As seen many times here at Lost in Translation, classic works of fantasy, including myths and fairy tales, are modern fodder for the Hollywood adaptation engine. Fantasy, whether classic or urban is everywhere – television, silver screen, books, video games. The major influence for many of these is JRR Tolkien. The influence may not be direct; many fantasy video games can trace their roots back to Dungeons & Dragons; but, D&D‘s creators looked at, among other writers, Tolkien for world creating and game design.
The above-mentioned influence came mainly from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but before the epic was a children’s story about a hobbit who reluctantly went on an adventure. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again followed Bilbo Baggins as he gets manipulated into joining thirteen dwarves in a quest to recover their homeland. Along the way, Bilbo discovers that he is more than what he appears to be, outwits trolls, and wins a game of riddles, and finds a magical ring. Middle Earth is presented as both being wondrous and dangerous.
After the success of his Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson was signed on to produce an adaptation of The Hobbit. Originally to be done as one movie, the script grew to the point where two, then three movies would have to be made. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was filmed in 3D at 48 frames per second, double the usual frame rate, though standard viewing was also released.
The new Hobbit does its best to stay close to the original story. Some characters from Lord of the Rings make cameos, particularly during the framing sequence.* CGI is evident, but not blatant. Care was taken to make sure each dwarf had an unique appearance. Magic is treated as wondrous and dangerous. The whimsy from The Hobbit, or There and Back Again is kept and is welcome at a time where most fantasies have gone dark and gritty. The story is treated as a personal one for Bilbo instead of the epic that the Lord of the Rings movies were.
However, some characters and scenes were added. A meeting between Gandalf, Saruman, and Galadriel that helps relate where The Hobbit stands relative to Lord of the Rings was never in the novel, with both Saruman and Galadriel being imports to the movie. Similarly, the framing device at the start of the film is set at the beginning of Fellowship of the Rings. The additions are understandable; tying the movie into the previous LotR trilogy enhances continuity, and having a movie without a woman in it is unthinkable to studios today.
Fans were already muttering about the novel being turned into a trilogy. Breaking the story into three parts, however, is one of the best ways to ensure that very little gets cut; the only other option is to turn the novel into a television mini-series. Television, though, doesn’t get the budget needed to do all the special effects or get the cast.
Ultimately, this is the best live-action adaptation possible with current technologies and will be enough for the casual fan and the fan drawn in by the Lord of the Rings movies, but will still leave hardcore fans of the original story cold.
Next time, continuing the Avengers Adaptation.
* It appears that Jackson is assuming that people have seen /Lord of the Rings/ but haven’t read The Hobbit.