Friday, March 28, 2008

Some scenes I'm looking forward to in The Hobbit

The recent news that Ian McKellen definitely wants to reprise his role as Gandalf in The Hobbit got me all excited again about the possibilities for this film. And of course, a bit apprehensive as well.

While I'll admit that The Lord of the Rings is superior as a work of art (and I'll argue until I'm blue in the face that it's one of the finest novels ever written in the English language), The Hobbit holds a special place in my heart. My first exposure to it remains fresh in my mind: My fifth grade teacher had us listen to a reading of the book in class over a couple days, an experience for which I still owe him thanks. Afterwards we cut our favorite characters out of sheets of construction paper and created a huge mural on the wall of the classroom. There was probably 8-10 Bilbos and a dozen dwarves; I was the only one who made Beorn (and I gave him a giant double-bitted axe, as I recall). Anyways, that experience helped foster my love for the book and I probably have read it at least a half-dozen times since then.

The coming movie adaptation anticipated for 2009 intrigues me on a number of levels. For instance, I wonder what tone rumored director Guillermo Del Toro will take with it. Most likely it will be a serious epic and a clone in "feel" of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings, due to the highly successful formula established by those films. And that isn't such a bad thing. I've read a number of critics at various web sites who are dreading this very thing and are hoping for a light-hearted children's film, but evidentally they aren't too well read. Although The Hobbit is certainly geared more towards children, especially at its outset, over the course of the tale it gradually changes tone, and by the Battle of Five Armies it morphs into a rather adult, grim story. If this wasn't enough, J.R.R. Tolkien himself expressed everlasting regret that he tried to write The Hobbit for a juvenile audience, and later chided himself for not having the foresight or the determination to buck the trend of fantasy at that time (which critics and publishers alike believed was a genre strictly for children). By the time he started work on The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien had already decided to write it as a full-blown adult fantasy.

Still, part of me wouldn't mind a slightly lighter version of The Hobbit, and I certainly wouldn't be averse to a few songs making their way into the script. For what it's worth, I'll be sorely disappointed if this doesn't make it into the finished product:

Far over the misty mountains cold

To dungeons deep and caverns cold

We must away ere break of day

To seek the pale enchanted gold

Following is a chapter-by-chapter rundown of my favorite scenes from the book and what I expect (and hope) to see make it to the big screen.

An unexpected party. I hope they film the whole bloody thing. I want to see Gandalf carving his mark on Bilbo's green door (Burglar wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward), the dwarves drinking ale and eating cakes and singing, and Gandalf unrolling Thror's curled, yellowing map of the Lonely Mountain. I can picture Thorin telling a captivated Bilbo the tale of the coming of Smaug and the decimation of the dwarves, perhaps done as a voice-over with images of the attack, dwarves roasting in the dragon fire in the dark halls of the mountain. And at the end poor Bilbo hurrying out the door without his hat, walking-stick, or any money. Speaking of which, the casting of Bilbo will be critical, and as much as I loved Ian Holm in LOTR, he's certainly too old for the role.

A Short Rest. A return to Rivendell and the last homely house would be welcome sights, as I thought the Rivendell set-piece from LOTR was well-done. It would be great to see Elrond examining Orcrist and Glamdring, and watching the dwarves' faces light up in surprise as the moon-letters appear on Thror's map.

Over Hill and Under Hill. I'm envisoning a great scene of the dwarves slogging through the Misty Mountains in a driving thunderstorm, stooped over in the swirling winds, and a scene of stone giants hurling rocks into vast, bottomless chasms. The entire sequence with the goblins--the crack opening in the cave; goblins emerging and grabbing the sleeping dwarves; Gandalf to the rescue, rushing in with magic and sword to slay the great goblin; and the pursuit through the tunnels--should be great on film, and is cinematic enough to probably make it more or less intact.

Riddles in the Dark. Need I say more? This should be the centerpiece of the film. I fear it may lose some impact because the audience has been saturated with Gollum from the LOTR films, and I also wonder whether the riddle-game will translate well on the big screen. Some of the riddles are lengthy and could bog things down, so some cutting/revision will probably be necessary.

Queer Lodgings. I hope Jackson and crew don't cut Beorn from The Hobbit, but I can see him going the way of Tom Bombadil. While it seems like an easy cut--the diverson to Beorn's home isn't necessary to advance the plot, and it introduces another narrative-slowing character--cutting Beorn would rob him of his grand entrance into the Battle of the Five Armies, whereby he smashes the bodyguard of Blog in bear-form. For this alone, I hope he makes it in (or at least in the Director's Cut).

