Saturday, July 21, 2012

Musings on Tolkien: The Hobbit Movie and How I Would Do It

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies are excellent, and it seemed like only a matter of time before he directed a movie version of The Hobbit.  However, there are some problems with the source material that make it difficult to just jump right into The Hobbit with the same vim and verve as the Lord of the Rings movies.  For one, the books are very different.  The Hobbit is a children's book; a faerie story with a light-hearted tone, plenty of humor, and songs that help carry the plot.  (You could even argue that The Hobbit is a musical in book form.)  The Lord of the Rings by contrast, is a much more serious and darker book with a more adult audience in mind and is considered the first modern fantasy novel.  By going back and doing The Hobbit second as a prequel, the difference in tone and content between the books causes a serious problem.  If Peter Jackson goes with the epic qualities of his Lord of the Rings movies, it can come across as a betrayal of the source material.  However, if he treats The Hobbit like the children's book it is, he'll end up with a movie that is out of step with the ones he's already made.  And that doesn't even take into account how Tolkien's concept of the One Ring changed: in The Hobbit it's just Bilbo's magic ring while in The Lord of the Rings it's the most powerful instrument of evil in Middle Earth.  These are problems that Peter Jackson is going to have to work out and I'm sure he'll do a fine job.  But this is how I would tackle the problem.


Sam Gamgee settles down in his armchair to smoke his evening pipe.  His children crowd around him.

ELANOR: Daddy!  Tell us a story!

SAM: Would you like to hear the story about how Mister Frodo and I journeyed to Mordor to destroy the Ring?

ROSE: You always tell us that one!

GOLDILOCKS: Tell us a different story!

SAM: Well, have I ever told you the story of how Old Mister Bilbo went on an adventure and found the Ring?

HAMFAST: No you haven't.

DAISY: Tell us that one, Daddy!

Sam picks up a large red book and opens it to the first pages.

SAM: (reading) In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit...



Bilbo Baggins sits on the front porch of Bag End, blowing smoke rings.

This opening scene serves multiple purposes.  It ties The Hobbit in with The Lord of the Rings, establishing this as a prequel.  But since it is framed as Sam telling the story to his kids, it allows for The Hobbit to be more of a children's movie.  The book takes a very pro-Bilbo stance, treating the Thorin and Company as a bumbling band of misfits.  If Sam were narrating the movie, it would only make sense for him to build up Bilbo as one of the most famousest of hobbits and the only one with any real amount of common sense.  The narrator of The Hobbit has several good lines and making Sam the narrator would help get those lines into the movie.  And it could also provide a means to address some of the inconsistencies between the books as the children could interrupt Sam's story on several occasions, much like Fred Savage does in The Princess Bride.  Sam could then provide an explanation for the differences, he could essentially say, "Shut up.  I'm telling a story," or he could even say, "That's how Mister Bilbo wrote it and so that's how I'm telling it," which would be a sly way of shoving the blame back on Tolkien.  And I think Tolkien would approve of this approach because he was obsessed with framing narratives.  Of course I would have to restrain myself from inserting a scene right after the "Tra-la-la-lally" song in which one of the kids asks, "Is this a singing book?"

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