So, it's been a while since there was much news on THE HOBBIT movie. Kristin Thompson's website continues to have updates from time to time, but these have mostly been "where-are-they-now" snippets about current projects for alumna of the Peter Jackson LotR films and the occasional report on the ongoing lawsuits.
Then, starting about a month or so ago, new news has been beginning to show up. It seems that the studios are going ahead with the assumption that the Tolkien Estate's lawsuit (insisting they be paid their share for the last films before the next are made) will be resolved.
Earlier this year, reports about the two films would have it that the first would focus on THE HOBBIT and the second on filling the gap between Bilbo's return from his journey and Gandalf's arrival for Bilbo's Long-Expected Party many years later. The obvious problem with this plan is that while we know a good deal about what happens during that gap, from flashbacks in LotR and the invaluable Appendices, Tolkien never wrote the story of that period. Which means that the scriptwriters would have to forge a narrative out of the bits and pieces available -- "The Deeds of Young Aragorn", as it were. Such a film would no doubt focus on bringing in as many characters as possible from the LotR films, so they could draw back audiences and capitalize on the star power of those actors & actresses. But the prospect of scriptwriters creating a story on par with THE HOBBIT or THE LORD OF THE RINGS to stand between them is a dubious one.
That's why the recent news posted on Kristin's site (http://www.kristinthompson.net/blog/?p=637) is particularly welcome. According to a recent Peter Jackson/Guillermo del Toro interview (http://www.empireonline.com/news/story.asp?NID=24610), the plan is now to do a two-part HOBBIT movie, rather than THE HOBBIT plus a filler film.
This is especially good news because it means THE HOBBIT won't get cut up to fit into a single three-hour time slot -- folks dazzled by the richness of THE LORD OF THE RINGS often forget just how full of adventures Bilbo's journey is, and almost all his encounters on the way out feed into the grand climax of the Battle of Five Armies.
What will the Jackson/del Toro HOBBIT look like?
Well, we know what a Peter Jackson Tolkien movie looks like.
We know what a del Toro fantasy movie looks like (cf. HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY).
Therefore, we have a pretty good idea of what THE HOBBIT movie shd be like.
We know that Ian McKellan has agreed to return to play Gandalf, and the Andy Serkis has agreed to play Gollum. We know that Weta Workshop will once again be supplying the special effects. We know that Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens will again be doing the script(s) -- apparently with del Toro also contributing (that's a LOT of scriptwriters). We know that Alan Lee and John Howe will once again be doing concept art. We know that Howard Shore will NOT be returning, since working with Jackson on four straight films was apparently for him like Tenniel's working with Lewis Carroll on the ALICE books, despite the admirable results of those collaborations in both cases.
I suspect a major goal will be to look as much like FR/TT/RK as possible -- from the studio's point of view, why mess with success? In my heart of hearts, I find it hard to believe that Jackson will maintain his hands-off approach, but we'll see.
In any case, at this stage I'm curious about what we might call The Known Unknowns and the Unknown Unknowns. We know, given our experience with the LORD OF THE RINGS films, that Jackson et al. will feel no compunction about cutting scenes or changing characters if they think it will make a better movie. Balanced against that is the lesson learned from the earlier films that the closer they stay to Tolkien's text, the more the fans like it.
The part that's hard to remember is that it's not so much a matter of trying to guess which scenes will stay in* as in not being able to anticipate what they'll add. Given Jackson's track record, there will almost certainly be a number of new scenes added, or changed beyond recognition, to create 'cliffhanger moments' or achieve some cinematic effect.
One guess: I think the film will open with Smaug's attack on Dale & The Kingdom Under the Mountain.
Two details we do know: they'll bring some off-screen moments into the main story, including Gandalf's exploration of Dol Guldur and the meeting(s) of the White Council (which in turn will provide a good excuse to bring in Galadriel and Christopher Lee's Saruman).
Three big questions to which we don't, at this point, have even the glimmer of an answer:
#1: Who will they cast as Bilbo? Ian Holm would be ideal, but at his age he might not be up the rigours Mr. Jackson likes to put his cast through. If I had my choice, I'd tap Hugh Laurie, who's not only the right age to play Bilbo (fifty-ish) but has shown he can both play silly Bertie Wooster and smart, efficient Doctor House. I suspect, however, that they'll go for someone with tween appeal -- another Elijah Wood, so to speak.
#2: Will they include all thirteen dwarves? I'm sure the temptation will be there to trim Thorin & Company a bit, leaving out characters who have few if any memorable moments (e.g. Nori, Ori, Oin, Bifur, Bofur, perhaps Dwalin). I suspect in the end they'll include them all, but making them all distinct and memorable will be quite a challenge, especially under all that make-up.
#3: THE HOBBIT has not a single speaking part for a female character. Will they feel this is a shortcoming they have to fix? Enhancing Arwen's role in LotR is one thing -- Tolkien himself might well have done so had he created the character earlier than he did in the drafting (though not along the lines they did!) -- but converting male characters to female or inserting new female characters into the film(s) both seem like bad options. I suspect they may play around with options a bit but in the end just tell the story more-or-less as they find it.
Finally, where will they split the story between the First and Second films? Kristin suggests the break will come just at the point where they're preparing to enter Mirkwood. My own choice would be just before their arrival at Lake-Town: I think the line "The Lonely Mountain! Bilbo had come far and through many adventures to see it, and now he did not like the look of it in the least" makes for a beautifully ominous parting note.
*though I'm as prone to temptation on that point as anyone, and plan to make a future post giving my guesses.