I was first introduced to Middle Earth when I was eight and my Junior School teacher read us The Hobbit. In retrospect, he looked a little like Tolkien himself. And I was captured at the first line: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit….” Mr. Cole’s introduction to Tolkien’s mythic world would lead me to read The Lord of the Rings for the first time as a nine year old and then go on to reread it at least ten more times. At risk of seeming as geeky as I really am, I even had (at nine) a book of maps that accompany the book, and more amazingly than that, keep track of the chronology (in days and phases of the moon). This demonstrates the completeness (and brilliance) of Tolkien’s work in creating Middle Earth. It also serves as a reminder of why he was not a big fan of C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy. Lewis’s world was created in the same way he wrote–quickly and with few rewrites. Tolkien, on the other hand, worked slowly and deliberately to create a masterpiece. Both books succeed in their own way, however.
When Peter Jackson’s version of The Lord of the Rings movies came out–was it ten years ago?–I was incredibly excited. Prior to that the only non-book way of encountering Middle Earth was through a series of rather primitive cartoons that really failed to do justice to the books. It was possible to get audio of Tolkien himself reading the books, but other than that there was nothing.
Jackson’s undertaking was satisfying on a certain level. Very few in the academy consider Tolkien’s work to be literature in the high culture sense of the word. It’s an incredible book that’s incredibly well-loved by many people–perhaps the kiss of death for academia–and it’s also loathes by others. It was satisfying to see someone acknowledging the greatness of Tolkien’s work.
At the same time there are decided downsides to making a movie of a book. Having seen The Lord of the Rings I’ve decided not to see the The Hobbit films. Here’s five reasons:
- Movies of books are not made for people who read books. Movies of books are made for people who read the book, or part of it, maybe once. The sort of person (me) who has read a book multiple time and appreciates it in it’s own right, will always be disappointed by the movie and the compromises the director makes to bring the film to market.
- Films, of necessity, have to go beyond the book and often do violence to it in the process. Think about it, Tolkien’s prose is quite dense. He describes much of the scene is detail, but not all of it. That’s where our imagination comes in–we fill in the blanks and interpret what we read to create a mental image of what’s happening in the book. This cannot happen in a movie. The director doesn’t have the option to leave certain things to the viewers imagination. The only way for her to allow this to happen is through having something happen off screen. If too many things happen off screen, the movie will be sort of boring.
- Jackson’s choice of frames per second (FPS) speed makes The Hobbit look like a Thomas Kincaide painting. That’s not a compliment. By using a higher FPS Jackson has attempted to create a extremely crisp and ebullient movie. In reality, I fear he may have made a grave mistake and made the movie look saccharine and sentimental. The novelty may appeal to the sort of person who feels it necessary to own a Blu Ray player and an HD tv, but it doesn’t really appeal to me. Herein is the problem: I am not the sort of person who makes a film successful because, well, I’m sort of odd.
- I’ve always liked The Lord of the Rings better. The Hobbit was written as a children’s book. It’s prose style is different from LOTR. Because of this I haven’t come back to it in adulthood in quite the same way that I have with LOTR.
- The Hobbit doesn’t really demand a three-part movie.
The book itself is less than 300 pages compared with the LOTR’s 1000-something pages. I can see now real reason to stretch this into three movies. In fact, it suggests the addition of new material or the presenting certain episodes of the book in more detail than they receive in the book itself or than they merit.
That’s my opinion — what do you think?