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As a small, dumpy man with inordinately hairy feet, I’ve long felt a certain affinity for hobbits. Tolkien’s books and Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings trilogy were up there with nu-metal and clinical depression as defining features of my early teens; and unlike those other two things, something I look back on with great affection. Over the past year I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of The Hobbit, the prequel to LOTR, and this week it’s finally arriving in cinemas.
Or rather, part of it is. It was announced some time ago that The Hobbit would be split into two films, and then again more recently that it’s now going to be a trilogy. Which is quite an achievement, given that the book is barely more than two hundred pages long.
So how has The Hobbit ended up taking longer to watch than it does to read? These are my theories:
1. Including everything from the book
With LOTR, the epic scale and associated lengthy running time was only to be expected. I own the collected paperback edition of the book, and even with extra-thin paper, it’s so heavy that a cash-strapped slaughterhouse worker could use it to stun cows. Even the extended versions of the films leave out or condense certain scenes – which inevitably led to anguished outcries from devoted fans who felt personally slighted by the omission of key moments such as The Scouring of The Shire or meeting Tom Bombadil.
This time, perhaps, Jackson’s taking no chances, and every single line, moment and twitch of an eyebrow from the original has made it on screen. Expect the entire first hour of this first movie to consist of nothing but Bilbo angrily refusing to go on any adventures while Gandalf makes knowing looks to camera.
2. Including things that weren’t in the book
If there’s the time and space to work with, why not? It’s quite possible that it only ended up so long because they were trying to make sure the audience could tell all the dwarves apart. (It’s not racist to say they all look the same if they’re fantasy characters, and anyway, there’s thirteen of them. That’s at least six too many.) Or maybe the funding depended on product placement, and that’s why there’s a scene where they all stop to quench their thirst at the mystical Pepsi stream. Maybe they’ll even all meet Tom bloody Bombadil at last. Whatever happens, you can guarantee that someone, somewhere, will still be upset that their favourite bit wasn’t in it.
3. Justifying the 3D
Of course it’s in 3D. Everything’s screened in 3D these days, from football matches to pre-natal scans. Give it five years and your most boring mate will be showing you their 3D wedding video, where you have to put on silly glasses so you can feel like their mum’s hat is about to poke your eyes out.
The thing is, though, The Hobbit is mostly about some guys who go for a long walk. There’s a dragon at the end, but it’s going to take two films to get there, and they’re going to need to throw in some multi-dimensional moments in the meantime. So between all the aerial shots of mountains and bushy beards looming towards you, it’s going to be like a trip to a bear bar in Cumbria. To complete the audiovisual experience, why not take along some poppers and Kendal mint cake?
4. Musical numbers
If there was one thing Tolkien loved – asides from constructing imaginary languages and harping on about pipe-smoking – it was throwing in interludes where everyone has a bit of a sing-song. Almost all of these were taken out of LOTR on the grounds that everyone skimmed over those bits anyway, but now there’s time, why not leave the songs in and turn it into a musical extravaganza?
This might not be a bad thing, if only because Hugo Weaving’s in it, and he has form in this department. I will forgive everything else that might go wrong with The Hobbit if there’s a bit where Elrond dances on a rock while wearing a shiny green ballgown.
5. A fifteen-minute sequence of Martin Freeman rolling his eyes and sighing at things
It’s what he’s best at, after all.