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Making ‘The Hobbit’: Some suggestions for Sir Peter

12.16.10 | Kunochan | 14 Comments

Dear Sir Peter:

First, let me make it clear that I absolutely loved your adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. As a life-long Tolkien aficionado, I did have a few complaints, but that can’t be helped. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – no other filmmaker would have done as wonderful a job as you did bringing Tolkien’s work to the screen. If some die-hard purists – and members of the Tolkien clan – can’t see that, then they are simply missing out on something truly inspiring and entertaining.

So you’re finally adapting The Hobbit. I know you already have your script approved and your storyboards laid down, but if it isn’t too late, may I humbly make a few suggestions, from one fan to another?

Keep it a fairy tale

Did you see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe? You know, the movie that was made specifically to cash in on LOTR mania? Do you remember the scene where Santa Claus makes an appearance, to give useful gifts (like swords and bows) to the Pevensie children? Tell me, did the audience groan in your theater the way it did in mine?

And yet in C.S. Lewis’ book, the appearance of Father Christmas doesn’t seem out of place at all. Why? Because Lewis was writing a fairy tale. (A fairy tale that deliberately lifted from Tolkien’s then-unpublished writings, but a fairy tale nonetheless.) Lewis had fauns, and talking badgers, and evil queens, and Santa. It was more Beatrix Potter than E.B. White.

But the filmmakers wanted to compete with you, Sir Peter. So they made everything look like Middle-earth – grand, epic, and realistic. Unfortunately, when Santa shows up, he clearly does not fit. One of these things is not like the others.

You face a similar problem with The Hobbit, with its talking purses and singing wolves, bumbling goblins and silly songs. It may take place in the universe of Middle-earth, but it’s a different kind of story. Keeping The Hobbit light and childlike, while still fitting into the general milieu established by the LOTR films, is probably the greatest challenge you face.

But please don’t try to accomplish this by stripping The Hobbit of everything that makes it magical. For one thing, this would be a terrible shame – and for another, it wouldn’t work. The story of The Hobbit is very simple, compared to LOTR. Trying to make it grand and epic will fail, just as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe pretty much failed.

Keep Bilbo’s story arc

The Bilbo Baggins we meet at the beginning of The Hobbit is a very different person from the one we first meet in LOTR; and not just because they are played by different actors. Martin Freeman’s Bilbo must be stodgy, settled, conservative and provincial. Yes, he possesses a Tookish potential for greatness, but years of sedentary living have buried that potential under a near-impenetrable layer of fat, tobacco and closed-mindedness.

The adventurous, enlightened, dare-I-say cosmopolitan Bilbo of LOTR has to be dragged out kicking and screaming by a series of increasingly perilous circumstances. When does Hobbit/Bilbo become LOTR/Bilbo? You might say when he makes it down the tunnel to confront Smaug, and that’s not a bad answer. But I disagree.

I think the turning point for Bilbo is (SPOILER ALERT) when he steals the Arkenstone, and hands it over to Thorin’s supposed “enemies.” In some perfect cinematic universe, Martin Freeman would transform into Ian Holm right there on the spot.

The story of The Hobbit is the story of Bilbo’s evolution from a forgettable country bumpkin into a brave, resourceful, and more than a little mischievous epic hero. And anything that doesn’t contribute to that story, such as the battle at Dol Guldur, can’t be allowed to detract from it.

Give Gandalf a story arc

Sure, Gandalf the Grey was always kind of irascible. Wouldn’t you be, if you (1) forsook the wonders of the Uttermost West to dwell in Middle-earth, (2) had to walk everywhere and (3) spent thousands of years in mortal form, but couldn’t get any nookie?

I imagine that the Gandalf of The Hobbit should be far more carefree and light than the Gandalf of LOTR. After all, as far as our Gandalf is concerned, Sauron is still nothing more than a shadow of menace somewhere in the East; the Witch-king of Angmar has fled; and Mordor is under the watchful guard of the Gondorians. Sure, he knows that one day, Sauron will return. But it’s not today.

But then, Gandalf discovers that The Necromancer of Dol Guldur is in fact Sauron. And he first encounters Bilbo’s Ring. Now his heart is troubled, and he can sense the end of the Third Age approaching. The Gandalf that Bilbo encounters after the Battle of Five Armies should be a different one than the man he left at the eaves of Mirkwood – darker, moodier, more serious.

