Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, hitting the screens this week. However splitting the slim, charming book into a movie trilogy might be a tad excessive even for the most dedicated fan, says mini anthikad-chhibber

While you may be forgiven for thinking The Hobbit is a prequel to The Lord of the Rings, which technically speaking it is, the way J.R.R. Tolkien wrote it, LOTR was a sequel to The Hobbit. Of course, it is common knowledge for Tolkien devotees — the same ones who communicate with each other in Elvish runes and were horrified that Peter Jackson’s movie version made Arwen and Aragorn’s love story one of the main tracks instead of relegating it to the background where it belongs.

Even though the world got to know of the Ring of power, hobbits, Gollum and Gandalf and other wild and wonderful characters with Jackson’s LOTR celluloid trilogy, which came out between 2001 and 2003, The Hobbit was published on September 21, 1937. Following the critical success of the book, the publishers (much like studios) asked for a sequel. They rejected drafts of The Silmarillion that Tolkien provided asking for more Hobbits. And thus LOTR was born. The books were published between July 1954 and October 1955. Interestingly Tolkien made changes in The Hobbit to segue with the events and tone of LOTR.

And since the movie version of The Hobbit follows LOTR, Jackson has made changes in the movie with characters such as Saruman (Christopher Lee), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) reprising their roles even though they do not appear in the book. Hugo Weaving as Elrond the Elvish king, Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey, Ian Holm as old Bilbo Baggins and Andy Serkis as Gollum return to the production as well.

Casting-wise, Martin Freeman seems just right as Bilbo Baggins, the conservative hobbit who leaves the Shire in search of adventure with a bunch of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield. Freeman we all know as Watson from the super cool TV series Sherlock. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the famous consultant detective in the series, is also there in the movie as Smaug, the last dragon, from who Bilbo and the dwarves have to reclaim a treasure. Cumberbatch also provides voice for The Necromancer.

Even on the crew side many have returned from co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens to cinematographer Andrew Lesnie and composer Howard Shore. The news of Guillermo del Toro involvement with the project was exciting. Del Toro whose Pan’s Labyrinth was magical and Hell Boy movies ferocious fun, seemed like the perfect person to be attached to such iconic material. Though he was hired in 2008 to direct the film and collaborated with Jackson over the writing, he left the project in 2010 because of delays and Jackson stepped in as director.

The Hobbit was originally conceived as a two-part project but this July, Jackson confirmed there would be a third part drawing on footnotes from The Return of the King.

Upon recently revisiting LOTR (the 683-minute extended edition, the theatrical version was 558 minutes) there was no sense of unnecessarily stretching the story. It seemed truly like a tale that grew in the telling. There were those who were upset with the movies being only about action with the themes and thoughts being subsumed in hectic CGI. The Return of the King with its intense and never-ending battle sequences does give that feeling, but nevertheless, as the credits rolled on at the end of the movie, there was this feeling of closure.

The Hobbit trilogy is not a prequel like the Star Wars prequel simply because chronologically Tolkien wrote The Hobbit before he wrote LOTR. While however much Lucas might say he conceived of Star Wars as nine films, there is a sneaking suspicion that filthy lucre was involved in the final decision making process. The similarity between the story arcs is not to be wondered at as they follow basic mythic structure of a quest, helped by a wise wizard (Yoda/Gandalf).

Just as the charm of LOTR is in its detail and leisurely pace, the magic of The Hobbit is in its slightness. Maybe Jackson should not have directed and competed with himself. Del Toro should have had the reins and made a wildly vivacious single film. But that is not to be. So we can either prepare to be gob smacked by some eye popping VFX in 3D or we can go back to the book and read “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

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