Doubts on The Hobbit

Of course it’s good news that Peter Jackson agreed to return to Middle-Earth, thereby ensuring that the story of Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield and the dragon Smaug wouldn’t end up in the hands of some studio hack. But I can’t say I’m as wild with geekcitement over the news as you might expect. For one thing, making The Hobbit after making Lord of the Rings is like serving a tasty appetizer after a rich-beyond-belief main course: It’s fine so far as it goes, but it can’t help summon up unflattering comparisons to the dish that preceded it. I love The Hobbit, obviously, and I'll be lining up to see what Jackson makes of it. But it’s a minor work compared with the books that follow, and as such the idea of seeing it adapted for the movies generates interest and curiosity, rather than the wild excitement I felt at having the chance to see The Lord of the Rings brought to life on screen.

Then there’s this:

Word is flying fast & furious: Team Jackson, New Line, and MGM have made nice and are gearing up to launch 2 HOBBIT movies ... One will be an adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's THE HOBBIT. The second project is believed to be a bridge between THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy - culled from the titanic amount of periphery/ ancillary/ notated material found in Tolkien's works.

Hmmm. Well, yes, there are interesting tales to be told in the bridge years between the Battle of Five Armies and the Long-Expected Party. For that matter, there are interesting stories to be told about every epoch of Middle-Earth’s history, and they’re all helpfully written down in Tolkien’s copious appendices and histories and sagas. But none of them comprise readily filmable narratives in the way of Lord of the Rings; all of them would require not only heavy editing and reshaping, but also significant invention on the part of the screenwriter. And while I trust Jackson and Company more than I would trust anyone else in Hollywood where Tolkien is concerned, I can’t say that I was entirely wowed by the portions of Lord of the Rings where they veered dramatically from the original text. Which means the prospect of having them essentially manufacture a prequel – and if it does well at the box office, you know there will be others – leaves me a little cold, and a lot worried. It's not that part of me doesn't want to see a hundred Tolkien adaptations bloom (forget 3:10 to Yuma: how about Russell Crowe as Castamir the Usurper, paired with Christian Bale as Eldacar, in 3:10 to Pelargir?). It's just that I suspect that opening the doors to "prequels" open the door to exploitation and commercialization, and a downward spiral that has the Lord of the Rings: The Phantom Menace and Jar Jar Balrog at the bottom of it. Better, I think, for Jackson to make The Hobbit, and then quit while he's – and we’re – ahead.

Update: Peter Suderman offers a more serious reason to doubt - that Peter Jackson is only signed to produce, rather than direct, the new Tolkien adaptations.