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Gemmell Awards 2017

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Roads Go Ever Ever On

The Hobbit - The Battle of the Five Armies (detail)Something important is ending as we speak; the end of an era of not only entertainment, not just a story, but our invited cinematic access to a deep, rich and vivid world.

I’m talking about Middle Earth. I wouldn’t even necessarily say I’m talking about The Hobbit as a movie, or an adaptation, either. Rather, as the umbrella title given to what has turned out being an adventure deeper into Middle Earth. How is that a bad thing? How is this something people complain about, citing that three movies is a bad idea and that it’s all about the money.

Is it? Really? Was the first trilogy all about the money? Let’s just say if something is all about the money, generally a lesser budget is used, with fewer actors of good stock and talent. This was never all about the money. It was about the time being right to bring this charming little book to the big screen in a way that would be unforgettable. It’s about the passion. The entire team, not least of all Peter Jackson, demonstrates a fervent passion for the folklore Tolkien left us with. Why would we simply leave it sitting there, untouched and unexplored?

We shouldn’t and I’m pleased we didn’t. Well, we – they, the movie makers. The people who created this second foray into the magical and enchanting world Tolkien forged. And it is enchanting and magical and has been one hell of a journey since 2001 when The Fellowship of the Ring first transported us to Middle Earth. That’s a lot of years and though there has been a substantial gap between the end of The Lord of the Rings and the beginning of The Hobbit, it still combines as almost fifteen years of storytelling history.

The Hobbit (detail)

That’s half of some people’s lives; that’s as long as some people have been reading fantasy. It’s a long time. I think people who can’t look past the lengthy and embellished adaptations are a little blinkered by scepticism. They’re not seeing what these adaptations are really about.

Firstly… So what if there are three films for one tiny, wee book? At least the characters are themselves and everyone at least attempts to follow the bones of the plot, unlike other paltry offerings of the last few years. When movie adaptations such as Divergent and City of Bones have slithered past critical attention, practically without notice for how terrible they were, it’s frustrating that – mainly because people are unfathomably irritated that there isn’t just a single movie – The Hobbit gets go much negative notice.

Kili and TaurielFurthermore, this modern adaptation of so old a book allows for one important thing: diversity. I’ll argue with anyone, first and foremost, who claims that make believe races are not elements of the diverse. They are not human. They are other. It doesn’t matter if they are fictional, they are still a different race and thus subject to any racism that would befall people of colour in the real world. Don’t tell me that the love between an elf and a dwarf is not diverse. It is. And it should be praised because it teaches that race is no obstacle. This is something that should be taught. Infinitely. Regularly.

Second, I find that inclusion of Legolas was a solid way in which to at least, in part, touch a YA audience with the familiar theme of parental rebellion. This is never a bad theme. Young adults need to be shown that parents cannot control every element of their lives and hearts. It doesn’t matter if Legolas is immortal. He is presented as being the son, the younger adult, in this instance, with his oddly doting yet remote father in the shape of Thranduil. Elves and emotions need to be approached from a slightly different angle than, say, the emotions of mortals, but if taken at face value, this just presents us with the reality of those who have trouble expressing how they feel, which is something that many young adults struggle with. There are several interesting themes within the trilogy as a whole that resonate well with a typical YA audience.

For someone who absolutely grew up in Middle Earth, the depictions of a world that only existed in dreams and imagination has been fantastic. That’s the other thing about this. These films have created a new window for younger readers to find fantasy. The Lord of the Rings is a very long, very imposing book that many younger fantasy fans might not feel able to approach. The films made that part of fantasy history accessible to them. And maybe they will find a path to the books eventually.

The Hobbit (poster 2)

The Hobbit is no different. In fact, by virtue of being a far shorter book, targeted for the most part at younger readers, it is a perfect doorway into the fantasy world. It is also an excellent contrast to the grittier representations of fantasy, such as Game of Thrones, which some potential readers might infer is the norm of fantasy literature. It introduces the classic genre of epic fantasy. And this is so important.

A fascinating thing about Tolkien is that his work spans whole generations. There will be elderly people at the cinema, reliving pieces of their own childhoods they thought never to see in such clarity, sitting alongside younger readers such as myself, and even younger, who also grew up with The Hobbit as a part of their childhood.

LegolasThere are very few worlds that can claim to span so many years, touching and engrossing so many people. Tolkien literally left behind a legacy, one that you can see and feel and touch. But maybe people haven’t stopped to think of the magic that is being brought to life. They’re too busy complaining that Legolas wasn’t in the book or that there was no love story between a dwarf and an elf. Well, consider that Legolas’ inclusion is an excellent way of linking both trilogies together, in a way that younger fans will be able to appreciate. A familiar character that stretches between both stories makes for an accessible way of understanding that The Hobbit is linked to The Lord of the Rings. And what’s the problem with that? The writers embellished, they took Tolkien’s world and let us see more of Middle Earth as a world. A+ for that.

As for the love story? Well, kudos for showing love between two different races, as we’ve already discussed. Three cheers for diversity; haters to the left, please.

The Hobbit - spidersIf you consider The Hobbit as a direct adaptation, you’re going to be left wanting. But when did an adaptation ever stick entirely to a book? At least the plot endures. At least the characters are solid. Trust me, that’s a feat. I’m still not over the sham that was City of Bones.

The Hobbit is a feast for the senses, candy for the imagination. Seeing the world I grew up with on screen, one final time, was pure emotional magic. It’s not about being an adaptation, it’s not about a tiny wee book. It’s about magic. It’s about a mythology.

