It has been officially announced that Peter Jackson’s hotly anticipated adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit will now be a trilogy.
This announcement has split fans of the franchise into two distinct camps; those eager for an ever longer and more detailed onscreen depiction of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and those worried that the original novel, a prequel to the epic three film saga Lord of the Rings, does not contain nearly enough material to warrant the production of three separate films.
Jackson has only recently finished principal photography on what was originally planned to be a two part adaptation of The Hobbit (you can see the first poster here). Therefore, we can assume that at least most of films one and two has already been shot. The director has once again been working with screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, both of whom co-adapted The Lord of the Rings alongside him. Of the decision to take The Hobbit all the way to a trilogy (a choice fully supported by studio executives at New Line Cinema, MGM and Warner Bros.), Jackson has stated:
‘Upon recently viewing a cut of the first film, and a chunk of the second, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and I were very pleased with the way the story was coming together. We recognized 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, gave rise to a simple question: do we tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as filmmakers and fans was an unreserved ‘yes.’
‘We know the strength of our cast and of the characters they have brought to life. We know creatively how compelling and engaging the story can be and—lastly, and most importantly—we know how much of the tale of Bilbo Baggins, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur would remain untold if we did not fully realize this complex and wonderful adventure. I’m delighted that New Line, MGM and Warner Bros. are equally enthusiastic about bringing fans this expansive tale across three films.’
In reacting to this news, fans of the fantasy franchise are mostly coming down on Jackson’s side; three films means more depth of plot and better character development; it means a more detailed, gradual and intense telling of the story, as well as a nice balanced echo of the three Lord of the Rings films that came before (and yet are set afterwards).
However, the nay-sayers may have a valid point when they argue that The Hobbit, at a mere 300 pages, is simply too short a story to sustain a three film adaptation in the style of The Lord of the Rings (the original novel of which clocks up over a thousand pages; gargantuan in comparison). Many were surprised and concerned even when it was thought that the adaptation would be two films instead of one. The apparent solution to this argument comes in the form of the Appendices; Tolkien’s ace in the hole.
At the end of the third novel in the saga, The Return of the King, there follows a condensed and rather obtuse series of extended footnotes, providing those interested enough to read them with more information on the Numenorean Kings, Middle Earth Calendars, Hobbit family trees and the lives, love and deaths of Aragorn and Arwen. In other words, the Appendices are a pretty rich seam from which to mine in order to ensure that a second and even a third Hobbit film will not start to drag.
Even so, this has not put everyone’s mind at rest. The fact that the first two films have apparently already been shot, and the decision to make a third has only just been finalised, leaves us with the concern that the third film in the trilogy will not fit in or flow well with the other two. However, the presence of screenwriting heavyweights Walsh and Boyen, as well as the continuing leadership of Jackson, suggests that this issue will be overcome, even if it means shooting more scenes for the first and second films.
Film number one, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, in which Martin Freeman plays the young Bilbo Baggins, and Ian McKellen reprises his role as Gandalf the Grey, will be released on December 14th 2012. Film number two will follow on December 13th 2013, while we can expect to wait until 2014 for film number three. This follows the same Lord of the Rings ‘one-a-year’ release schedule so familiar to many of us from Decembers 2001 to 2003. Folks; it’s happening again.