Larry D. Curtis, as part of the team at TheOneRing.net, has been comprehensively covering the works and adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien for more than a decade, making the not-for-profit site the leading source about The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings for fans and film makers world wide. Curtis represents the site at conventions and events around the US including the San Diego Comic-Con. You can read his The Hobbit Countdown here at Movies.com every other Monday.
How exactly do the old LOTR stars fit in with the two-part Hobbit films? Quite nicely actually. Having Ian McKellen return as Gandalf was a necessity as was Andy Serkis’ Gollum and Hugo Weaving as Elrond.
But why are star-centric tabloids tripping over themselves to find photos and talk about Orlando Bloom, his supermodel wife Mirranda Kerr and their son settling into Wellington? Because his character Legolas is definitely part of what Peter Jackson has cooked up. And where does Elijah Wood fit in?
Lets get this out of the way first: Films are not translations of books. Rather than a literal conversion of a book scene to a film scene or a chapter to an action sequence, film has the responsibility to take the words on the page and without ruining the integrity of the themes, plot and characters of the source, converting them to a completely different medium.
This doesn’t always work of course.
Netflix (or the Blu-ray section of your local entertainment store if you prefer) is littered with bad titles that started out as great literary concepts but didn’t survive the complex process of putting a printed page into a visual medium. What does this have to do with The Hobbit? Only everything.
A seven-decade old children’s book with names right out of Norse mythology, long song-poems that interrupt the plot and a powerful wizard that consistently steps off stage before danger strikes, isn’t the easiest book to adapt for the screen. The tone of the book is playful and almost silly with moments of commentary from a narrator complete with anachronistic characterization.
Movies rely on a distinct beginning, middle and end while this children’s book peppered with big-kid language is more like a TV series with a string of episodes containing the same characters. The structure is more similar to a season of Glee than the epic storytelling movie viewers expect from Middle-earth. To be effective in the cinema, these films needed an adaptation and that means changes in structure at least.
Suffice it to say, before we stay too far down the path of the adaptation process, that die-hard readers who view the book as sacred texts not to be trifled with, can expect to be shocked in consecutive Decembers (2012 and 2013) when they sit down and reunite with Middle-earth. There will be changes.
The question for this adaptation, and any such enterprise (especially involving universally beloved characters from universally adored source material) is will it still feel like The Hobbit? Will Jackson and his co-writers be able to approximately replicate the fun and adventure generations of readers have felt while reading? Will the characters be recognizable at deeper levels and not only in name?
But back to Legolas and Frodo and Christopher Lee’s Saruman for that matter. (And don’t forget Cate Blanchette as Galadriel!) These characters don’t appear in The Hobbit and yet definitely do appear in The Hobbit movies. How? Why? If they are in, why not Merry and Pippin or Sam and Aragorn and Gimli? Are the filmmakers punching plot holes in Middle-earth cannon by bringing these characters from a different era and forcing them into the story?
Is this just a big commercial grab to bring fangirls back to see the golden locks of Legolas and the heartwarming smile of Frodo again when they have no business in the story? Just what is Jackson up to? The only way to answer is to tackle them individually because every character must justify his or her own place in the story.
But we have waded into spoiler territory here so if you read further, reader beware.
In a story broken on TheOneRing.net, we explained that Frodo’s presence in the film doesn’t mean he will actually be part of the story of The Hobbit. In the book, the whole tale is framed by its inclusion in the fictional tome The Red Book of the Westmarch. Jackson has already established this book in LOTR film cannon with Bilbo and Frodo owning and writing in the book. Wood’s function will be to frame the story, taking the role of a reader or narrator giving the films both an instant connection to the LOTR films and establishing the new story as what happened long before Frodo’s own story.
Evidence is strong that Ian Holm will also return to play an older version of Bilbo Baggins, headlined as the titular character by Martin Freeman and it’s likely these two will introduce the story together. With this framework in mind, it seems very unlikely that other Hobbits from LOTR will appear in the film, even though Sam eventually takes possession of the book. More characters wouldn’t serve the story and would likely feel forced even though some fans would squeal in delight.
Bloom’s Legolas, is actually Legolas Greenleaf, son of Thranduil, King of the Mirkwood Elves. The dexterous warrior Elf is a woodland prince and his realm features prominently in the story. Besides taking “invading” Dwarves captive, in the climax of the tale, his people take to the Lonely Mountain to engage in the Battle of Five Armies. Tolkien’s library of writings doesn’t say that Legolas was present for any of these events but it seems not just possible but almost unthinkable that he wouldn’t support his father’s military efforts.
If the decision were left up to me, Legolas would walk around in the background of the scenes in Mirkwood and never speak a line, but hiring Bloom for a rumored $1 million and his inclusion in battle scenes make just the ultimate walkthrough unlikely. Will Jackson be able to resist giving the blonde hero another superhero moment? Probably not. But his presence in the film definitely doesn’t fly in the face in the face of cannon.
A main aspect of the two films not described in the book will be the inclusion of the White Council, a group of high-powered Elves and wizards charged with protecting Middle-earth. Gandalf left Bilbo and Dwarves to attend such a meeting but filmmakers cannot afford to have major characters just vanish without explanation and Jackson wouldn’t want to miss the chance to increase the scope of conflict and tie a powerful thread back to the his original trilogy. The information about these events is drawn from Tolkien’s writings but not from The Hobbit. But the presence of this meeting of the wise gives Gandalf more to do, gets Elrond more involved, requires Galadriel and Saruman and could include Celeborn and Radagast. If Jackson feels adventurous he could even throw in Cirdan the Shipwright as a nod to fans.
By making this part of the film, nothing contradicts Tolkien while giving the screenwriters great latitude to explore the unexplained corners of his writings and produce the film in two parts.
Nothing indicates Aragorn will return and he would be a child if he did. Not a hint has been dropped about Liv Tyler’s Arwen, although that character certainly was available. No extra Hobbits will be included except those owning Bilbo’s written tale. Legolas may or may not appear in a forest waterfall scene washing his beautiful locks, but he is without a doubt one of the woodland Elves.
LOTR characters do belong in The Hobbit movies. Invented characters, like Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel, are another matter altogether.