ is giving a nod to the fact that women DO kick butt and are fans of Tolkien? SURE I DO! It’s awesome! Arwen and Asfaloth is one of the great scenes of Fellowship! Done. Sold.

But an entirely NEW character? That is weirding me out a little. The casting of Evangeline Lilly (why did this happen? Is this Dominic Monaghan’s doing?) seems like stunt casting to me. And that means pandering.

Pandering to WHOM, exactly? Casuals? Is one Lost actor really going to make that big a difference in ticket sales? This seems executive decisiony. I don’t like it. I DON’T LIKE IT!

Maybe my inner “comic book guy” is showing, but okay, I’ll admit it. If I had my way these films would all be what Elena called “Passion of the Rings” style. The whole damn movie in Tolkien’s made up languages. In fact…let’s throw out those subtitles, too. Everyone brush up on your Sindarin. Middle Earth or BUST! NO CASUALS. Get your mitts off our nerd movie! GET ‘EM OFF!

Actually, I don’t speak Elvish. Elena does though. I swear.

So, yeah, what would make The Hobbit suck? The Hobbit: There, The Hobbit: Back Again.

Elena-

First of all, let’s be clear:  I don’t actually speak elvish. I compose beautiful and lyrical epic poetry in it.  And second, I know Quenya, which is about as useful for speaking to elves in Middle Earth as knowing Latin would be for trying to pick up hot Italian men:  not very.  But, yes, holy shit, yes, I want me some Passion of the Rings.  Bring on the Black Speech and the Sindarin and the Dwarvish and Numenorean!  Who needs English?  Real fans read the books so they can certainly read the subtitles!  (I am okay with the subtitles, for the record.)

Anyway, Rachel’s absolutely right about the WWGD (What Was Gandalf Doing?) segments.  If they don’t get the parts grafted from sources other than The Hobbit just right, they could ruin the film.

For me, there are two reasons for this.  First, the story of the book is so simple.  It’s why I love it—there’s no world-shaking consequences (I mean, obviously there are, but you don’t know that when you’re reading, so they don’t matter to the story at hand), and there’s no to be continued.  The story is an adventure.  It’s about this hobbit who goes on the road with some dwarves, and fights trolls and goblins and spiders along the way, meets some elves, meets more elves, outwits a dragon, and sees this epic battle of seven armies.  If you start adding in ancillary plot points because you’re trying to either make it more serious (a la the mood of LoTR) or to back-fill events that the non-book readers may not be aware of to bridge the gap between the two parts of the story, you inevitably take away from the simple joy of a pure story.

And the fact is, if the 1977 cartoon could competently render the story in 87 minutes or whatever its running time was, then this movie could be done properly in under three hours.  There is no reason to split The Hobbit into two films if you are only filming The Hobbit.

Hence the second reason I dislike these additions.  Because while I hope the extra story is being added for artistic reasons (even if I don’t agree with them), unfortunately, what it smacks of to the cynic in me, is a desire to make more money by splitting the film.  With just the story as Bilbo told it in There and Back Again, there is no reason to split it (see again the paragraph above, about the cartoon).  So I’m afraid that the added scenes are going to make it obvious they needed some kind of filler to punch the time from an acceptable theatrical three hours to the four or longer that would require two movies.

 

And what would make it awesome?

 

Elena-

If they told the story of the book, exactly as it is in the book?

All jokes aside, I actually think this movie has the potential to be visually stunning, because it is such a visual story.  (This is why I’m so sad del Toro is off of it, because he creates amazing images on screen.)  I mean, the whole way down the plot in my mind is encapsulated in these strong images that are almost like stills in my mind…but it’s the way I’ve been seeing this story since my mom and my older brother read it to me when I was four years old.

The part I am probably looking forward to most is the sequence in and coming out of Mirkwood.  Mirkwood is my favorite creepy fantasy forest of all time, and I love the Wood Elves.  They are so much closer to the traditional representation of the fae than the Rivendell and Lothlorien elves are…they are sly and tricky and cruel.  But then here comes Bilbo the motherfucking hobbit busting into their house and figuring out how to get the dwarves out of there.

And Bilbo riding the barrels!  Goddamn, I love that scene.  I hope this movie will capture the humor of it the way the cartoon did, and I think they almost have to, because it’s just inherently funny, Bilbo trying to stay afloat on this barrel while not getting seen from the shore, while all the dwarves are bouncing around in these wooden casks on the river cramped and sick and the poor bastard he’s riding on top of has it worse than any of them because Bilbo keeps tipping the barrel….

