Coming in December is the highly anticipated prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, part one of the two-part story; its sequel, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, will release next year. There is positive and negative buzz surrounding the release of the film, which is directed by Peter Jackson. The opposition to the Hobbit movie is surprising to many more casual fans (loosely translated: fans who have only seen the movies and not read the books), however. Jackson did a fantastic job directing the first three movies; what could be the problem with this one? Absolutely everything.
Many of these anti-Hobbit grumbles come from scorned fans who have seen other fandoms crash and burn after the making of a prequel — most notably, fans of the Star Wars series. These angry fanboys and girls have been quick to decide that there is absolutely no way for this movie to turn out okay, based on analysis of the novel that it centers around.
The Hobbit is a far lighter work than the additional books in the series that have already been made into films. Even though the book deals with some gory and disturbing subject matter, such as dwarf genocide via a fire-breathing dragon, deadly revenge, and the greatly feared One Ring, it is still a cheerful children’s tale, at its core. By no means can The Hobbit be described as high fantasy, and it stands in stark contrast to the war-centered, intense Lord of the Rings books and the lofty, intellectual Silmarillion.
The issue comes with the tone of the movie. If the work tries to match the mood of the successful LOTR films, with all of their action and suspense, it will fail miserably at being a passable representation of The Hobbit itself. But if the movie reflects the jolly fairy story feeling of the book it is based off of, it will come off as, well, very silly. Much like the reaction of Star Wars fans to the prequel movies that George Lucas geared more towards a younger generation, LOTR fans will feel their intelligence mocked if forced to endure a slapstick comedy featuring some of the most dark and compelling characters of their beloved series. On the other hand, if the movie ends up being a dark counterpart to the LOTR tonal canon, hardcore fans will be horrified by how their treasured book has been ruined. (Yes, it is that serious.)
More outrage comes from the fact that The Hobbit footage that has been seen so far has been dismissed as far too flashy and sharp. Critics feel that it doesn’t fit with the other movies at all, due to the use of high-definition filming technology, resulting in a frame rate double that seen in the LOTR trilogy films (48 FPS, or frames-per-second, versus 24). What does this mean in layman’s terms? The Hobbit is going to have video quality similar to that of live television. Those who have seen the footage are concerned that the light colors are just too bright and the dark colors are far too shadowy. Everything is described as being too much visually.
According to movie reviewer Devin Faraci, who got one of the first glances of finished Hobbit footage: “The 48 FPS footage I saw looked terrible. It looked completely non-cinematic. The sets looked like sets. I’ve been on sets of movies on the scale of The Hobbit, and sets don’t even look like sets when you’re on them live… but these looked like sets. The other comparison I kept coming to, as I was watching the footage, was that it all looked like behind-the-scenes video. The magical illusion of cinema is stripped away completely.”
Like any other recent movie series, there will always be technological advancements in filming and special effects that will outshine the earlier movies made. LOTR fans simply want consistency. They fear that if the movies are watched in the original chronological order of J.R.R. Tolkien’s lore that movie goers will be disappointed with the quality of the earlier films after viewing The Hobbit. Fans of the movies were delighted by the consistency among the first three films, something that is, as far as we can tell before it is released, lacking in the newest movie.
So, has The Hobbit always been doomed to the list of movies that “Should Never Happen for the Love of All That Is Good, Unless You Want to Alienate Your Fan Base Beyond Recognition”? Not at all! The Hobbit would have been a wonderful movie and none of these problems would have arisen if The Hobbit were simply the first movie presented to audiences. The advancement from the light, whimsical fantasy of The Hobbit to the serious, ethically challenging themes of The Lord of the Rings would not have been an issue. Series such as Harry Potter handled getting increasingly darker beautifully. The movies would have grown with the audience in regards to tone, as well as technological cinematic effects.
This Middle Earth fan hasn’t given up all hope. Even though I have my doubts about the timing of the movie and its quality in comparison to the original LOTR trilogy films, it will just be too hard to stay away. Expect to see me at the premiere with a look of nervous anticipation on my face, waiting to see what will become of the series that I have grown to love.