Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is arguably the most important cinematic event of the past twenty years. The script wasn’t perfect, nor the casting, but Jackson managed to capture the scale and wonder of Middle Earth and transfer it to the big screen with masterful confidence. Sure, the story underwent some serious refurbishment but the magic of the books remained. People said that it could not be done, but eleven Oscars and billions of dollars beg to differ.
In spite of Jackson’s former feats of direction I feel that forcing a trilogy out of Tolkien’s The Hobbit – essentially a 300 page bed time story – is a bridge too far. Jackson’s Middle Earth renaissance is curious to say the least. Reliving past glories? Atoning for critical flops King Kong and The Lovely Bones by returning to more reliable source material? Guillermo Del Toro’s cancelled standalone Hobbit movie – which sounded like an intriguing, darker vision of Bilbo’s adventures- would have been welcome over Jackson’s systematic, nine hour annihilation of my childhood.
An Unexpected Journey, the first instalment in the new trilogy, was little more than an overwrought orgy of hollow, self gratifying nonsense. I have seen it twice in the cinema and three times on DVD (just to make sure) – each viewing makes me feel more bitter and betrayed than the last. It is so unashamedly identical to The Fellowship of the Ring in terms of themes and narrative, yet it carries none of the emotional weight or Tolkien spirit. Just like Fellowship, the party set out from Bag End, take in the same landmarks (Weathertop, Trollshaw) and encounter minor peril before a bit of well earned R ’n’ R in Rivendell. Then they trundle through a goblin-infested mountain and engage in a final battle. Déjà vu strikes once more during a flashback which re-enacts the Last Alliance blow for blow. Oh, and Thorin is basically just Aragorn.
Now the impending middle chapter… A new trailer has just been released for The Desolation of Smaug and it appears worryingly similar in tone. That said, a brief glimpse of the mighty Beorn and a sample of reptilian menace from Smaug the Stupendous can still excite even the most sceptical of fans. Some major concerns remain; Firstly, The White Orc should not be a thing. Secondly, the ill advised return of Orlando Bloom’s Legolas (he does not feature in book whatsoever) has been contrived for a newly invented and unnecessary love interest. Tauriel is her name and copying Arwen is her game.
The Hobbit trilogy is the Star Wars ‘prequels’ all over again. If the hubris of George Lucas taught us anything it was this: never go back. As a devout Tolkienite, I truly hope that The Desolation of Smaug redeems the first Hobbit film and more besides. It won’t, but I will still go and watch it five times anyway.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is out on Friday 13th of December.