The Trailer for “The Hobbit” Kind of Worries Me

Ever since I saw Orlando Bloom listed as “Legolas” on the IMDb page, I have been a bit worried, and seeing the now-released trailer further substantiated my growing concern: The very thing that made The Lord of the Rings films so great is being abandoned, and puts The Hobbit at risk of suckitude.

In my view, the LotR trilogy was fantastic in nearly every way. The films were great because Peter Jackson and his crew just nailed the always-difficult task of being “properly” faithful to a source text–especially when that text is widely known and beloved by generations and generations of crazed fans. What do I mean by “properly faithful” here? I mean that Jackson’s Trilogy was faithful to the novels in all of the right ways–the ways that no fan could forgive him for had he screwed them up, and departed from the novels in ways that actually seemed to enhance the stories, instead of merely being “cuts” that couldn’t fit into the film.

My experience–and that of most folks I know who loved the books and then saw the films–felt that the human actors not only looked right, but looked right next to each other–Boromir looked good next to Aragorn, who looked good next to Frodo, who looked good next to Gandalf, and so on. Additionally, the CGI characters and quasi-faceless characters–I’m thinking mostly of the standard orcs and Uruk-hai, as well as the Ring Wraiths–were perfect matches. This was all wonderful. But it was just one part of “getting it right.”

Importantly, the Trilogy got the right “feel” of the journey and locations–the grandeur of the cities, the horror of Sauron’s eye, the temptation of the Ring, the despair of Frodo, the fear in Gondor’s soldiers, and on and on and on. In short, the films just perfectly captured “the essence” of the books.

Before seeing the trailer for the first installment of The Hobbit, my fear was that the filmmakers would treat it as if it was “another installment” in the same series of books. To some degree, this makes sense–The Hobbit is in fact a prequel.

But here’s the thing:

As anyone who has read all of the novels knows, The Hobbit is NOT the same as The Lord of the Rings. It’s lighter. It’s funnier. It’s aw-shucksier. It’s cuter. It’s much, much faster.

[This actually goes to another of my concerns–splitting it into two movies. There just isn’t even close to as much story here as there is in the LotR–either in depth, breadth, or sheer pages of source material, yet it’s getting nearly the same screen-time treatment. Like Bilbo would say, I worry that we’re going to end up with butter spread too thinly over toast.]

The point is, The Hobbit is simply a fun tale of adventure–not an epic saga of war and fate.

Why does this matter? Because again–what made the Trilogy films so great was how marvelously Jackson captured the novels’ tone and feeling. If Jackson follows the same dedication to the source material as he did with the Trilogy, then we should end up with a film that bears only character- and mythos-based resemblance to The Lord of the Rings.

As I watched the trailer for The Hobbit yesterday, I saw darkness, foreboding music, imminent doom, grave concern on the furrowed brows of everyone, and more generally, “Really Serious Conversations.”

I wanted to see a trailer for The Hobbit. Instead I saw a trailer The Lord of the Rings Part 4.

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41 thoughts on “The Trailer for “The Hobbit” Kind of Worries Me

  1. I think you’re overreacting a little. It looks like the light moments will be there to me. Dwarves breaking plates, and disturbing Bilbo’s quiet little life and such. What is encouraging to me is that the trailer centers on what I think the core of the Hobbit is, and that’s the call to adventure. I think you might be underestimating the darkness that is inherent in the Hobbit story. I won’t argue that it isn’t lighter than Lord of the Rings, but there are some seriously dark moments, for example, when Bilbo first meets Gollum. The Rankin/Bass adaptation is amazing in my opinion and I think that the scene in that version when Bilbo meets Gollum is quite chilling.

  2. Brian G,
    I’m almost certainly overreacting, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some basis for what I’m saying. I expect to the like the films, sure.

    However, I disagree with your take on the “seriously dark moments” thing. The question here isn’t “Could an adult read that chapter in the book and recognize that what is going on is really, truly sinister and terrifying?” (The answer to that question is obviously “Yes!”) The question here is, “What does that chapter actually feel like when you read it the first time?”

    The answer to that question is entirely different–it feels comical and clever.

  3. And as far as the dwarves breaking plates goes, I think that, in totality, that is little more than a trailer depicting Gandalf’s fireworks going on in a trailer for LotR. Fun? Yes. Main idea? No.

