News about Peter Jackson’s ever-expanding Hobbit project continues to appear. Last month he announced that “the richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins,” by translating it into three movies. Over the weekend, Warner Bros confirmed that the three films will be titled An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again.
The Hobbit is a shorter book than even The Fellowship of the Ring alone, and it tells a pretty snappy story, with a more upbeat, playful tone than The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is debatable whether the novel could reasonably be stretched to two films, and so responses to the news that it will now be stretched much further are pretty mixed. Some fans are glad at the project of more time spent in Middle Earth, and are pleased to hear that Jackson will incorporate material from the appendices to LOTR. Others are not so glad, and you can read fan responses on Jackson’s Facebook page, as well as on a whole bunch of other movie sites.
The critique is pretty simple – Jackson and his team are stretching a simple story beyond reasonable limits to make more money from ticket sales. Harry Potter was the first franchise to split books, turning the Deathly Hallows into two separate movies. Although there was some creative rationale for the split – Deathly Hallows was a long book, and it meant we got two tonally distinct movies – it’s also true Warner Bros probably increased its grosses by many hundreds of millions in the process. Other franchises, including Twilight and The Hunger Games, have since followed suit. Jackson, though, seems to be taking this idea to extremes, and many fans are up in arms at what they see as a blatant cash grab.
I’m not sure I agree this will be a total bust: I generally like my blockbusters slow and introspective, so this change may work for me as a viewer. I’m also not sure money is the only factor. In fact, I think something much more dispiriting has motivated the decision: creative stagnation.
Jackson started out as a director of low-budget horror movies in New Zealand. Although he came to Hollywood in the late 1990s, he had never had any major hits, and his background meant he was an unusual figure to take on a property as big as LOTR. But Warner Bros and New Line took a chance on him, and were rewarded with a remarkably successful series of films – successful at the box office, but also successful as creatively daring and accomplished movies.
Since then, though, Jackson has struggled to recreate the success. His long-gestating King Kong made money, but was also bloated and oddly shoddy (for example, the original soundtrack was dumped weeks before release, and a bland generic score took its place, which undercut many of the film’s intended emotional beats). The Lovely Bones has its supporters, but it was a critical and commercial failure.
Jackson continued to work as a producer, and following a protracted battle for the rights, he had hoped to oversee The Hobbit in that position. When Guillermo del Toro dropped out, Jackson took the director’s chair, and we end up back where we were 10 years ago – with one key difference. When Jackson took on LOTR, he was an ambitious outsider with a daring project. Now he is an established director on his uppers, revisiting past glories in lieu of anything better to do. Directing The Hobbit is arguably a sign that Jackson is out of ideas. His other projects haven’t quite delivered in various ways, and so he has returned to terrain he covered successfully back in the day.
It’s hard to see how making The Hobbit could be considered a positive step for Jackson. However, splitting the story into three separate films takes the moribund self-absorption of the project to entirely new levels. It looks as if Jackson is running entirely on empty, pushing this side project to ridiculous extremes because he has nothing else to offer.
Who knows, the movie(s) might be good, and I might have to eat my words. While it may be maddening for those who see cold, hard profit as the prime motivation behind The Hobbit, it looks sad rather than venal to me. Jackson used to be a genuinely capable and interesting figure, with a particular talent for pioneering technical accomplishments (his decision to film in 48fps is the most compelling thing about The Hobbit). It sounds crazy to say, in light of the visionary epic fantasies he has created, but surely he could choose more creatively ambitious projects than this. Tolkien seems to have created the idealised past of Middle Earth in order to escape a confusing present. It’s a shame to see Jackson doing the same.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.