Pretty much everybody that cares about the upcoming Hobbit films must have heard by now about the 10-minute preview of footage from the first movie that Peter Jackson revealed at CinemaCon 2012. And even more people have probably heard of the mixed (mostly-negative might be more honest) that the preview got from industry experts and Tolkien fans alike (read this article for a quick sample of movie experts' reactions and scroll to the bottom of this article for a sample of the divided opinions coming from Tolkien enthusiasts). In fact, the negative reactions were strong enough that Peter Jackson himself wrote up a response several days later (relayed to us by the ever-vigilant DarkJackal).
But the truth is, I don't understand what everyone is so worked up about. Read on past the break to see why I don't think anything we've learned from this preview is that big a deal.
Most regular folks didn't get a change to see the footage, so theonering.net was kind enough to send their host Quickbeam out to Vegas to watch the preview and then relay it to the rest of us. He wrote up a great summary of everything he saw, which you can read here.
Now, I'll be the first to admit I'm not the most tech-savvy guy out there when it comes to movies and film . . . so the whole bruhahah about the 48 frames-per-second is a little beyond me. Frankly, I just want to see the movie . . . I'm not too concerned about whether it's in 2D or 3D or anything else. However, the controversy over the fidelity of the films to Tolkien's original work (and to a much lesser extent, the continuity between the new films to the previous LOTR films) is of interest/concern to me. And it's that question of fidelity to the story and world that Tolkien created that has a lot of fans up in arms at the moment.
Just what are they so angry about? After perusing the web for a bit, it seems like lovers of the Hobbit and LOTR books are angry about two things revealed in the footage preview:
- A scene where Gandalf finds nine tombs that the Ringwraiths were supposedly sealed into by the Dunedain of the North (Aragorn's folk, if you're wondering); when our trusty wizard finds the tombs they've been broken open and their "spells of binding" have been broken
- Radagast . . . yeah, pretty much everything about the Brown Wizard's debut has people up in arms
Tombs and Binding Spells: The Ringwraiths
Here's Quickbeam's description of two scenes: first, a meeting of the White Council, and second, the moment when Gandalf finds the Ringwraith's empty tombs:
This showed Sir Christopher Lee in front of greenscreen, looking at the table where Gandalf has just placed a Morgul blade. Urgent discussion ensues about the nature of the weapon, and a luminous Cate Blanchett gets the lion’s share of the expository dialogue. She explains how the Men of the North once battled against the Witch-King of Angmar, and succeeded in burying him in a spell-protected crypt, “so dark and deeply buried it would never see light again.” Gandalf raises his eyebrows as if to say, “It’s right here, so never say never.” Hugo Weaving provides the deep-voiced “But that’s impossible!” incredulity of the scene while the faintest flicker of wickedness passes across Saruman’s face.
Cut to the prison-crypt, where Gandalf is investigating in the dark, using only his staff as a light source, and then BAM! there’s Radagast right behind him. . . As Gandalf whips around to see who is sneaking up on him, he exhales rather irritated, “Oh, it’s you,” followed by Radagast’s frightened admission that the crypt they’re standing in “is not a nice place to meet.” He also has a glowing crystal piece in his staff, and leaning over the vertical shaft, they both look down over the edge, as Gandalf counts a total of nine tombs, all with their spells broken and bars ripped.
|The Witch-King, Alan Lee|
But if we look a little closer, we find that the scenes depicting the White Council discussing the Ringwraiths, and Gandalf and Radagast finding the empty tombs aren't so much pure invention, as they are an amalgamation of many different ideas that Peter Jackson pulled from scattered areas of Tolkien's work. For example, we know that the White Council met several times to discuss the growing evil of Dol Guldur and what they should do about it . . . and that at first they feared a Nazgûl had taken up residence in Dol Guldur. So the idea that the White Council would be discussing the Nine isn't at all far-fetched.
And the scene with the tombs? Well, there is the issue that the Ringwraiths never actually died (remember, Rings of Power simply prolong the existence of their owners), they're kind of just stuck in limbo, so tombs seem a bit premature. Plus, Tolkien explicitly detailed the final battles between the Men of the North and the Witch King of Angmar, and there is never any mention of tombs or binding spells.
On the other hand, the hobbits in LOTR encounter barrow-wights, and Aragorn recruits the King of Dead and his armies to fight for Gondor, so clearly Tolkien was comfortable with the idea of haunted tombs and ghosts. And when Tomb Bombadil drives the barrow-wight from it's tomb, the whole barrow actually collapses, so the Ringwraiths physically breaking out of their tombs isn't entirely un-Tolkien either. And it turns out that binding spells aren't that strange either (at least from a Middle-earth point of view).
Gimli took his arm and helped him down to a seat on the step. "What happened away up there at the door? he asked. "Did you meet the beater of the drums?"
"I do not know," answered Gandalf. "But I found myself suddenly faced by something that I have not met before. I could think of nothing to do but try and put a shutting-spell on the door."
––Fellowship of the Ring; Part 2; Chapter 5: The Bridge of Khazad-dûm
It all boils down to this: even though there are some complete story-line fabrications involved with the Ringwraiths and the tombs, the basic concepts borrow from a number of legitimate Tolkien ideas. And I might even add that none of these scenes are critical to the development of the protagonist's (that's Bilbo, in case you forgot) story. We all went into this knowing two movies were going to be made from a single book . . . why are we surprised that some new things had to be thrown in?