  4. Brian G,
    I guess in the end I see your comment as doing exactly what I’m afraid of–reading The Hobbit as “How could this be interpreted (in order to fit some previously established environment)?” instead of paying attention to what it actually feels like to sit down in a chair and read The Hobbit with your kid. (An act, btw, that simply wouldn’t take place with the Trilogy novels!)

  5. So wait, Scott. You’re saying that the first meeting between Gollum and Bilbo should be directed in a way that makes it feel “comical and clever?” To be in keeping with an initial reading some people have when they read the book?

    I don’t think most people even come away thinking it’s so comical, sure there’s riddles and such, but it’s dark, literally and figuratively.

    We can agree to disagree, but the Hobbit has its dark and serious themes. Themes such as vanity, enmity among races, dismissing others, etc. I see a trailer that shows acknowledgment of that fact, and the skill to balance those ideas with lighter, comic relief.

  6. Scott, if you expect any filmmaker to try and capture the magic of reading to your kid and seeing a great story through a child’s eyes for the first time than your expectations are way too high.

    Reading and watching cinema are two different things. Jackson knows this and that’s why as you state in your original post, LOTR was so much better than say the Harry Potter adaptations.

  7. Brian G,
    “the Hobbit has its dark and serious themes. Themes such as vanity, enmity among races, dismissing others, etc.”

    So does the average episode of Sesame Street, though. That doesn’t mean that these themes are presented in a dark and serious fashion, or that they need to be in order to be effective.

    We agree on the core–the call to adventure. My reading of the book, though, is that “the call” doesn’t get illustrated through Really Serious Conversations, but through Bilbo being “whisked” almost against his will out the door. There are conversations, but they’re sidequests to the main story.

    Here’s another way of describing what I see:

    Lord of the Rings: Kill the bad guys, over and over and over
    The Hobbit: Trick the bad guys, over and over and over

    Are the tricks taking place in a scary or precarious situation? Sure–but the fact that Bilbo eludes every bad thing primarily by being clever–and not by being a warrior–makes the story just totally different.

  8. They’re calling it The Hobbit, but that isn’t really all that it is. It is also going to cover what Gandalf was doing while absent in The Hobbit, which is is The Silmarillion or some other tome which has a very different feel from The Hobbit.

    So how do you try to blend those two into a set of two movies?

    I think that going with the feel of LotR is probably the right move. That said, I though Fellowship (which is in some ways most like The Hobbit) was the best of the movies as it was about exploration, discovery, and friendship with those you are not familiar with.

  9. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are both adaptations from the Red Book of Westmarch, but directed to different audiences. I’ve always had the sense in The Hobbit that Tolkien was purporting to translate a rather dark story from the Red Book into a more light-hearted account, suitable for children. Perhaps the movie can best be seen as being derived from the more intense source material in the Red Book, rather than from Tolkien’s lighter tale derived from it.

  10. I thought the trailer looked great and it seems to me they are keeping the humorous aspect of the dwarves. Reportedly they are adding in a lot of other things (as one can tell from Gandalf in the caves – not in the books) Reportedly Legolas is just a cameo though. I’m not worried too much although I was scratching my head about how on earth they could split it up.

    Of course there are bad things in LotRs as well — worst of all Legolas’ shield surfing. Ugh. But they were about as good an adaptation as one could hope. Even if lava is more viscous.

  11. Brian G,
    “Scott, if you expect any filmmaker to try and capture the magic of reading to your kid and seeing a great story through a child’s eyes for the first time than your expectations are way too high.”

    I don’t expect “any filmmaker” to capture that magic. I know that is a very lofty goal. However, the point here is that Jackson DID capture the magic with the first set. That’s the point–not that everyone must do this, but that Jackson did it using (in my eyes) a particular formula that he is now abandoning (based on a tiny trailer that may or may not reflect the end product).

  12. In other words, Jackson dug his own grave of expectations with the success of the trilogy. I’m not holding him to any standard that he didn’t set up in the first place.

  13. I couldn’t resist…

    Anyway to the trailer for a teaser trailer that was pretty impressive. I’d wait to start getting worried until more things come out. I agree the book is lighthearted – more targeting kids rather than adults. I hope they keep that to it and do emphasize tricks rather than violence. Personally I thought they had that although clearly there were throwbacks to LotRs with Gandalf and Gollum. Gollum will be tricky as you don’t want him as dark as LotR.

  14. The entire topic of the ring will be tricky as it plays a very different role in the Hobbit. My primary concern with the trailer is the depiction of the ring and the foreboding surrounding it.

