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In 2001, I walked out into a wintry December night from the warmth of a cinema, my dad by my side. My eleven year-old head was filled with fantastical excitement in the forms of elves, wizards and balrogs, for we had just seen The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and had just been blown away. What the hell had I just watched? Though my dad didn’t quite appreciate the three hour run-time and its effects on his bum, I thought 180 minutes was far too short a trip to a place as magical as Middle-Earth; a passion had been ignited in me, and millions of others felt the same. In the two years I had to wait for the following installments, I became a rabid Tolkien fan, devouring The Silmarillion, the original The Lord of the Rings books, Unfinished Tales, most recently The Children of Hurin, and also a little novel known as The Hobbit. Two years later, I walked out into yet another wintry December night from The Return of the King, again with my dad by my side, his arse number than ever before. It felt particuarly colder than the previous two, and not because of the temperature; my journey, along with Frodo’s, had come to a bittersweet end. My very first thought? Well, I really hope they make The Hobbit.
It’s now December, 2012; a decade of waiting is over. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is being released, the first of a brand new trilogy helmed by the guy who started it all, Peter Jackson. In the years between, I’ve become a huge fan of his; Brain Dead is one of the best horror comedies of all time, and definitely the goriest; Heavenly Creatures is a damn near perfect drama, and possibly the finest to come out of New Zeleand. Heck, I even adored The Lovely Bones, which every other critic almost unanimously hated. But the road to getting The Hobbit greenlit, let alone made, was a painful one to watch: MGM’s near-bankruptcy, the NZ actor’s union’s proposition for striking, and even a stomach ulcer for the director all halted production. This fantastic videofrom the time really gets across a man who was at the end of his tether. Then, when The Hobbit finally started shooting, the first production video had Jackson back to the same happy, hobbity creator who made LoTR so incredible.
The initial trilogy, the extended editions of which rack up to a whopping eleven and-a-half hours, was – and remains – one of the greatest cinematic achievements in history. How they got made in the first place is unbelievable; back when Jackson and screenwriter (and wife) Fran Walsh initially proposed Tolkein’s trilogy to New Line as a two-movie franchise, I can imagine how the pitch went: ‘So, you want to make a film with elves, wizards and dwarves. The main character has really hairy feet, and is three foot five. The villain has about three lines, if any, and is a distant, murky thing that doesn’t get any scenes of his own. It’s going to be three hours long.’ I assume Jackson just smiled awkwardly and nodded. But, you know, nodded really persuasively.
A year and a half of shooting later, and something magnificent was unleashed on the filmic world. The Fellowship of the Ring single-handedly validated the fantasy genre, and kickstarted one of the biggest film franchises in the world, culminating with The Return of the King walking away from the 2004 Oscars with eleven statuettes. It resonated with people, and it’s all down to the details; the visible dirt under Aragorn’s fingernails makes us feel that they did this for real. Gollum’s schizophrenic parlance won our laughs, and surprisingly our hearts too. Howard Shore’s score soared. And yet, despite their grandeur, length and narrative tributaries, the films are about one simple concept: Hope. The very final shot of the trilogy surmises a beautiful idea – that the smallest thing can make the biggest change.
And that’s the potential problem for The Hobbit trilogy: the novel, which is rather small, is being turned into something rather big. I trust Peter Jackson in his knowledge of Tolkein and the vast appendices he provided that annex the original story. He’s that good. Either way, I doubt The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be as good as the first films. In fact, I know it. Either way, I feel privileged to be able to step into Middle-Earth not two, but three more times; the world, the stories and the characters mean too much for it not to be at least slightly magical – even if it is in a higher frame rate, which so far has split critics. Peter Jackson has a lot to prove.
By now, you’re probably half-way through The Fellowship’s Theme, a particularly rousing bit. You couldn’t possibly be more excited than I am right now. In Bilbo’s own words: I think I’m quite ready for another adventure.