We have just about a year to go until Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" reaches theaters. I've been trying to keep myself away from the production news, but I have heard that there is a teaser out there, that may be attached to some sort of action-adventure spectacle that's coming out in a week or two. I have my doubts about how good "The Hobbit" will be, but then I'm the doubting sort, prone to blowing small rumors totally out of proportion. On the other hand, I think I'm right to be worried about the extensive list of rumored cameos, Jackson monkeying with the frame rates, and the fact that "The Hobbit" has been split into two films. And, um, "The Lovely Bones" happened. But there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful that "The Hobbit," won't end up being the Middle Earth equivalent of the "Star Wars" prequels. I enumerate some of them below:
1) It's Pre-Existing Material - "The Hobbit" was always the most accessible of J.R.R. Tolkein's books. The story is simpler than "Lord of the Rings," has already been adapted a few times in various media, and is an all-around much better fit for the kind of big special-effects laden spectacle that Peter Jackson and his crew are so good at. As prequels go, it's starting out from a much better place than just about every other franchise that has attempted one. Even if Jackson does expand the story and go off on original tangents, at least we can be assured that "The Hobbit" will have a rock solid narrative backbone.
2) Lots of Old Familiar Faces - It would have been fun to see what Guillermo Del Toro would have come up with, but come on. Nobody really wanted anyone but Peter Jackson to direct "The Hobbit." And now that Jackson has fully expended all the goodwill that the "Lord of the Rings" afforded him on his passion projects, he's at the point where he needs the "Hobbit" movies about as much as they need him. And though there have been lengthy delays in the project brought on by the MGM bankruptcy, it wasn't too late for Ian McKellan to return as Gandalf the Grey, and a bunch of other "Rings" alumni to line up for appearances.
3) Not Made in a Vacuum - I am grateful for Del Toro being involved in the project, because a lot of times when successful filmmakers get a hold of too much creative freedom, and there's nobody to tell them that something isn't going to work, their ambitions can get a little out of hand. You know, like the "Star Wars" prequels, the "Matrix" sequels, and so on. The collaboration with Guillermo Del Toro hopefully provided some good friction and helped to reign in some of Jackson's self-indulgences as a director, which were already becoming noticeable in "Return of the King." I wish directors did this sort of thing more often.
4) Not the First in Line - There's something to be said for the fact that "The Hobbit" is being made now, in the age of prequels and extended multi-part movies, which were relative rarities ten years ago. Jackson will be able to learn from the mistakes of the ones that have gone wrong, and hopefully pick up a few pointers from the ones that have been done right, like this summer's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and the final "Harry Potter." Tolkein fans may argue that "The Hobbit" isn't really a prequel, but in this context the new movies will be. We can certainly expect a few callbacks to the trilogy, and it has long been rumored that the second "Hobbit" will set up "The Lord of the Rings."
5) Smaug the Dragon - Smaug the dragon is my favorite character from Middle Earth, and he is a proper villain. Not some floating eyeball stuck on a tower, not some Grim Reaper equestrian club, but a freaking dragon. One who can fly, talk, breathe fire, and is a badass, and I have been waiting for too damn long to see a proper cinema version of him. He was animated once back in the 70s, but not to very good effect. Jackson's version is still under wraps, but we do know that he's going to be voiced by "Sherlock's," Benedict Cumberbatch. Now how utterly perfect is that?
I can't wait until next December. There are a lot of ways "The Hobbit," could turn out to be a disappointment, but I've got a good feeling about this one. Fingers crossed.