People like to complain that film adaptations of novels almost never do the books justice. The biggest issue is movies cutting story lines, important scenes and even characters that feature in their source books. Sometimes this is because movies are too short to pack in everything. Other times, it’s about scenes in novels just not lending themselves to film. (In books, characters’ thoughts in italics work — as echoey voice-overs in films, not so much.)
So when I read that Peter Jackson is expanding The Hobbit, splitting an intended two films into three, I was excited. This series of films could easily be 7, 8 or even 9 hours long — plenty of time to tell the story, including lots of the tiny details about Middle Earth that make The Hobbit such an intriguing read. As Peter Jackson wrote on his Facebook:
We were really pleased with the way the story was coming together, in particular, the strength of the characters and the cast who have brought them to life. All of which gave rise to a simple question: Do we take this chance to tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as the filmmakers, and as fans, was an unreserved ‘yes.’
But some complain that splitting The Hobbit into three parts will be far too long-winded for film. (And some say it’s just the studio milking it.) The Lord of the Rings novels were split into three detailed, action-packed, absolutely magical movies — and they included all the right parts, in my opinion. To split The Hobbit, a single novel, into three films seems excessive in comparison. It’s an epic story, but certainly not more epic than LOTR. So what could Peter Jackson possibly be including in these films to warrant a third installment? (We already know he’s getting into the appendices…)
But it seems to me that most long adaptations that didn’t work — Dune is an example, pick any adaptation — were bad because the scripts were bad, the acting was bad, the costumes were bad, the set design was bad, the budget was bad… In short, long adaptations are not necessarily too long to be good, they’re poor for a host of other reasons.
Other adaptations are long for their source material (Brokeback Mountain) — and that can really work. The details included in the movies aren’t dull or unnecessary; they are the meat of the story and give every page of the source material life on the screen.
Peter Jackson is a director who seems soulfully dedicated to source material and to the art of telling stories in ways that are as intimate as they are compelling. I trust him as a fan of Tolkein’s world and works. After LOTR, I trust him as a storyteller, too. And that means I will happily see every installment of The Hobbit when each is released. I expect these movies will be very packed with detail, so I’ll come prepared for that.
In a way, these movies — as rich with detail as they’re likely to be — may be among the first adaptations that are truly tailored to the books’ fans. I can’t kid myself into thinking that everything that’s appealing in the book will be as exciting on film, but I’m looking forward to seeing some of the book’s smaller details and much of Middle Earth’s history given life in these movies.