The Confidence Index….in which we assess the chance that an upcoming adaptation of a novel/book/short story/comic will not suck. A score of 10 means we are expecting THE GODFATHER. A score of 1 means…well, did you see Catwoman?
In the history of adaptations of beloved literary works, Peter Jackson’s forthcoming The Hobbit has to be the surest-fire bet of all time.* It’s such a sure-fire bet, that it didn’t even occur to me to do a Confidence Index for it. But, this series of on-set visits made me realize something: I’m weirdly unexcited for this movie. This is strange for a couple of reasons. First, I’m a lifelong fan of the novel. As a kid, I preferred it to the The Lord of the Rings trilogy (though this has changed in my adult-phase). Second, I loved Jackson’s take on Middle Earth (save Gimli’s occasional channeling of Jar Jar Binks and Bloom’s dead-eyed Legolas).
So why am I not busting out my faux hobbit feet and jumping on the bandwagon? Hmmmmm.
The Hobbit is a neater, smaller story than the sprawling, never-ending LOTR trilogy, and in many ways is a training-wheels version of it: naive protagonist whisked into a larger world, traveling band of weirdos, simple quest to a mountain, huge battles, giant spider, Gandalf, and more backstory than is really necessary.
This, I think, will actually be a weakness of the new movie. Rather than ratcheting up the stakes, as most good sequels do, prequels lower them (since you know the parameters of what can actually happen). Given the immense scale of LOTR, The Hobbit can’t help but feel small by comparison.
Look, Peter Jackson and company did an unbelievable, historically awesome job with LOTR. No doubt about it and all praise be to them for doing the series justice. Since then, though, their track record has been pretty bad (King Kong, The Lovely Bones, and heavy involvement in Tin Tin sucked whatever clout they had in Hollywood right up), and I wonder if there is pressure on them here. Will they overreach? Or can they manage the remarkable fidelity they exhibited before? They’re already splitting the novel into two movies and adding material not in The Hobbit to flesh it out (cue nervousness from some).
Frankly, I was more interested when Guillermo del Toro was attached to direct. As much as I loved Jackson’s take on Tolkien’s world, I was ready for something a little more daring.
It looks like the band is getting back together. We know what this movie is going to look and feel like. At this point, I sort of think that is more a weakness than a strength.
McKellen is back as Gandalf; Serkis will be doing his bang-on mo-cap Gollum**; and rumor has it that Bloom and Mortensen will be on the edges of the movie. So a few familiar faces. Martin Freeman as Bilbo is spot-on; in The Office and The Hitchhiker’s Guide he did an awkward, but game everyman to perfection. (Now that I think about it, Ford Prefect (ed: I meant Arthur Dent) and Bilbo Baggins are parallel figures, both thrust out of their daily lives into a world beyond their comprehension and guided by people of mysterious motivation and origin).
Other than that, it’s a bunch of dwarves (played by people I’ve never heard of) and a bad-ass talking dragon. Smaug will be voiced by someone with a Shire-ready name, Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch has been playing a modern-day Sherlock Holmes in the recent BBC series (alongside Freeman’s Watson, coincidentally enough) and will most likely be quite good.
All in all, casting is what you’d expect, a mixture of solid knowns and most-likely more than competent unknowns. Whatever else happens, at least Elijah Woods’ part-British, part-Katharine Hepburn accent won’t be around to befuddle us. (I actually though he did fine. Just the accent was an on-going mystery).
As I mentioned at the top, what will it be like to return to this world that has already been explored so completely, but with a narrower field of vision? I suspect it will be satisfying, but not thrilling. The damnable part is that we only now know how good Jackson is with Middle Earth and so should have gotten The Hobbit first, and then could have seen the pressure ratcheted-up and the canvas expanded in LOTR.
The Confidence Index: 8.5 (The second time on the roller-coaster is never as exciting, even though it’s exactly the same.)
*Not sure what the other contenders are here, but as soon I finished the last Harry Potter book, I knew the last movie would at least be decent. If we throw comic adaptations into the mix, Nolan’s second crack at the Caped Crusader also seemed like money in the bank (and it was, and more).
**As admirable as Serkis’ performance of Gollum was, the character is almost unwatchable after multiple viewings of the trilogy (“multiple” might be underselling it a bit). Great, but unwatchable (as if Schindler’s List were a single character).