Flies and Spiders. Given Jackson's love of monstrous spiders and other nasties (witness Shelob, and the insect cave in King Kong), I fully expect to see a CGI feast in Mirkwood. My guess is they'll make the spiders more insect-like and remove their speaking voices to increase their menace, which would sadly rob Bilbo of his comical taunting ("Attercop, Lazy Lob," etc.). Regardless, it will be great to "see" an invisible Bilbo driving off the spiders with Sting.

Barrels out of bond. The barrel-riding scene is naturally cinematic and should add some nice comic relief.

A Warm Welcome. Seeing Thorin come into his own as the King Under the Mountain, revered by the awed populace of Laketown, would be cool to see on film. Cue epic music.

On the Doorstep. More opportunity for a CGI-fest as the dwarves pass the wreckage of old Dale and the Desolation of the Dragon on their way to the Lonely Mountain.

Inside Information. A chance for some horror as Bilbo makes his way down the dark tunnel into Smaug's cave. I can't wait to see what the CGI gurus do with Smaug during his converation with Bilbo, and I hope it's as terrifying to see him fly into a red rage on film and smash the secret door as it was when I first read The Hobbit. Smaug's treasure horde should be suitably awesome cinematic eye-candy as well.

Not at Home. I was impressed with the way Jackson handled Moria in LOTR and I expect a similar great tour of the halls of the mountain king here. It should be fun to see Bilbo and the Dwarves arm themselves with ancient gem-crusted weapons and mithril shirts of mail.

Fire and Water. The action of the film will pick up here as we get Smaug's attack on Dale. Again, let's hope Jackson and crew keep the character of Bard and let him slay Smaug with his black arrow. Sure, Dale is a minor character but it would be cheesy to rewrite the script to have Thorin or Bilbo playing the hero's role here.

A Thief in the Night. I hope we don't lose the cool little interlude of Bilbo handing over the Arkenstone to the elves and the men of Laketown in an attempt to bring Thorin to the bargaining table. But I fear we might.

The Clouds Burst. Get ready for an epic battle, at least on par with Helm's Deep and perhaps even Minas Tirith. I'm looking forward to seeing dwarves get their due as great axe-fighters, which is one of the criticisms I have of LOTR (Gimli was used too much as comic relief, largely ignoring the fact that he was also quite a grim fighter in the book). And what red-blooded fantasy fan isn't looking forward to seeing men and elves and dwarves of Dain fighting shoulder-to-shoulder against goblins and wargs? What insane individual doesn't want to see Thorin and co. wading out into the mass of fighting bodies like a wedge, driving their foes before them until they break on the bodyguard of Bolg? And as I stated before, I hope the battle climaxes with Beorn in bear shape crashing into the bodyguard and bringing down Bolg himself. All in all, this has the potential for Serious Awesome.

The Return Journey/The Last Stage. The last two chapters appear to require little to no modification, as they provide a perfect cinematic wrap-up to the tale. We get Thorin on his deathbed, repentent at last (and I hope to see his dying lines verbatim: "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world"); gift-giving with the elven king; tearful farewells with the dwarves; and Bilbo's return to Hobbiton bearing his two small chests of gold, placing Sting over the mantelpiece. It's probably not necessary to include Bilbo's presumed death and the scene with the Sackville-Bagginses clearing out Bag-End. I can see the film ending on a portent-laden scene with Bilbo protectively tucking away the Ring, a possessive gleam in his eye as he does so.

If done right, this could be a phenomenal film.


trollsmyth said...

I had the same thoughts about Ian Holm as you did, until my wife reminded me of his performance in "The Fifth Element". If he's still that spry, and there's no guarantee he is, but if he is, he should be able to carry the roll through "The Hobbit".

Brian Murphy said...

Hi Trollsmyth, I've never seen "The Fifth Element" so I'll have to take your word for it that Holm was spry. But the basic problem is appearance--Bilbo was 51 years old in The Hobbit, the same age as Frodo when he set out on the quest to destroy the one ring. In Hobbit years, that's an early middle aged man, in human years probably 30 or so. Holm is what--in his late 70's now? Unless they pancake the makeup on or cover him with CGI a-la Andy Serkis as Gollum, I can't see him reprising the role. Which is a shame, given that I thought Holm was a fantastic Bilbo. And you're going to need someone with some acting chops, not just looks, to pull off the role.

trollsmyth said...

Oh, and if they don't tap Brian Blessed to play one of the dwarves, well, that would be just wrong! ;D