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10 Things The Hobbit Cannot Screw Up
Just get these things right
By Rob Vaux
December 11, 2012
The new Hobbit arrives Friday, with a slew of expectations and a bumpy production history. We’re all on pins and needles waiting to see if Peter Jackson can recapture the magic of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There’s a lot riding on this one… and there are a number of things that simply cannot be fumbled if the film wants to succeed. (This applies to the two movies to come as much as this one.) Here are ten elements of the original novel that Jackson needs to get right if he hopes to take this thing to the finish line.
The Riddle Contest
Andy Serkis made his name as Gollum, and the prospect of seeing him again fills us with glee. He has a bit of a tightrope to walk here. We already know pretty much everything there is to know about the character, and yet the riddle context with Bilbo is perhaps his most important moment. The Hobbit can’t capture the character’s mystery the way Tolkien’s book could; Jackson and Serkis need to find a way to compensate for that. They also need to avoid going over old ground: to find something new about the character while still honoring what we’ve seen before. Also, no changing the riddles themselves. They’re really good.
The Giant Spiders
Jackson knows how to deliver giant spiders, as evinced by Shelob in Return of the King. There’s a whole passel of them in Mirkwood here, and they’re one of the scariest elements of the whole story. They also talk… something Shelob never did and which has the potential to become goofy as hell. Jackson needs to retain their scary qualities while giving them a proper voice: one that can chill us as readily as Shelob did and yet still feel at home in an entirely different set of circumstances.
Tom, William and Burt represent the first real challenge on the road to the Lonely Mountain. They have a bit of a cameo in The Lord of the Rings, was Frodo and his friends encounter their petrified bodies. Their appearance in The Hobbit needs to dovetail into that as closely as possible. And like the spiders, they talk. None of the trolls in The Lord of the Rings did; this group needs to break with that tradition, while still belonging to the same basic species.
The big technical question surrounding The Hobbit is Jackson’s choice to shoot it all at 48 frames per second. Supposedly, it provides incredible detail and clarity. Early reports also say it’s garish and looks like a video-taped TV movie. Certainly, many copies will screen in the traditional 24 frames per second format, but if the sexy new technique doesn’t work, it’s going to leave egg on the face of a franchise renowned for technical innovation.
Dragons are tricky to portray on film, though it can be done (and God knows these are the guys to do it). But Smaug’s death at the hands of Bard the Bowman requires a lengthy amount of set up and a way to sell the beast’s Achilles heel that makes sense. Rankin-Bass did well enough with their animated version, but Jackson will need to top it and then some. It’s the climax of the new trilogy. It has to be worth the wait.
We’re all looking forward to Ian McKellan’s return as Gandalf, and there should be return visits from other series stalwarts like Hugo Weaving and Orlando Bloom. But that could get out of control very quickly, as actors show up left and right to wink and nod at the camera. We understand the desire to tie these films into the first trilogy, but too many cameos will throw them off their rhythm and prevent them from standing on their own.
Excess of Dwarf
Bilbo’s quest entails thirteen dwarves, only one of whom has any real personality. There’s a simple reason for it – thirteen is unlucky, and the addition of Bilbo fixes that problem – and Tolkien could happily gloss over everyone except Thorin. Jackson can’t do that… and yet if he develops a backstory for every single one of these guys, we won’t have time for anything else. Let their appearance and general personality provide some distinction, but avoid expounding on them too much.
Tolkien describes Mirkwood as pitch black, lit only by the dwarves’ torches at points. That’s going to be tough to deliver on film. But without the menace inferred by that darkness, the whole Mirkwood section loses its punch. Like the spiders, the forest has to scare the bejeezus out of us… even (and especially) with the wood elves.
The Necromancer doesn’t get much play in the book: a sort of Sauron 1.0 who claims a fortress in the south of Mirkwood to work all kinds of mischief. Presumably, he’s going to make an appearance in The Hobbit films as well, to help explain why Gandalf suddenly disappears. It could work really well, but it could also detract from the main thrust of the story. Jackson also has to delicately explain that the Necromancer is Sauron without taking his eye off the dragon. Good luck with that.
Tolkien wasn’t a minimalist, and along with his very good stories comes a host of footnotes, anecdotes and rambling histories covering all corners of Middle Earth. We wouldn’t be too concerned about it, since Jackson and his team did such a great job with them on The Lord of the Rings. But with three more movies and only one book to fill it all, Jackson is going to have to delve deep into Tolkien’s little details to fill his running time. If he doesn’t tread with care, the minutia will swallow him up… turning a comparatively lighthearted adventure into a depressing slog through triviality.