Saturday, July 2, 2011

It Begins

So, Thursday I bought a copy of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY for the first time in a long time -- not for any interest in the cover story (about a show I've never watched, and hadn't even known was based on a novel series by a writer now living in my old hometown*), but because I saw a little headline in the upper left corner: "THE HOBBIT: A Sneak Peek from Peter Jackson."

This turns out to herald a four-page piece on the forthcoming film, three and a half pages of which are pictures and the remaining half-page a brief interview with Jackson. And with this, the whole game of lamenting the things Jackson changed can begin.**

Up till now, those of us interested in the film have mainly been wondering how much of the original Jackson was going to include (the consensus: just about everything), which actors & actresses from the LotR film trilogy wd be returning in at least cameo roles (the answer: just about all of them who can plausibly do so), and what bits of off-stage action (like the White Council) or flashbacks (Smaug's original attack on Dale & the Mt, Thrain's doomed expedition) might find its way on-camera (the evidence so far: at least some). But what we cdn't tell was what Jackson might add, and what he might change. Some of the things he added to the original films worked spectacularly well (most memorably the beacon-fires sequence) while others fell spectacularly flat (Frodo repudiating Sam's companionship nr Cirith Ungol). The same was true of the things he changed: some proved to be great ideas (recasting Sam as more a friend than a lackey) and others duds (Denethor as a slavering loon). But there's been no way to guess what Jackson would add or change this time around.

Until now. Two very small examples can be gleaned from this article, brief as it is. The first is mention of the casting of an actress (Evangeline Lilly) to play an elf named Tauriel -- a character nowhere appearing in Tolkien's book. I suspect she wears a red shirt, but more on that another time. So here we have something new added -- we run into quite a lot of wood-elves in the course of the story, only one of whom (Galion) is given a name, so working up one of that faceless lot into a recognizable character makes sense.

The other example is the sort of innocuous change that drove Tolkien into a state when it occurred in the Zimmerman script,** the only film adaptation of one of his books he's known to have examined closely. One of the shots from the film shows Bilbo examining his contract, which is a long, long many-folded ream of paper, quite unlike the simple, terse contract given verbatim in the book (and reproduced in facsimile by Tolkien himself as a single two-sided sheet). Furthermore, the accompanying caption explains that

"Bilbo's actually got to sign a contract the dwarves have written up, and there's nothing like Dwarvish fine print"

Thus, the scene as Tolkien wrote it, with the contract being left on the mantle for Bilbo to find the next day after the dwarves have left, will be changed for a bit of comic business. What's not clear is how the new scene they'll have to write to replace it will play out -- just that the idea that they've offered him their terms rather casually, which he'll accept simply by turning up, seems to gone by the way. All we know is that the scene as filmed will be rather different from what's in the book. How well the new story will work or not we'll just have to wait and see (literally).

At any rate, from here on out we shd be getting a stream of detailed information about the film, although paradoxically I suspect this will give us relatively little insight into what the film itself will be like.

--John R.
current reading: BLOOMSBURY PIE by Regina Marler and PORTRAITS IN MINIATUE by Lytton Strachey.

*TRUE BLOOD and Charlaine Harris, respectively.

**Tolkien objected, strongly, to the scene in the script at the Prancing Pony where the innkeeper assigned Mr. Underhill room number fourteen and had him sign the registry.

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