  15. Yes, here’s the problem: Even Tolkein didn’t know what the ring was going to eventually turn out to be when he wrote the Hobbit. But now Jackson has to show us the Hobbit after we, as an audience, already have seen what the ring turns out to be.

    So yes, Bilbo’s finding it is much darker and more portentous than in the original book of the Hobbit, because of how the Hobbit is now being presented in the story already created by the films. The films have to stand on their own. You can’t go back and make the Hobbit as if the LOTR films had never been made. It has to fit in with them. I think Jackson is doing the only thing he can do at this point.

    And if we get some of the Silmarillion material included with a retelling of the Hobbit as it fits in with LOTR then I say, halleluiah. I do share Scott’s hope that the film preserves some of the innocence and lightheartedness of the original book, and I think it will. But to expect it to be exactly faithful to the book at this point after we’ve already seen LOTR is hust expecting the impossible, and really it wouldn’t work.

    Also, there’s plenty of killing in the Hobbit. It’s not described as graphically as in LOTR, but it’s there. Tons of spiders are killed in Mirkwood as well as tons of everything in the Battle of Five Armies. In the end, it’s a war story as much as it is a cute little adventure.

  16. I loved the trailer, BTW. The LOTR films are by no means perfect, but they represent a really good take on the story. I’m hoping the Hobbit will be even better, and it just might be, because now Jackson has the experience of LOTR under his belt and the success of it has proven to the studio that they can trust that Jackson knows what he’s doing and that they can trust him to make money on the deal. Originally, he had to fight to get LOTR three movies intead of one or two. Now he gets two movies for the Hobbit. Amazing.

  17. It’s a tricky proposition regarding presenting the ring in The Hobbit with ominous overtones, when the original book presented it as not much more than a magic token that Bilbo uses to be invisible. It’s clear in the book that no one (including Tolkien) knew what the ring actually would turn out to be. Even Gandalf had to do much research in The Fellowship to discover the ring’s importance.

    However, the viewer knows, having already learned of it’s power by seeing the LOTR movies. (Perhaps he/she wouldn’t know from reading the book for the first time – prior to reading the trilogy – but upon re-reading is certainly aware of the future fate of the ring and those who bear it.) It would be hard for Peter Jackson not to acknowledge this fact. I think he’s almost forced into presenting some LOTR foreshadowing aspects to the moment when Bilbo finds the ring, even if the book didn’t. And although it’s been years since I read The Hobbit, I do not recall that scene with Gollum to be lighthearted. When Gollum realizes that Bilbo has his ring, his question “what has it got in it’s pockets?” is said with great menace. Gollum is not presented in the Hobbit with any sympathy as he later would be in LOTR – he is an evil creature through and through, and Bilbo had reason to fear for his life.

    BTW, Scott, there is one movie that I think captures “the magic of reading to your kid and seeing a great story through a child’s eyes for the first time.” That movie is “The Princess Bride.”

  18. D. Fletcher wrote: “I don’t like those LOR movies anymore. They’re humorless, incoherent, and endless.”

    I sympathize with this sentiment. I enjoyed each of the LOTR movies in the theater. I even bought the deluxe-treatment extended DVD sets. But I never even got around to watching them all the way through.

    It would help, I think, if Frodo and Samwise’s Bromance had a little bit more comedy in the mix. But, it turns out, there’s just not much to laugh about on the sobering, smoldering plains of Mordor.

  19. I don’t know. Bing Crosby and Bob Hope managed. Who can forget their classic Road to Mordor? And the whole running around Barad-dûr in a towel? Classic.

  20. I actually watched the extended DVD set all the way through, and it was good, if a little long, but I agree that the whole enterprise could have benefitted from a little more humor. In the books, even on the way to Mordor, there is a little bit of leavening humor here and there. And the other characters had a bit more to laugh about too.

    Most glaring to me was the handling of Faramir in the movies. That was a big change from the books and not a change for the better. The conversations between Faramir and Sam and Frodo were much more lighthearted and funny and interesting than the dour way they were treated in the films. Faramir just came off as an asshole.

