Spiders, Dragons, and Hobbits, Oh My!

Yep. This is going to rock. And Cumberbatch has an absolutely perfect dragon voice. Thank you, Peter Jackson and crew. Thank you.

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The Hobbit: Get Ready for Smaug to Desolate

The trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is finally here. Only question is, Why do we have to wait another six months? I can’t get to the theater fast enough for this.

Radagast returns. Smaug is terrifying. Giant spiders and Beorn are finally on our doorstep. Even Legolas is back, and seemingly has a huge role to play (which is awesome!). The cast and crew are bringing a bigger, more epic story than the original book ever could. And even as a Tolkien devotee, I have to admit, I am absolutely delighted with that decision. Everything about this is shaping up into something incredible, and I couldn’t be happier.

My Return to Middle Earth

Well, I am back from seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. What did I think of it?

Hobbit

Run like the wind to the cinema! Go! Now!

Peter Jackson and company have taken us back to Middle Earth, which of course is already a compelling reason to go see it. But they also fulfilled my hopes and dreams, doing justice to Tolkien’s timeless book while adding layers to the story. I was grinning through most of the film, and was completely enraptured. The performances are astounding, especially the main three: Martin Freeman is Bilbo Baggins, Ian McKellen is back and amazing as ever as Gandalf the Grey, and Richard Armitage holds his own as the charismatic, intense king of the Dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield. Andy Serkis delivers a Gollum that is even more convincing and remarkable than the one in the trilogy, if that was possible.

Of course, the special effects and landscapes are beyond beautiful (New Zealand is proof that there is a God). The Dwarves are by turns hilarious and rip-roaring awesome. Howard Shore delivers a terrific musical score that stirs the heart and puts visions of dragons and fires and grand adventures in your mind. Really, must I go into detail? It felt like going back home. I could hardly be happier with the result. In fact, I have to confess something that might be blasphemy: I liked it more than the book. There are fewer times when Bilbo is saved by “sheer luck.” He has to rely more on his own wits and the assistance of the Dwarves or Gandalf to get him out of sticky situations. Plus, all of the extra stuff they’re pulling in from Tolkien’s appendices gives the movie a greater epic quality, and heightens the stakes of the main adventure to the Lonely Mountain.

Of course, it seems as if some aren’t nearly as delighted about it. Critics and nerds across the world are in fidgeting rage over this film. Did they kill Gandalf at the end? Nope. Is Smaug the dragon wearing a tutu? We don’t see much of him, but I didn’t notice any pink lace.

Evidently, the reason everyone’s tying their undergarments in a slip knot is the deliberate pace of An Unexpected Journey. Yup. A deliberate pace. All right, if your heart attack is over, I’d like to calmly explain why this shouldn’t earn the movie a paltry 65% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth movies require an audience who is in it for the long haul. The beginning of this film does require a little patience. And the scene with the three trolls around a campfire, though fun and funny, might have benefited from a bit of extra editing. I grant that much. But why should these count so heavily against the film, when Jackson has made it clear that he will be spinning a much larger tapestry than what Tolkien’s children’s book alone could hold? He is fleshing out Middle Earth itself, casting light on the milieu of Tolkien’s astounding creation.

Given such circumstances, I find a nice slow beginning not only acceptable but arguably necessary. It’s the same reason I didn’t object in the slightest to Return of the King having “too many” endings. I’d just seen ten hours of an epic story unfolding through three movies and dozens of characters. There had better be a lot of endings, so we can be satisfied that each character and subplot gets some kind of resolution even as the larger tale slowly draws to a close.

