The Hobbit Movie: Been There, Coming Back Again?
The multibillion-dollar question and a burning thought in so many minds of the fans of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy is, "Will there be a movie made of JRR Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' prequel, 'The Hobbit'?"
My answer, pure speculation: how can there not be?
It seems inevitable that Tolkien's 'Hobbit' will be turned into a movie, or if not a feature length film, then some similar incarnation. Personally I'm holding out for a television series, at least two seasons in length: I'd love nothing better than to come home after a long day at work and settle in to an hour of my favorite children's story each week (as if I really have time for that, but you get the picture). If not a film feature, or TV series, then perhaps a cable television miniseries is in the offing.
Please note that I have no factual information indicating that such a project is underway. Over the years I have had the great fortune of meeting many individuals involved in the LotR films and not a one of them has breathed so much as a whisper that The Hobbit is in the works. Oh, I've asked, but the answer is always in the negative.
The number one reason I feel pretty sure that this 300 +/- (depending on the publication) page adventure will travel from page to screen is simple. It has the potential to make money. Lots of money. Piles of money. If Balin and company returned to Moria for mithril, you better believe that the profit minded suits of New Line or another such corporation will go back to Tolkien text for its weight many times over in gold.
For readers who ask, "What's 'The Hobbit'?" a brief background is in order. First published in England by George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. in 1937, the text of The Hobbit has undergone alterations, illustrations, translations and transformations from the first; although in text it is nearly the same as the original. It is the story of Bilbo Baggins' first adventures with wizards, dwarves, elves, goblins, eagles, and other beings inhabbiting Middle-earth. Here we meet Bilbo, Gandalf, Gollum, Elrond and other characters for the "first" time (readers of 'The Silmarillion' might argue against this assertion for some characters) as Bilbo and his 13 dwarf companions' quest for the destruction of the dragon Smaug and the liberation of the dwarves' kingdom in Lonely Mountain.
In true prequel fashion, foundations are laid for a future story, and histories connecting many Middle-earth tales percolate to the surface of 'The Hobbit'. Frodo's sword Sting and his mithril shirt originate in this story, as does Bilbo's possession of the Ring. 'The Lord of the Rings' itself started out as a sequel to build on the success of 'The Hobbit' and (not only in my own opinion) reads much like it in tone at the beginning. While it was being written and in the decades following its publication, 'The Lord of the Rings' grew to overshadow its predecessor in many ways and rightly claims the chief position in rank of popularity, publication, and yes... profit.
Just how popular is 'The Lord of the Rings'? It's been translated into over fifty languages, is second in sales only to The Bible, and has enthralled nearly 4 decades of readers. Peter Jackson's film trilogy has raked in over $640,000,000.00 US and as of this writing the third movie has not yet been released! The mind boggles at a movie franchise pulling in a trillion dollars... but whoop, there it is - or will be.
Which brings me back to my prime assertion: How can they not make a movie of 'The Hobbit'?!
Fans of JRR Tolkien can claim credit for proving that his works are a lucrative investment. The genius of Jackson in creating and successfully pitching a risk-worthy 'Lord of the Rings' film script and the vision of New Line to gamble on the investment during the late 1990's (not the most favorable economic times to sink over $300,000,000 into one product) have seemed to many a pairing that will not be repeated. On the flip side, however, to continue the success of a movie trilogy that will likely realize a better than 300% return doesn't just make financial sense, it literally screams and wails from the bean counters' domain.
Are there problems and challenges facing a second transformation of 'The Hobbit' from book to film? Certainly. Some may argue that the target audience will differ greatly in age from the demographics of LotR movie fans. Others may say that the market for Tolkien films is saturated; the plot too lengthy and unwieldy for a decent script; or perhaps the rights too expensive. Each of these - and in my mind, any - arguments can be defeated with undeniable counterpoints: heard of the Harry Potter films? Asked the fans if they're tired of Tolkien films, and if so, how they will feel in a couple years without one? Perhaps the greatest obstacle at the moment is ownership over the movie rights - rumor has it that PJ would love to make the film but New Line and the owner of the movie rights to 'The Hobbit' (which was made into an animated feature by Rankin Bass in 1977, as was a rather scary LotR) are wrangling over the deal. These desktop rebuttals don't pack an ounce of research either: something the real debate will include.
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Recently I asked a friend of mine who was heavily involved in the New Zealand end of making LotR how they felt about making The Hobbit into film. The reply:
"I would jump at the chance to be involved in a film of The Hobbit, though if there are plans for PJ or New Line to do it, I haven't heard anything. The opportunity to go back to Middle-earth and expand and improve upon what we did last time would be a dream come true for me. And let's not forget that there's a dragon in The Hobbit! That would be a great assignment!"
Another indicator of the popularity of this concept is a rogue internet trailer for a potential 'Hobbit' movie. Here at TheOneRing(R).net we continually receive emails from excited fans who are convinced that this trailer is legitimate and that the film is due out in December of 2006. TORn website founder Xoanon included it in his article LOTR Urban Legends just this month due to the high volume of interest this 'trailer' generates. You can download the trailer from its source Latham Film, which indicates that over 26,000 people have downloaded this creation.
The same person I quoted above was able to respond to a question about the trailer as well:
"Yeah, I've seen it. I thought it was awesome. My reaction was, when do I get to see the movie?! Whomever did it, did a fantastic job. It looked incredible, and had a great atmosphere- perfect for a film version of 'The Hobbit'. The fantastic Phil Tippett-designed dragon that appeared in it is probably the best dragon design in any film so far too, so kudos to the guy who cut the trailer together for his great taste in movies too!"
Finances aside, the prospects for a 'Hobbit' film are exciting to say the least. If PJ's company Three Foot Six teamed up again with Weta and Weta Digital... well, I think the world would be full of some happy campers waiting for the dawn of another Tolkien movie day. If a movie is too big of an enterprise, Weta and the New Zealand television industry demonstrate with series like Xena and Hercules that such sustained efforts are well worth the gamble.
My mother likes to say I'm often wrong but never in doubt. She's often right about that too... but this time around, logic dictates the outcome: How can they not make a movie of 'The Hobbit'?!
Anderson, Douglas (2002). 'The Annotated Hobbit, Revised and Expanded Edition'. USA: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Gray, Brandon (2003). Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 21, 2003 from http://boxofficemojo.com
Latham, Steve (2003). Latham Film Digital Video and Audio. Retrieved September 21, 2003 from http://www.lathamfilm.com
Oorshot, Leo (TORn staffer and editor in chief of TheFellowship.nl)
Regina, Michael (2003). TheOneRing(R).net. Retrieved September 21, 2003 from http://www.theonering.net
Thanks to TheOneRing(R).net's Leo, Jincey, and Pippin Skywalker for their input, and of course, to the late great JRR Tolkien for his many literary gifts to the world.