The Hobbit Trilogy, Peter Jackson and the Artistry of Excess
The big Hollywood movie-development news of the week came courtesy of Peter Jackson’s Facebook page. There, the Oscar-winning director announced that the two-film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit that he and his crew of thousands just recently finished shooting in New Zealand would now be stretched to three movies. From the fleshed-out details mentioned by Jackson, the additional running time would be spent filling in details from the Middle-Earth of the Hobbit era, such as the exploits of Gandalf, Radagast, and the White Council in their assault on the mysterious Necromancer (an early moniker for the Dark Lord Sauron) and his stronghold in Mirkwood Forest. More than anything, it gives the impression that Jackson will be seriously fleshing out a fairly brief narrative with as much supplementary appendix material and whole-cloth invention as he can muster (and has the rights to).
Diligent Tolkien film nut Andrew O’Hehir explores whether this expansion of The Hobbit into a catch-all prequel trilogy is a good idea or not in an article at Salon. He nicely covers the underappreciated manner in which Tolkien himself tweaked his lighter initial children’s book to accord with the more serious tone of his Lord of the Rings trilogy (such as a 1950s edit that has Gollum curse all Bagginses when Bilbo bilks his Precious, for example, rather than slough it off and return to his dinner of blind cave fish or what have you, as in the original text).
The piece does include some factual hiccups, mind you. O’Hehir refers to unsubstantiated rumours about new characters being added by Jackson, when a brief perusal of the IMDB page for the films or a scan of LOTR fan news site TheOneRing.net would show for a fact that Evangeline Lilly has been cast as a female warrior elf and both Elijah Wood and Orlando Bloom are reprising their roles from the Rings films, though none of these characters appear in the book itself. Still, his conclusions are mostly hard to quibble with: it could work, and it could not, but the fact that it’s happening shows how thoroughly the mild professor’s creation has passed out of the hands and of him and his heirs and into those of the passionate Kiwi filmmaker backed by Hollywood financing.
More than that, though, the choice to expand of these films to trilogy form is vintage Peter Jackson. As I noted in my PopMatters feature piece on his 2005 version of King Kong, Jackson is a filmmaker defined by his taste for cinematic excess, as well as his ability to marshal it with skill and artistry while also being occasionally overwhelmed by its scope of possibilities. Just as The Return of the King ventured into over-indulgence by its closing throes (though I’m not sure he could have cut much and done the 9+ hour narrative proper justice) and Kong was harried by Jackson’s boundless ambitions for the great cinematic myth from the very start, The Hobbit film project has fallen headlong into its maker’s deep-seated desire for more, for bigger, for better. As filmgoers, we’ll now have to wait until the summer of 2014 (the planned release date of the new third film) to see if he’s succeeded in making it work and, if so, how excessively.