Rachel-

My favorite parts of stories are the beginnings, which is probably why I like Tolkien so much. I love the world building, finding out who people are, what things look like. So I’m looking forward to the beginning. To all those dwarves arriving and filling up Bag End. To Bilbo being harried and annoyed, and there had better be lots of singing!

I’m with Elena, though, if they just translate the book to the screen, I’ll be happy. I don’t know if the House of Beorn will make it unchanged to the screen. A dude who lives in a hut with a bunch of animals that he talks with, who shape-shifts into a bear…all of that can skew a bit cheesy Disney. I bet I was a hard bit to write. I guess it will depend on the tone of the film; will it be a raucous adventure movie, or will PJ attempt to slide The Hobbit in right alongside LoTR and its more epic grandeur? Shape-shifting vegetarian dude could be a bit hokey if they go the latter route. Either way, I’m looking forward to it, because it wasn’t in the incredibly scarring cartoon I watched only a few times as a child and then refused to watch again until I was an adult, where it was confirmed that the cartoon is a terrible creation that should be destroyed.

I’m also looking forward to Mirkwood because of the creep potential. And like most people, I think, I’m really looking forward to Smaug. One of the reasons I was excited about del Toro before he had to quit was that I felt that his take on Smaug would be a little strange and therefore awesome. If Smaug is just another European dragon (think Harry Potter, Dragon Heart, Disney, etc.), I’ll be disappointed. I want Smaug to have a dash of weird to him. Whether he resembles Tolkien’s skinny little drawings or something stranger, I just hope he’s something unique and terrifying.

Elena-

I agree that Smaug needs to be something weird. Something besides the Game of Thrones dragons we are going to be seeing all next spring.  Something iconic like the Luck Dragon (Falcor!) in The Neverending Story.  Tolkien’s dragon was very wormy.  Snakelike.  I forget how, exactly, Smaug was described in the book, but I remember something about whiskers?  Maybe I’m just getting confused because his head looked almost cat-like in the cartoon version.

And, seriously, Rachel, it scarred you?  A, that cartoon is The Shit.  Period.  B, scarring from The Hobbit is having your mother read you the part where the dwarves get carried into the fucking mountain by goblins and then stopping because that was the end of a chapter and it was already past your bedtime. To this day, the worst nightmare I have ever had was that night. I still cry for little four-year-old Elena dreaming about getting carted off by goblins–and not hot goblins like Gareth the Goblin King. THAT is scarring.

Ahem.

Anyway.  Smaug.  Yes, Smaug needs to be weird and iconic. Again with my del Toro love, I am sure he would have delivered that.  PJ might.  I hope he does. I’m just not sure he will.  But I’m hopeful.

 

Additional thoughts on casting or production?

 

Rachel-

Well, I already brought up my concerns about Evangeline Lilly. I think it’s pretty funny that she’s already getting a bit defensive in interviews, anticipating a sort of fan backlash against her. That makes me sad; that she is assuming us fans won’t be very welcoming to an original character (okay…judging by the message boards out there…we aren’t being very welcoming). Maybe she’ll be awesome. Maybe they’ll do something to her that will make me look at her and think, “That is an elf,” and not, “there’s the sweaty criminal from Lost.”

Elena-

I have to toss out my corollary thought here:  Why bother making random elves women if you don’t actually change the story?  I mean, I’m with Rachel, I understand the reasons for wanting to give us a few women in the film, but this movie is a sausage fest because it’s about a bunch of dwarves, a hobbit, and a wizard.  Sorry, there’s no real role for a woman to play in the actual story, so I don’t really see the point of putting them in at all, because then it just looks like obvious pandering to political correctness.  Everyone who has read the book knows there’s not really any woman in it, and since that fan base should be whom the movie is aiming at, there’s no reason to change it.

Now, doesn’t one of the dwarves say at some point that female dwarves have beards, too?  So if you are going to turn some character into a female just to have a female presence on screen, you’d be better served to make it one of the dwarves.

Rachel-

I disagree with Elena about her previous point that PJ got a little CGI heavy with LoTR (well, Return of the King specifically). I often cite LoTR as a great example of why directors should try to use practical effects and models and basically anything they can that is not a computer to help make their CGI look better. I don’t doubt that the same standard will be held to The Hobbit. I’m also really excited to see whatever extended edition comes out of all of this. If these little promo vids that are being released is any indication, they know how important the behind-the-scenes stuff is to the fans.