    I could say the same about Denethor. They turned him into a psychotic, gluttonous jerk, instead of the complex interesting character that the books portrayed. Some of that is just laziness on the part of Jackson, and some of it is not trusting his audience. It’s harder to write and film complex characters, and you have to believe that your audience is going to get it. He didn’t, so he shorthanded some things in favor of a simpler theme about the end of mankind. The problem is, if mankind is represented by people like the humorless and glowering Faramir, Denethor, and Theoden of the movies, there’s not much reason to care about their impending doom. Even Aragorn and his love affair with Arwen comes off as kind of dark and depressing.

    I’m making this sound like a worse criticism than it actually is. There’s a lot to like about the LOTR movies, and there’s no way they could be perfect to everyone, but there are certainly some things I would like to have seen done differently.

  21. I agree about Faramir. I was hoping they’d re-edit the extended edition of Fellowship too. It came off as a rush job with the extended scenes just put it. It was much smoother in the following films. I still like Faramir in the movies but agree the initial scenes could have been better. There is a fair bit of humor in the films though especially in the first film. It’s hard to fit everything in though. I was bummed that Tom Bombadil was missing.

    The kings definitely were poorly written though. I really didn’t like how they handled wormtongue making it much more blatant magic and the like.

    C’est la vie though. I could handle the small problems. I still loved the films. I haven’t watched them in ages though. I’m waiting until my son is old enough not to be scared by them. (He just watched the original Star Wars saga last week for the first time) I just have this horrible sinking feeling that the CGI will look pretty bad.

  22. Scott, I’m with you. The hobbit was children story and it was fun through and trough. I worry. If not handled like the source material it could be another Eragon. Jackson has a mixed record. King Kong was a disaster movie and not for subject matter, but for the way it handled almost everything. Faramir was a travesty, it was a pointless departure from the text that marred the film. I liked the film and waited eagerly for each one. But I’ve watched them a few times, and they have not aged well. They seem to take themselves way too seriously and yes they missed the magic of the books. So I’m with you Scott. I’m worried too. It could be extraordinary, or it could be another King Kong. I have hope though.

  23. I just rewatched the trailer and it really does seem to be playing up a lot of slapstick with Bilbo. Admittedly they are all quick shots. But outside of the bits with the ring it’s hard to see much that’s dark like LoTRs. I think he’ll have a strong comedic element in the film much like the book. Which I can see him being able to do.

    The bigger worry is the new camera system he’s using. He’s using a bunch of those new Red Epics and shooting at 48 fps in 3D. I’ve not been a big fan of 3D. It was alright in Avatar but that’s been about the only film I’ve been impressed with. A bunch of my friends who work in film are a little skeptical about how this will all turn out as well. But then I think film makers tend to be rather conservative about new techniques. (Somewhat understandably)

    BTW – with regard to the original concern about Bloom. While Legolas wasn’t in the Hobbit his father was and a big chunk of action takes place where Legolas lives. So it’s really not that unexpected he would be there. I suspect he’ll be a minor character though.

  24. I think it makes sense to have Legolas in the Hobbit. First of all, Orlando Bloom was one of the most popular actors in LOTR, and then, because the Hobbit takes place partly in Mirkwood and the elves come to the battle in the end, it can be presumed that Legolas was there, he just wasn’t mentioned in the book. Again, Jackson has to make the movies fit together. If Legolas was not in this film, it would be appropriate to ask why not.

  25. I think it’s funny that the necromancer is even in the movie, since he plays no role at all in the book. He’s Sauron. How is someone going to play Sauron? They’ve already shown him in the LOTR films to be a huge guy in armor. How is he going to look in this film now?

  26. He’s a minor figure in the book on that hill in south Mirkwood. I’m not sure how they are going to handle it.

  27. That is what I wa saying. They are adding the White Council chasing the Necromancer away from The Silmarillion to the movies to get enough material to have two films and to explain what Ganfalf was doing while Bilbo was on his adventure.

  28. The great thing about having Legolas appear in the Hobbit movie is that they can also cast a young boy as Frodo and have a scene where the two are introduced and shake hands. “Frodo, meet Legolas.” If that doesn’t happen, it’s a wasted opportunity.

  29. I think Frodo has a cameo in the Shire but if they follow the book even remotely then Legolas is met in the Mirkwood forest and not the Shire. So no Frodo/Legolas meeting.

  30. Yeah, there’s no way Frodo should meet Legolas. Plus, in LOTR, we already see them meet for the first time at Rivendell. If they had already met, that scene would have been different.

  31. Plus, there was much to-do in the Fellowship (movie and book) regarding the fact that none of the the Hobbits (except Bilbo) have ever seen an elf.

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