Stephen's comment this morning got me thinking about 'The Hobbit'. I recently saw the third part of the trilogy and, though I didn't think it the best of the three, I did think it a fitting end to both the adaptation and Peter Jackson's long sojourn in Middle Earth. I say that having not always been so positive in my thinking. When I first heard about a new big budget version of the 'Lord of the Rings', I felt a mild disappointment. I knew Tolkien would become bigger and even more popular, whereas previously, I knew very few people who'd read the books. I'd read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion at school and had given a small presentation about it to a class who clearly thought I'd gone mad trying to explain the attraction of hobbits and orcs. I'd loved the Radio 4 adaptation of the Rings and also quite enjoyed Ralph Bakshi's animated version, though he'd only made the first half of the trilogy with a hastily tacked on ending completing the story. My main disappointment with Jackson's films was that John Hurt didn't play Strider. Strider was my favourite character but made special because of Hurt's voice and the gnarly version of the Son of Arathorn in the Bakshi version. Despite so many obvious improvements in other respects, Jackson's Strider was never that good.
Yet given those doubts, I loved Jackson's Rings trilogy as I now love Jackson's Hobbit trilogy. In fact, perhaps I've enjoyed the Hobbit more since my expectations were lower and they've raised the source material and given it a more adult tone.
I know I'm one of a minority who think that way but I think it's hard to be balanced when there's been so much mildly warmed crap written about 'The Hobbit'. I accept I was as cynical as most when I heard that they were turning the relatively slim book into three movies, each the best part of three hours to enjoy. Yet it has worked really wonderfully. Somebody had perceptively recognised early on that the book breaks down quite evenly into three sections and that each section ends with a strong third act. The only reason the third film didn't feel so compelling as the first two was that 'The Battle of the Five Armies' was the only one that didn't end with the underdogs fleeing an overwhelming force (the Orcs of the Misty Mountains in part 1, the elves of Mirkwood and then more orcs in Part 2).
There were, of course, some horribly bad decisions along the way. Stephen Fry gave one of his better performances as the Master of Laketown but that didn't deflect from the problem that it was still Stephen bloody Fry in yet again in a big budget film. When will filmmakers realise that he's simply too big a personality to fit into any role? Thank Christ he's not (as yet) in the new Star Wars movies. I go cold at the thought of his mellow tones coming out from behind a Wookiee mask. The same was true (but to an even more galling degree) when the dwarf legions appeared on the hills of Erebor in Part 3. As the dwarves celebrate the arrival of the reinforcements, their leader rides forward. That was Dain Ironfoot or, as we prefer to call him, Billy Connolly. It completely broke my immersion in the film and I wasn't the only one. 'Oh bloody hell,' I heard at least one person mutter.
The overall sense of the films is one of gratitude. They've made me again fall in love with Middle Earth and, particularly, the Middle Earth I love: the only that lies just beyond the familiar stories and names. If it's at all possible, it's that Middle Earth that exists with a history as yet untold.