Smaug is the villain, not Sauron

It worries me that you plan to include the battle at Dol Guldur between The Necromancer and the White Council. Sure, it will tie the movies together better with LOTR; it explains where Gandalf disappears to for half the story; and it gives us a chance to see Galadriel, Elrond and the others in action. I’m sure it will kick ass.

But Sauron is not the villain of The Hobbit. Smaug is. Don’t let him be upstaged. Smaug may not appear until the final act, but his impending presence looms over the entire story. Every footfall of Bilbo and the Dwarves is just bringing them one step closer to the dragon.

Remember also that the danger of Tolkien’s dragons, be it Smaug or his forefather Glaurung, is not in their claws or their fiery breath, but in their poisoned tongues. When Smaug almost defeats Bilbo it is with words, not with violence. (And likewise, Smaug’s own demise comes about because he can’t keep his own mouth shut about things like his glorious undercoat of armor.)

Keep Sauron on the sidelines – his time is coming. Let’s let Smaug the Magnificent have his due.

Keep the songs

Alright, I know you’re not out to make a musical. But this time, can we keep some of the songs? Again, it’s all about tone, and the tone is different this time. Let the Dwarves sing as they clean Bilbo’s kitchen. Let the goblins sing as they light fire to the fir trees. Remember, The Hobbit should be fun.

Make the orcs more gobliny

The goblins of the Misty Mountains are neither the vicious Orcs of Mordor nor the as-yet uncreated Uruk Hai of Saruman. They can be smaller, fatter, and more fey – the goblins of The Hobbit, in other words.

Don’t get me wrong, they should still be frightening as fuck. In fact, might I suggest that the Mines of Moria in the LOTR films were quite majestic, but not particularly frightening? The goblin caves of The Hobbit should be terrifying – close, dark, twisting and labyrinthine.

Have some fun with the goblins, without going too Dark Crystal on us. And let them scare us – I know you like to do that, Sir Peter, horror is your thing.

This is not an excuse for 1,000 cameos

Including the battle of Dol Guldur allows you to bring back Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee and Marton Csokas. Fine. And I know you want to tie The Hobbit in together with LOTR.

But please don’t go overboard with the cameos. Yes, Legolas probably would have been there when Thorin confronted the Elvenking of Mirkwood. Arwen might have been visiting Rivendell when Bilbo stopped in (and a very young Aragorn could be there too). Gimli probably would have fought in the Battle of Five Armies.

But this is The Hobbit, not The Lord of the Rings. Every time a LOTR character appears, it will take the viewer out of Bilbo’s story. “Hey look! It’s Legolas! Remember when he shield-surfed down that elephant’s trunk?”

If you must have cameos, keep them brief. For goodness’ sake, don’t beef them up – say by having Bilbo steal the dungeon keys from Legolas, or some nonsense like that.

We don’t care about the Battle of Five Armies

I know you had a lot of fun doing the Battle of the Pelennor Fields; and except for that bit at the end with the glowing green scrubbing bubbles, we had a lot of fun watching it. But The Lord of the Rings was a movie about a war. The Hobbit shouldn’t be.

In the book The Hobbit (SPOILER ALERT), Bilbo gets knocked on the head at the beginning of the Battle of Five Armies, and misses the whole thing. Tolkien didn’t do this because he was lazy. He did it because the details of the battle contributed nothing to the story.

You’re going to want to give us a big ol’ half-hour of Orc and Wolf on Men and Dwarf and Elf action. Please don’t. When the Eagles arrive, that’s your cue to bonk Martin Freeman on the ol’ noggin. Skip the battle, and get us to (SPOILER ALERT) Thorin’s death scene. That’s what we want to see.

Include Bilbo’s homecoming

I understand perfectly why The Scouring of the Shire was cut from LOTR, along with Tom Bombadil and a bunch of other unnecessary stuff. As The Return of the King was released, many people thought it had “too many endings” – imagine adding one more!

But please be sure to include Bilbo’s comical return to Bag End, where he discovers (SPOILER ALERT) that he has been declared dead and all his stuff is being sold off. It’s a perfect capper to the story, as well as serving as a visual metaphor for a basic fact of Bilbo’s new life: he can never really go home again.

Take all of my advice, Sir Peter, and I assure you that The Hobbit will be a huge success. As if that won’t happen anyway.

Addendum: Added 12/21/2010

Leave in the smoking

You will feel some pressure from interest groups to cut any tobacco smoking out of the film. Leave it in. There is no cancer in Middle-earth. Anyway, pipeweed is important to Tolkien’s Legendarium. Show some backbone on this.

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