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Adapting The Hobbit 27 August 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Film.
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hobbit

As in the run up to the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the trickle of information flowing through on Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit in recent months has inspired me to revisit J.R.R Tolkein’s source text, a novel which I last read almost fifteen years ago and one which still managed to inspire that child-like sense of wonder in me all these years later.

This particular post isn’t going to be a review of The Hobbit, however, as anyone who hasn’t read it by now clearly has no intention to and anyone who has doesn’t need me to tell them how wonderful it is. Instead I will dedicate this space to a few thoughts on how Del Toro and his writing partners – Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens – might realise Tolkein’s most focused yarn on the big screen.

For starters it’s important to note that Del Toro’s Hobbit will be split into two parts (and possibly and third film bridging the gap between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, though this is a rumour that seems to pop up every so often and then quickly gets quashed). This presents a problem as the logical place to end the first film on a high, the battle with the goblins/wargs after Bilbo, Gandlaf, Thorin and the rest escape from the Misty Mountains, probably occurs too early for there to be an even split. They may also choose to leave the first installment on a cliffhanger, ending in the Forest of Mirkwood when things look bleakest for our intrepid adventurers – either after the dwarves are captured by the giant spiders or the Wood-Elves.

The other major problem with the two film structure of course is that you are building to a confrontation with Smaug the Dragon throughout the first film with no payoff until the second. It seems unlikely Del Toro, Jackson, Boyens and Walsh will play around with the timeline much after their faithful adaptation of the Rings trilogy but a Battle of Dagorlad-esque flashback isn’t out of the question.

On the surface The Hobbit feels like it should be a relatively straightforward adaptation as it’s linear, focused, set-piece driven plot leaves little room to wander, but there are a couple of problem areas. Dialogue heavy sections are always an issue in adapting from book to film, but with them so few and far between in The Hobbit I expect this will be much less of an issue than with the Rings trilogy. Only the Beorn section could pose a particular problem – not least of which is how to realise this mythical creature visually.

Another major problem (and a slight issue I have with the book) is that the ending contains not one but two anti-climaxes. Firstly the slaying of Smaug by Bard the Bowman – a man we are introduced to mere moments before – not Bilbo or the Dwarves, and secondly the Battle of the Five Armies – which readers hear next to nothing about after Bilbo is knocked unconscious early on. I’ve always wondered why Tolkein chose to end his tale in this way and it will be interesting to see if Del Toro et al. are willing to make such a radical change to the story to satisfy modern audiences.

The rest of the book however just got me excited. It’s full of electric moments that I can’t wait to see realised through Del Toro’s twisted fantasy filter. Encountering Gollum in the Misty Mountains, Bilbo proving his worth against the giant spiders in Mirkwood Forest, escaping from the dungeons of the Wood-Elves and of course the confrontation with Smaug in the Lonely Mountain. Quite how they’ll handle a talking dragon and fourteen central characters you’re supposed to empathise with I’m not sure, but with two films they’ve got the luxury of space many adaptations don’t.

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