I’ve been going through Orson Scott Card’s book Characters and Viewpoint (which I highly recommend), and one of the latest chapters I’ve read devotes several paragraphs to showing how Tolkien is a storyteller who focuses on the world, fleshing it out to show us a place so convincing and detailed, you believe it might actually exist. Tidy narratives and compelling characters do sometimes find a place in the setting, but the attention is on Middle Earth itself. This is even true of The Hobbit as a book, which is a shorter adventure tale. Even here, where the plot is much more reined in than Lord of the Rings, Tolkien takes his time to show us the people of Dale, outline the customs of Hobbits, flesh out the family line of Bilbo Baggins, and makes us feel the anguish of the Dwarves whose mountain and treasure has been cruelly stolen by the dragon Smaug. Even here, Tolkien makes the world as much a character as Gandalf or Bilbo or Thorin.

The director and writers are taking their time to set the stage for a grander story, a story I can’t wait to see unfold. I have come to trust this crew of people, given what they accomplished with Lord of the Rings. If they want to tell a larger tale through this new trilogy, they are more than welcome to do so.

Well done, ladies and gentlemen. You have delivered one of the greatest movies of the year, and you captured my imagination all over again.

First Scene from “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

I know I have talked quite a bit about the new Hobbit movie in recent weeks, but this is one bit of news I just couldn’t neglect to mention. After the premiere in Wellington last night, the first short clip has emerged. It’s the moment when Gandalf, Bilbo, and the Dwarves have found a weapons cache and the old wizard decides to give Bilbo a very valuable gift.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

In Defense of a “Hobbit” Trilogy

Peter Jackson has made it official, now. The Hobbit will be told through another epic film trilogy in Middle Earth.

For better or worse, I am excited and optimistic about this decision. Most of the internet is rejoicing at the news, but given the smaller, tighter focus of The Hobbit as a book, some are rising up to say the trilogy will feel stretched and boring. Film cynics immediately settled into their favorite act of projecting, stating that the studio “just wants more money.” One or two people have thought themselves exceptionally clever by invoking Bilbo’s quote from Fellowship of the Ring: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

Perhaps they will be proven right. The movies aren’t out yet, and anything can happen. But, as an optimist, I refuse to go along with the mourning and bemoaning about this development. Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy still is made up of my three favorite movies of all time (heck, I’m watching Fellowship right now).

The man and his creative team sweated blood to respectfully bring the spirit of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth to life twelve years ago, and he knew an adaptation of Bilbo’s journey to the Lonely Mountain would require the same care and love. I am trusting him to do well with this decision, and I believe him when he says the third movie was motivated not by money or marketing, but by the needs of the story that was coming to life before the camera.

Here’s why I believe him. Tolkien himself once said that his visits to Middle-Earth resulted in “tales that grew in the telling.” Even with Jackson’s films, that was the case with the Extended Edition DVDs, which most Rings fans agree are the superior versions of each movie. Jackson wants to draw on the appendices (published at the end of Return of the King) to supplement Bilbo’s simple adventure story, which he obviously knows doesn’t need three movies by itself. And now that I think about it, my opinion is that three movies are needed, for a simple reason: to immerse viewers in Middle-Earth by showing them a much larger world. Tolkien’s lifetime of work produced a realm that was much more than the adventures of a ragtag group of Dwarves, and later a Fellowship.

No doubt the filmmakers will enjoy even more profits from expanding two films into three, but so what? The richness and depth of Tolkien’s world deserves a better cinematic treatment than a strict, by-the-numbers telling of Bilbo’s side of the story. The films may be part of a trilogy called The Hobbit, but they should show much more than what is seen through Bilbo Baggins’s eyes.

And even if I’m wrong, if the movies are bloated and stretched and Jackson couldn’t quite tell as good a story this time around…well, I would rather have too much of a good thing than too little. Especially when it comes to Peter Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Besides, the more movies Ian Mckellen plays Gandalf in, the better. That’s pretty self-evident.

UPDATE: Here’s an io9 article that helps show why The Hobbit can’t be fully realized in just one movie. If you want to know why Gandalf repeatedly leaves the Dwarves and Bilbo behind, know how the Dwarves started up on this quest in the first place, and have each character become sympathetic and memorable so you actually care about them, the solution is to build your story through multiple films.