7 Things The Hobbit needs to do in order to be a success
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The Hobbit is coming, bringing with it all the furry feet and "platonic" Hobbit love that we can digest. However, what specifically must The Hobbit concentrate on to guarantee its success?...
So its official, The Hobbit has commenced filming, with the new cast confirmed and many of the original due to feature through cameos. Despite production issues that threatened to end the movie before it had even begun, The Hobbit has finally been given the go-ahead.
In fact, so keen was the New Zealand government to entice the crew back, that they changed employment laws and gave millions of dollars in tax-breaks to accommodate filming on their shores and end the hold-up created by a union boycott. Originally in the hands of Guillermo Del Toro, direction is now back with Peter Jackson, which will please Lord of the Rings faithful, but leave many lovers of Del Toro’s work to ever wonder what a hauntingly beautiful - yet dark - story he would have made of Tolkien’s book.
The casting of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins is one of the greatest talking points of the film, at least for us fellow Brits, so it is with this that we will kick off an - admittedly personal - ponder of what The Hobbit needs to do in order to be a success.
1. Focus on performance rather than rely on Freeman’s looks.
On IMBD message boards as long ago as 2004, fans of Lord of the Rings were crying out for Martin Freeman to play Bilbo Baggins. However, the over-riding reason cited by contributors was not to do with Freeman’s acting prowess, but the virtue of the fact that, in their eyes, he looked like a Hobbit. That Martin Freeman has the look of a hobbit is undeniable; with looks that are not so much movie-star leading man, than the funniest mate among your drinking buddies, Freeman has a comical, affable face that will easily convey the simple honesty of Bilbo Baggins.
In The Office and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Freeman’s role is a supporting one, there to represent the hapless everyman who can only react to situations beyond his control - and Freeman admittedly does this very well; but in his previous work he never seems to be called upon to carry the story. Bilbo has to be so much more than a lovable buffoon and Freeman must be the same. If looking like the character you are to play was a primary pre-requisite, then Ronnie Corbett and Danny De Vito would also be up for the role.
And talking of Freeman…
2. No mugging for the camera.
In The Office, the first dozen or so times Freeman glanced at the camera with a Stan-Laurel-esque comic double take was funny. Then it got annoying; then very annoying. I know Freeman is a watchable, funny guy, but - please God - let us not have him mugging and goofing around with sighing, face-pulling and eye-brow raising that will drag us out of the story and back into The Office.
3. Resist stuffing the story with new characters.
The Hobbit features characters and plots that, whilst afforded barely a fleeting mention by Tolkien, are fleshed out into fuller characters. The justification for the creation of two films to tell the one story was explained through the fact that the book was so expansive that two films were essential. If Jackson had reined in his writing enthusiasm a little more, then I could believe this. Although yet to be officially confirmed, Saoirse Ronan (Atonement and The Lovely Bones) is rumoured to be cast in the role of Itaril - a role that gets little more than a mention in the book - but, suggested by a casting call for the role, will be a far more developed character that Tolkien envisaged. Taking a classic tale and embellishing it with his own ideas seems to be a trait of Jackson’s; you only have to look at the original King Kong compared to Jackson’s re-telling to see how this is exemplified. The Hobbit is - whether Jackson will admit it or not - more than tell-able in a single movie, and it's not just cynics like me that recognise that more movies mean more money (why else is the last Harry Potter book shot over two movies?).The worst case scenario if Jackson gets keyboard happy? A love interest for Bilbo? Heaven forbid.
4. Tell a great story without getting carried away with special effects.
Much has been made of the fact that Jackson is releasing The Hobbit in a 48 frames per second format, as opposed to the standard 24. Ok, fair enough, this will admittedly eliminate any blur in fast moving shots and will deliver a sharper picture but, combine this with all the hoo-ha about CGI and 3D and Jackson is precariously balanced between the taglines of great storyteller and visually-obsessed sell-out. If this was to happen, The Hobbit could simply become a visual epic, one so obsessed with its look and superficial add-ons that the end product has more style than substance. When you think of Avatar and Star Wars, is it the story that you remember or the costumes, sets and special effects? As a result, The Hobbit has to do both. For me, The Lord of the Rings was both an engaging, moving tale and a visual marvel. With the same use of CGI and all the other hi-tech additions, Jackson must avoid turning into George Lucas and ensure that The Hobbit remains first and foremost a damn good story.
5. Resist the all-star cast list.
A look at the cast list for the 13 dwarves who accompany Bilbo throws up few particularly well-known faces. Aside from the occasional soap star, or part-time theatrical enthusiast, the only really well known faces seem to be James Nesbitt and Ken Stott. However, as far as I'm concerned this is a good thing, as there is nothing worse than a movie that crams in a bunch of celebrities that appear again and again in the same, family blockbuster type offerings.
All this does is act as a distraction, with the Harry Potter films being especially guilty of this. We know who they are, that troupe of (usually British) thespians who deliver their parts with an over-zealous enthusiasm that reflects their theatrical background, before trawling the interview circuit to plug their role in the film to death. By the time the film is released, all that comes across on screen is them, playing themselves, dressed in a costume. When a face is relatively unknown, they can utterly inhabit the role without the audience thinking ‘ooh, it’s whatsisname from that film'. Furthermore, it avoids from the often inevitable case of the look-who-we’ve-got-in-our-movie cast list, which is a cringe-worthy, embarrassing bunch of scenes strung together so that the gang of luvvies can show off; something that film makers seem to assume that audiences Love, Actually.
One of the greatest advantages of the casting of Martin Freeman will be that, for non-British audiences at least, he is fairly unknown and to them will be only Bilbo from The Hobbit. Now, if I can just avoid watching any of my Office box set until after The Hobbit’s release, I should be ok.
6. Don’t show the film in bits before the release.
It’s going to happen; it always does. Just as so many films tell the whole damn story in the trailer, The Hobbit’s sets, plot, costumes and locations are already being revealed via the Jackson Facebook blog. Then there will be the clips, the endless yakking on about the film via the interviews, the ‘making of’ documentaries and so on. I really hope Peter Jackson holds some of the good stuff back so that by the time we sit down to watch the film, it does not feel like a repeat.
7. Ignore all of the above.
Let’s face it, the legacy of The Lord of The Rings will ensure that The Hobbit will be a commercial success, even if it turns out to be a cliché-riddled effort; adapted by Danny Dyer; with no plot whatsoever; shot in Luton and featuring the entire cast of Hollyoaks and a score by The Wurzels. The film's namesake - combined with the legacy and fan base of the original book - will be enough to entice a large enough portion of the audience through the cinema doors to ensure that the producers live financially happy ever after.
But thankfully it isn’t. It's Tolkien; it's New Zealand; and it's Peter Jackson – so, by my account, The Hobbit should be just fine.
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