Radagast the Brown
|Radagast's Cunning, Lucas Graciano|
More than anything else, it seems like Radagast's portrayal in the preview has gotten under people's skin, and frankly, I'm at a loss to explain why. Just in case the entire world has forgotten, the title of the book and the movies is The Hobbit. Not The Wizards, not The Istari, and not Gandalf's Pal Radagast the Brown. I mean, this wizard is perhaps the most minor of the minor characters in all of Middle-earth (I believe he gets a total of five mentions in The Hobbit and LOTR combined) but from the major stink people are raising, you'd think he's the most important character of all, as if both Bilbo and Frodo would have failed at their respective quests and met horrible and untimely deaths had Radagast not been there to save them. In reality, Radagast doesn't really do anything . . . oh except play the unwitting pawn in Saruman's scheme to capture Gandalf (not Radagast's finest moment).
Here is Quickbeam's description of Radagast's big reveal in the preview:
Radagast? Oh let me tell you, he’s got so much going on! He is wearing a funnily-shaped hat with dominant brown and black hues, underneath which is revealed a bird’s nest with hatchlings making a mess all in his hair and beard! McCoy brings a disarming, childlike quality to the character. . .
As with the Ringwraiths, movie Radagast seems to pretty much be an invention of WETA and Peter Jackson, and it has a lot of fans riled up. But who really cares? Radagast is NOT a pivotal character. Can I stress that enough? Besides, since Tolkien barely gave any descriptions of the guy (except that he's "The Brown") who's to say that one imagining of Radagast is more correct than the other?I’m not remembering these clips in the correct order they were shown, but we also see a brief shot of Radagast being pulled along the forest floor in a sled drawn by mighty grey jackrabbits! I kid you not, it was a ramshackle version of an Iditarod dogsled, made of twisted branches and bracken, pulled by six or seven oversized rabbits. I think it was Radagast, but he went by so fast — what other character could it be? And this point the filmmakers are making a complete departure from Tolkien but it honestly doesn’t bother me.
Some people are complaining that a Radagast with birds "making a mess all in his hair and beard" is somehow trampling on Tolkien or tarnishing the good name of LOTR. Or that giant rabbits is too ridiculous for the Hobbit. Really? I think that Quickbeam makes a good point when he points out that movie Radagast isn't any more whimsical than bipedal dogs serving dinner to Bilbo and the dwarves at Beorn's house. And it's definitely not any more outlandish than a talking purse (which sounds the alarm on Bilbo when he tries to "burgle" the trolls).
Just to show you the tiny amount of material Mr. Jackson & Co. had to work with, I'll list the defining quotes dealing with Radagast:
"I am a wizard," continued Gandalf. "I have heard of you, if you have not heard of me; but perhaps you have heard of my good cousin Radagast who lives near the Southern borders of Mirkwood?"
"Yes; not a bad fellow as wizards go, I believe. I used to see him now and again," said Beorn.
––The Hobbit; Ch. 7: Queer Lodgings
"I turned then east and north and journeyed along the Greenway; and not far from Bree I came upon a traveller sitting on a bank beside the road with his grazing horse beside him. It was Radagast the Brown, who at on time dwelt at Rhosgobel, near the borders of Mirkwood. He is one of my order, but I had not seen him for many a year."
"Gandalf!" he cried. "I was seeking you. But I am a stranger in these parts. All I knew was that you might be found in a wild region with the uncouth name of Shire."
"Your information was correct," I said. "But do not put it that way, if you meet any of the inhabitants. You are near the borders of the Shire now. And what do you want with me? It must be pressing. You were never a traveller, unless at great need."
"I have an urgent errand," he said. "My news is evil." Then he looked about him, as if the hedges might have ears. "Nazgûl," he whispered. "The Nine are abroad again. They have crossed the River secretly and are moving westward. They have taken the guise of riders in black."
––The Fellowship of the Ring, Part II; Ch. 2: The Council of Elrond
"The Nine have come forth again," I answered. "They have crossed the River. So Radagast said to me."
"Radagast the Brown!" laughed Saruman, and he no longer concealed his scorn. "Radagast the Bird-tamer! Radagast the Simple! Radagast the Fool! Yet he had just the wit to play the part that I set him."
––The Fellowship of the Ring, Part II; Ch. 2: The Council of Elrond
Indeed, of all the Istari, [Gandalf] only remained faithful, and he was the last-comer. For Radagast, the fourth, became enamoured of the many beasts and birds that dwelt in Middle-earth, and forsook Elves and Men, and spent his days among the wild creatures. Thus he got his name (which is in the tongue of Numenor of old, and signifies, it is said, "tender of beasts").
––The Unfinished Tales of Middle-earth and Numenor; II: The Istari
|Radagast the Brown, by travsthebean|
All of this taken together suggest to me that portraying Radagast as a slightly silly and sort of bumbling wizard who seems a little like a fish out of water when dealing with Gandalf and the Gray Wizard's more serious pursuits, is a perfectly valid interpretation. Definitely not the only way to envision Radagast . . . but a legitimate one nevertheless.
So that dragged on a bit. In the end, I guess I my main point is this: nothing that we learned from the 10 minute preview is pivotal to the main plot line of The Hobbit. The Ringwraiths and Radagast have almost nothing to do with Bilbo, so no matter how they're portrayed, the movie can still remain true to the true points of The Hobbit. And that's what's really important, right?
And one last thought . . . by making these movies, Peter Jackson is trying to please many different groups at once: the movie studio, fans of the LOTR movies and fans of the books. It should come as no surprise that he can't please all of them 100% of the time. The original three movies were great movies . . . sure, there are things I would have done different had I been calling the shots, but overall the films were fantastic. I figure Mr. Jackson deserves a bit of patience from the rest of us.
I'm excited to hear what the rest of you think. Let me know in the comments below!