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 beginning June 6th.
Every studio, every business even, wants to maximize profits. But in the world of creative entertainment, finances can come before creativity or excellent story telling. As a consequence, sequels, born in the offices of finance rather than the halls of creativity, sometimes stretch characters or plots beyond the ideal. Perhaps worse, prequels are born to add length to franchise catalogs that have run their course, often demanding creative compromises simply to meet business desires.
How refreshing then to have The Hobbit on the horizon of our cinematic futures. Following the financial bloom of The Lord of the Rings, trilogy, it is understandable that studios and fans want to return to Middle-earth. But rather than invent a premise to revisit Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and bearded old men with wizardly powers, the author of the literary works upon which the Peter Jackson films were based, already had the children’s classic, The Hobbit, gestating for more than 70 years.
In fact, written in 1937, his beloved classic has been adapted previously in many forms but it’s the big-budget treatment with the creative team based in New Zealand that has so many film fans worldwide salivating. Jackson’s vision of Middle-earth won scads of awards, including 17 Oscars (among 30 nominations) breaking an important barrier for fantasy films with the public, critics and even filmmakers by earning the coveted “Best Picture” category for the last installment The Return of the King.
So officially, The Hobbit isn’t a prequel at all, certainly not in its written form, which was published nearly 20 years before The Lord of the Rings finally became available in 1954 and 1955 as three parts of one book. In fact, it was the popularity of The Hobbit and demands by readers and the publisher that prompted Tolkien to combine his already-conceived mythology with the further affairs of The One Ring that led to the creation of The Lord of the Rings. The then new work even demanded of Tolkien that he revise The Hobbit slightly to strengthen the ties between the two, giving them more cohesion.
So the pair of films based on The Hobbit, while a return to the same fantastic setting and the LOTR trilogy, isn’t a stretch of logic or story but something fans have been clamoring for since Return of the King finished the three-part story in theaters back in 2003. The Hobbit was sitting on bookshelves beckoning readers to read and imagine the movie experience as well.
Keeping with the strengths of the landmark films, Jackson is returning with many of the same creative pieces in place to give the two-part adaptation (set for December 2012 and 2013) a familiar feel.
Sir Ian McKellen will return as Gandalf The Gray. His performance in the LOTR film trilogy was so endearing to fans with its nuances and subtlety, it is hard to imagine the role being given to anybody else. Certainly any other actor’s appearance would diminish fans’ initial enthusiasm and perhaps erode support of the whole project.
Equally as memorable, although less prominent in The Hobbit, Andy Serkis is voicing and providing motion capture to CGI Gollum. His “my precious” line has thoroughly permeated popular culture to such a degree that you probably just heard his voice in your own mind as you read this sentence. Serkis returns not only to create the ancient, pitiable creature, but as the second unit director on the films. The role, comprising only a single memorable riddle-centric chapter in the written Hobbit, demands continuity between the sets of films.
It is purely guess-work but it seems likely that Jackson’s screenwriting team, which includes the director, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens and writer / director Guillermo del Toro (once in the director’s chair for the films), have found a way to explore more of the depths of Gollum in his brief but crucial, iconic turn in at least one of the two films.
Recently announced was the inclusion of Hugo Weaving as Elf Lord Elrond. During much of the swirling rumors during the years before even pre-production, Weaving’s name was conspicuously absent and when Jackson announced the cast, he was nowhere to be found. But, after showing up on set recently, fans’ fears were finally put to rest and yet another bridge between the two films was constructed. In The Hobbit, Elrond shelters the titular Bilbo Baggins and his company of Dwarves, and, like Gollum, while lacking screen time, the continuity of character will be an important feature that unites the eventual five films.
Also forming a link will be what are expected to be small but familiar roles: Orlando Bloom as Legolas, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and the incomparable Christopher Lee as Saruman. Theses characters do not appear in the book but there are plenty of logical reasons to include them from references in appendices, and it is Legolas’ own father that imprisons Bilbo and company in Elvish jail. (Expect a future article about these characters.)
Unlike the ageless wizard, monster and Elf Lord already mentioned, Bilbo Baggins can and does age in Middle-earth. And while Ian Holm was popular and perfect as Bilbo for the LOTR films, it is difficult to imagine the actor, into his 80s by the time the curtain rises on these films, meeting the demanding and physical role of Bilbo and looking sufficiently like the young version of himself the role demands. Events in the LOTR films happen 60 years after those in The Hobbit, and Holm, ten years after filming in the original trilogy, isn’t going to look decades younger.
Instead, Jackson’s team landed Martin Freeman, an actor fans have been championing for many of the 10 years the films were delayed by development and legal issues. Freeman is a very passable younger Ian Holm and brings his own humor and talents from television, theater and film including Tim Canterbury in the original The Office series and as Arthur Dent in the movie, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
One of the other principal players in the films will be Dwarf Thorin Oakenshield who is one of the misplaced forefathers of LOTR’s Gimli, who want their mountain back from the dragon Smaug. Jackson surprised many by putting a legit, but not-quite-household-name heartthrob named Richard Armitage into this central role. Are Dwarves meant to be so handsome or will they be hidden by makeup anyway? Book Thorin was something of a spokesman for the Dwarves and is the driving force behind the band that snatches Bilbo from home and takes him into the thick of the ancient conflict between Orcs / Goblins and the heavily bearded, axe-wielding Dwarves.
Rounding out the band of 13 Dwarves are:
Balin — Ken Stott
Bifur — William Kircher
Bofur — James Nesbitt
Bombur — Steven Hunter
Dori — Mark Hadlow
Dwalin — Graham McTavish
Gloin — Peter Hambleton
Fili — Dean O’Gorman
Kili — Aiden Turner
Nori — Jed Brophy
Oin — John Callen
Ori — Adam Brown
Next time, we will look at many of the peripheral roles and the clues they provide about where the big-picture plot of The Hobbit is heading, including material from The Lord of the Rings appendices.