On that same vein, I really hope that this cast grows to be as much of a family as the LoTR cast was. Part of the satisfaction in watching those films is knowing that all the people you see on screen and all the production people you see in the featurettes were friends. For me, at least, it makes the product all the sweeter to know that there are inside jokes and stories to go along with the film. I think the extended edition of LoTR did a lot to make people interested in film production. I certainly learned a lot from it, and what other film fandom out there has its fans able to recognize and spout the names of all the various department heads? It must have been satisfying for that team to know that the fans love them just as much as PJ because those featurettes gave them a voice and a story. I’m definitely looking forward to all of that from The Hobbit.

Elena-

I appreciate that they are taking the same tactic as PJ did with LoTR and doing all principle filming at once.  I think it definitely lends to the continuity of the look between the films, and it does allow for the kind of cast bonding that will really give the ending an emotional punch.

We were talking about this on Skype, and I think Rachel and I both agreed we never really cried when (SPOILER ALERT) whichever of the dwarves it is that dies at the end of the book dies, but maybe if the actors can really sell that because they’re all super-close then it will give it more emotional heft for the audience (END SPOILER).

Rachel-

I’m going to confess something about the dwarves. I never really learned all their names. I KNOW. I just…didn’t. There were lots of them, and most of their names rhymed, so mostly I just think of them as various name groupings of dwarves. So I don’t really have any preferences or specific mental images of all the dwarves. I think once I get a non-Photoshopped picture of the dwarves (seriously, those promo photos are so Photoshopped they all look like extras from a Disney Pirates movie) that I will be really, really happy with the various character designs.

Well, almost all of them.

What is going on with Kili? That guy looks like Seth Green in a wig doing his best “blue steel.” I remember that Kili is a young dwarf but…he doesn’t even have some fuzz? Dwarf women have beards, but Kili wants to grow up and be a model or something? I don’t know. He is distracting to me right now. Maybe he will end up my favorite dwarf. Maybe I will tell everyone how much I like Kili and how funny that is because when I first saw a promo shot of him I was like “dude…who is that boy band member?” Fili has got some facial hair, though, and so I guess they will stand together a lot (rhyming), so I’ll just look at him instead of Kili.

Elena-

What I most want to know is, what fun tumblrs are going to come out of this project, now that the fandom (of fantasy and geekery in general) has discovered how much fun mash-ups are?

The only one I’ve been able to come up with so far is Thranduil Goes Through Pon Farr.  This is because one of my friends and I share an unhealthy obsession with Lee Pace (Hi, Lee Pace’s agent!  Call me, I want that interview!), who is going to be Thranduil. My friend and I were talking about a Lee Pace Hobbit tumblr, and when I asked if she wanted to mash it with anything her response was, “The only other sci-fi or fantasy I know is Star Trek.  So unless he’s going through Pon Farr, I have no ideas.”  Well, who NEEDS more ideas?

(Side note:  we are in reality way too lazy to create this tumblr.  Also we figured it would get like two frames, and then we’d run out of jokes.  So if anyone out there wants to take this idea and run with it, please do…just leave me the site so I can enjoy it, too!)

Rachel –

This is ridiculous, but whenever I think of Thranduil lately, all I get in my head is Lucius Malfoy from A Very Potter Sequel (played by Tyler Brunsman). So Thranduil is going through Pon Farr, but he’s dressed in a white leotard and he’s prancing through Mirkwood, and he is just…really disappointed in Legolas’ inability to draw anything beyond, “Hey Daddy, I can use the potty now!”  I said it was ridiculous. Pigfarts.

Written by Rachel Parker and Elena Nola

4 thoughts on “The Hobbit: Book to Film: A Jaunty Discussion By Rachel and Elena

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  2. Jennifer H.

    I think it’ll be interesting to see how much PJ tries to recreate the feel of LOTR in the Hobbit. The books are not on the same scale — the Hobbit is much more of a children’s book (I say that not at all in a pandering way) than LOTR, and by design does not have the same epic, grandiose vibe to it. And while I hope and believe that PJ will bring the same quality and high production value to the Hobbit, I also hope he doesn’t go overboard trying to connect to the two. Part of the joy of the Hobbit is getting to see hobbits act, well, more hobbity. Bilbo wouldn’t be as convincing, and his journey would be less meaningful, almost, if it’s placed in the grander scheme of Middle Earth. I think the Hobbit should be all about a hobbit, venturing out from his hole in a hill for what is by Shire standards, quite epic enough.

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