Kicking the Hobbit

October 23rd, 2007 | Posted in General

Seems the wars in Middle Earth may finally be over… and long after Peter Jackson‘s brilliant Lord of the Rings films finally closed to black… again… and again… and again….

It’s been well publicized that Jackson and New Line Cinema have been feuding over audits and allegedly missing royalty payments. The fighting had led to Jackson being removed from the planned prequel film The Hobbit and other directors rumored to be attached like Sam Raimi. It seems things might me on the way to getting patched up, and Jackson may be back in the Shire again in charge of the prequel. By the way, the above image is a spot from a 2003 feature in MAD called “MAD Sizes Up The 2003 Oscars: Best Picture”. It’s a lame gag about hobbits being so short they might get stepped on. Here’s my original idea for the spot, which got nixed:

It got rejected not because MAD thought it was in poor taste, but rather they were using a similar gag on the cover with Gollum peeing on an ent, rather than taking a dump. Ah, well… but I digress.

Not having Jackson involved in The Hobbit would be a travesty. His understanding of Tolkien’s books and his masterful handling of turning them into films is truly one of the great feats of film making history. You have to be very familiar with the actual books to understand how amazing that feat really was.

The week before I left for Florida was crazy with multiple jobs including two magazine covers, several spot illustrations, a poster job, MAD pencils and a full page ad illustration… all of which I’ll share here when they have seen publication. During the week I listened to both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings on audiobook… again. While I am not a Tolkien geek of the magnitude that actually reads and writes elvish (yes, they exist), I am extremely familiar with both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, having read and listened to them unabridged perhaps as many as two dozen times since I discovered them in high school. However I don’t recall having listened/read them after having seen all the films, which I also recently did.

At first viewing it would seem that Jackson didn’t do much tinkering with the plots and scenes of the story. Yes, he cut a few things and expanded the role of Arwen to make for a more urgent love story between she and Aragorn. However, I was surprised to discover while listening to the audiobooks that Jackson actually changed a great deal of the story. I won’t go into them all here, as I could literally write for days. Some things were small and some were quite significant, but they all had two things in common: They made for a better movie and they stayed true to the soul of the story. So much so that even an old Tolkien buff like myself was fooled into thinking this was a much more slavish adaptation than it actually was.

How did he do it? Smart writing, thinking and a deep understanding of the source material. He also used actual dialog from the books as much and as often as possible… even if he attributed said dialog to different characters than said them in the books. That was very clever, as Tolkien fans would recognize the words and it lent a feeling of authenticity to the story. I think he recongized the almost poetic nature and power of Tolkien’s words and knew that keeping them as pure as possible would resonate with both the new viewer and the rapid Tolkien fans.

There are a lot of examples of this mixing of dialog, and also some clever references to the names of some chapters. In The Fellowship of the Ring, after the four hobbits all fall down the hill after being chased by farmer Maggot and his dogs, one of the them exclaims it was a shortcut. The other asks “A shortcut to what?”, to which is replied “A shortcut to mushrooms!” after he spots some wild mushrooms nearby. “A Shortcut to Mushrooms” is the title of a chapter in the book The Fellowship of the Ring, one in fact that tells this part of the story. There are many examples of Jackson’s nods to the Tolkien aficionados.

There are still a lot of question marks about the Hobbit film and maybe it will not get made for many years, or at all. Only a few characters from The Lord of the Rings appear in The Hobbit, notably Gandalf, Elrond and a younger Bilbo Baggins. It would be nice if they got around to making the film before Ian McKellen (Gandalf) or Ian Holm (Bilbo) get too old to play their parts… and “The Hobbit” without Peter Jackson would be a less magical middle earth, to be sure.


  1. mengblom says:

    I read about this a few weeks ago in Entertainment Weekly, and I was happy to hear there may be a coming together of the two sides. It’s sad, since my perception of the LOTR movies was that they were this pure, creative act that had everyone involved on the same page and hitting on all the cylinders…and that they were somehow above all of the usual crap that fouls up movies.

    My naiviety still sometimes surprises me. Of COURSE the LOTR bunch is just like the rest of them. Perhaps to a lesser extent, but still petty, money-grubbing back-stabbers when it gets right down to it.

    But, hopefully they can get busy on a Hobbit movie some time soon. I had heard (can’t remember where…maybe E.W.) that the story might actually be split up into two movies…but who knows? Maybe it won’t even happen.

    As for Ian McKellen, yeah…it would be great to have him come back, but as the Harry Potter franchise proved, you can replace the guy with the long white beard pretty easily….especially in a huge film with a giant cast. As I recall, Gandalf wasn’t a central presense in the Hobbit story, so it’s not like the movie is D.O.A. without McKellen.

  2. Tom says:

    I don’t know… personally I would hate to see anyone but McKellan play Gandalf. He was perfect in the part. Micheal Gambon’s Dumbledore is very different from Richard Harris’ and I think not nearly as good. Harris had a quiet power and authority, and I could see him being menacing at need. Gambon plays Dumbledore like a befuddled hippy. Of course, maybe now in the next movie he’ll add a lisp!

    Gandalf is missing from a good part of the Hobbit, but still plays a decent part. I’m sure they could find someone else to play him that would be fine,but WHY???


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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