Since the last time we checked in on The Hobbit Peter Jackson has confirmed he intends to film the project as a trilogy, prompting much headscratching and navel-gazing amongst Tolkienistas and the wider blogosphere. To summarize, it’s a pretty offbeat decision considering that a brace of movies was initially deemed overambitious for an adaptation of a breezy 320-page novel, but nobody’s going to bluster all that much if the Oscar-winning Kiwi director pulls it off.
A new trailer for the first part of the triptych, An Unexpected Journey, certainly offers hope. This is by far the most expansive look at the film so far ahead of its December release, offering us our first look at characters such as Radagast the Brown and the new-look goblins, along with a proper gander at returning figures from The Lord of the Rings such as Elrond and Galadriel. We see glimpses of the iconic “riddles in the dark” encounter between Bilbo and Gollum, and some have even spotted a fleeting snatch of the great wyrm Smaug in there somewhere.
There’s no doubt that Jackson has retained the epic, panoramic feel of Lord of the Rings for a project that on paper is less suited to such an approach than its predecessor. Gandalf appears to be skipping across Middle Earth like a Eurorailing teenager, hanging out at one point with Galadriel in Lothlórien in a scene Tolkien only hinted at. Elrond the elf’s foreboding pomposity recalls his concern over the One Ring, but will Jackson go one step further than his source and specifically tie Smaug to Sauron, known as the Necromancer in the earlier work? Radagast’s comment that “a dark power has found a way back into the world” hints, at the very least, that the latter’s presence will be strongly felt. Surely Jackson can’t avoid representing the dark lord on screen prominently in a way Tolkien did not in his 1937 tome: what price An Unexpected Journey culminating with the White Council driving Sauron out of Mirkwood as the dwarves escape the wood elves and head down the river towards the waiting Smaug?
Radagast, a member of the same order of wizards as Gandalf, is also mentioned only briefly in Tolkien’s Hobbit, but appears to have been dramatically upgraded in the form of Sylvester McCoy.
The new goblins also look pretty nifty – by no means any less threatening than the Orcs in Lord of the Rings, but a little furrier and less grim to look at. Since the species are known to breed like rabbits in Tolkien’s writings and can be morphed and shifted by greater powers, it’s quite conceivable they might have looked different 80 years or so prior to the events of the later tome, and the new appearance nicely reflects the fable-like quality of The Hobbit.
If the new trilogy is to be deemed a genuine success, Jackson needs to present a story that feels set in the same universe as The Lord of the Rings but which also maintains the earlier book’s cheerier sensibilities. To that effect, we’ve already seen the dwarves singing (via an earlier trailer) and this time around there’s a strong sense that Bilbo Baggins’ companions on the quest to drive Smaug from Erebor might manifest as an entire troop of comedy sidekicks. I do think the decision to cast such handsome, fresh-faced actors as Fili and Kili might be a mistake: clearly there’s a need to differentiate Thorin’s nephews from the older homunculi on show, but I never imagined youthful dwarves to resemble hairy boy band stars.
The funnier elements of Bilbo’s battle with Gollum beneath the Misty Mountains are also played up, and it’s abundantly clear why an actor with a gift for such moments, Martin Freeman, was picked for the role.
All in all – concerns over what on Middle Earth Jackson is planning to put in The Hobbit: part three aside – there are multiple reasons to be cheerful here. I have a feeling that it’s going to be very tough for those who loved The Lord of the Rings to avoid finding themselves caught up in the magic once again. Likewise, the small minority who detested the earlier trilogy will probably find the new films just as ridiculous. Which side of the fence are you on?