Nobody complains if a movie is made of yet another myth or fairy tale. That’s what Middle Earth is now: a mythology. A world rich in magic and story to be explored. There are games and role-playing websites and cosplayers and people who marry with Sindarin wedding vows. A thousand movies could be made of a thousand different stories, the lives of a thousand different characters. And this was just one of them. By presenting us with a long film, the writers were able to show far more character development and depth than the book ever did. The characters and world are examined, explored, and celebrated. How is that a bad thing?

Hobbit-Smaug-Poster-300x300Yes, perhaps with films such as The Deathly Hallows and Catching Fire (let’s not even talk about Breaking Dawn) there is absolutely no need for three or four films. But the difference between these and The Hobbit is so glaringly obvious. None of these books are set in a world that was created as a mythology. Simple. There is no mythology in these other books. There isn’t the same depth.

In addition, because Tolkien was focussed on building a world and driven by his own obsessions for lore and language to form and present his work in the way he did, elements such as character might have been neglected here and there. Certainly not all the characters are fleshed out. You might consider that the films are, in a sense, a partial retelling, a reimagining of the very base broth of The Hobbit. Fairy-tales and myths are given this treatment regularly enough.

You might not enjoy The Hobbit – but make sure it’s for the right reasons. That it wasn’t to your taste or that it didn’t work for you. But not because you’re inexplicably annoyed it exists at all.

The Hobbit - Thorin and Bilbo (screenshot)It offers so much, gives so much. Imagines and suggests so much. From the fact that one small person, however diminutive, can alter the course of the world quite by accident, and still triumph in the end. The idea that everything is linked by threads of fate that span generations. Love between those taught to hate one another. Loyalty and friendship and redemption.

Most of these things are in the books, but on the big screen they are turned up to eleven. They come to life in a way that Tolkien’s prose held them back from, in a way that Tolkien’s era would never have considered.

There will always be terrible elements about any film franchise. Always. But in this, the final instalment of The Hobbit, as the credits role with beautiful illustrations and you glimpse the legion of people responsible for bringing such a dream to cinema, with Pippin singing “The Last Farewell”, there is emotion and hope and a heartfelt goodbye.

I sincerely hope more films are explored, more of Middle Earth imagined and brought to life. Because why stop here when there’s a wide, wide world out there, ready and waiting and rich and full? Why stop, when the stories are just there, within reach? Why stop, when the road goes ever on and on?

Lonely Mountain

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Rating: 8.7/10 (39 votes cast)
Roads Go Ever Ever On, 8.7 out of 10 based on 39 ratings
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6 Comments

  1. Derek says:

    The reasons you stop seem fairly straight forward to me. Don’t mind my cliches but:
    1: Quality over quantity
    2: Too much of a good thing

    I don’t want them trying to create something out of nothing or stretching some story from The Silmarillion that only a very select audience will really resonate with. I don’t want this wonderful world to end with what a large part of the population may deem a flop just because they don’t understand it or that they have no connection with it.

    It’s like your favorite all star athlete at the end of his career. You love the guy and you desperately want him to continue playing but (another cliche) when it’s time, it’s time.

    Hold these experiences tight, love them, but asking for more of the same quality is just being greedy at this point.

  2. Heather Abbott says:

    Just wanted to say, this is an excellent review, and I agree very much with your pointers.
    I would love to see more into the Middle Earth world, and stories beyond the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and being someone who doesn’t read very much, the films gave me that chance to really explore that world, and it’s been a roller-coaster the whole way.

  3. Phil Norris says:

    Well said, I’ve never got the negativity turning The Hobbit into 3 films. I will agree with some critics though that Battle was over heavy with CGI, a fact that was hammered home to me when I rewatched the original trilogy the weekend after seeing it. I think the worst example of this CGI overkill was Dain Ironfoot.

    I feel the Hobbit trilogy should be embraced as pure epic fantasy and something we are highly unlikely to see again simply because Tolkien’s work has such a presence in the cultural mind that I’m not sure if any other franchise would grab the attention of the public in the same way.

    I glad I have to date all the extended editions, and will buy the extended version of Battle as well. They are films to savour, a story to get lost in.

  4. Lockie says:

    I think the main reason people cry about the Hobbit is because they think they are somehow unique in their Hobby! That Fantasy is for some secluded few who only they can understand. That only THEIR interpretation of a work of fiction is right.
    Well they can’t be more wrong! People who read fantasy want their minds to travel in new worlds and this happens to ALMOST everyone so you have thousands of point of views and thousand of interpretations to pick from!
    We just need to understand that it is the journey of our imagination we love rather than the dogma!

  5. First off, immediate extra points for the title of the article. Well done.

    There are few (if any) worlds that have inspired such a sense of awe and wonder in so many over such a long time period, so I too felt a little sad coming out of the theatre of the last of the Hobbit movies. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I do hope to see more movies set in Middle Earth. The fleshed out stories are done, but I think that there is enough lore there to cover more ground. Though the bar may be pretty low with me – I’d pay to see Peter Jackson read the Lord of the Rings on IMAX (only partially kidding). No CGI required.

    I think the best part of the movies was that people everywhere were either introduced to or reminded of a love of fantasy. There’s so much good stuff out there right now that hopefully people will leave with the same feeling of wanting more and decide to read more of it.

  6. […] Geschichten bedienen. Welche fallen euch sofort ein? Zu diesem Beitrag rund um die Bedeutung der modernen Mittelerdeadaptionen möchte ich eigentlich nichts hinzufügen. Er spricht wunderbar für sich und besonders die, denen […]

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