Lord of the Rings grandmaster Peter Jackson and New Line announced yesterday that Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo Del Toro will take on a two-film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit in New Zealand under Jackson's supervision. If this sounds like positive news for those who have been waiting for the kids-oriented prequel to come to the big screen, it's not. Since Peter Jackson took on the mother of all literary adaptations in adapting J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, the idea that he would bring his epic vision to The Hobbit loomed on the periphery. Don't get us wrong: Del Toro is a talented director whose last films have been critical and commercial successes. The trouble begins once you seriously consider the details of the two-part project and its execution: New Line, which is still feuding with Jackson over the funding of the original trilogy, didn't make the right move in going ahead with this version of The Hobbit. We explain why after the jump.
We know what you're saying: come on, at least there will be a production of The Hobbit! We're with you there, but that in itself is no reason to celebrate. This massive four year undertaking has to avoid too many pitfalls to really work. The coming together of Peter Jackson and New Line for the LOTR trilogy was an unlikely alliance that made a fortune for all involved. It's a shame that most people who have seen the films haven't seen the extended versions, but what they got was true to the spirit of the books and succeeded on every level.
This doesn't automatically mean the same for The Hobbit, however. For one, the idea of having Jackson supervise a talented director sounds good on the surface, but not everyone has the financial acumen of the George Lucas and Steven Spielberg Indiana Jones bromance, and when you're not solely committed to profits at all costs, the idea of a "filmmaking community" may simply be a nice way to say there will be too many cooks in this particular kitchen.
In addition, making the shorter Hobbit may not be, from a production standpoint, that much simpler than Jackson's trilogy. The immense amount of money and time spent will be reminiscent of those three films, yes. When you ignore the big budget and complicated special effects, the final product won't be that similar. While Lord of the Rings could promise epic marketability, The Hobbit screams, "What's my audience?" Already turned into a short feature by Ralph Baksi in 1978, the animated version is a good reminder that the story is a meandering odyssey with a tough ending for the screen, and it's more suited for children than an adult audience.
Lastly, the prospect of a second prequel has to raise a red flag. It sounds like this will be the way that Del Toro and Jackson get more of the trilogy's popular characters back into the milieu, and the gang has already expressed a desire to reprise their roles. That's a smart idea. The Hobbit doesn't have as much in the way of kick-ass heroes or battle scenes. It's a quieter, more imaginative story that needs a different feel than the trilogy, and perhaps a different hand behind it. In that sense, not handling the project himself appeared to be a good move for Jackson, but when it comes to the shaky ground of making two prequels that cover a 60-year period, and there's not a clear story or a clear audience, do we really trust a first-timer to the material?
If you still think this is will turn out well, picture this: Del Toro in his new house in New Zealand, getting unpleasant faxes from Jackson and writing partner Phillippa Boyer about scenes left on the cutting room floor, no pizza delivery, and miles to go before he wraps. Don't do it, Guillermo!