Last time, I explained why, in an ideal world, Peter Jackson would have tackled The Hobbit first (before The Lord of the Rings). But what would this have meant for The Hobbit’s bigger, more serious older brother?
Of course, much depends on how well The Hobbit performed at the box office. But let’s assume that audiences responded as enthusiastically as they did to LOTR. Here’s the scenario, then: freshly flush with Tolkien Bucks™, the studio clamors for Jackson to adapt Lord of the Rings. The suits loosen their purse strings, eager to wring every penny from the franchise. They give the (now-proven) director more than three films to tell his Rings story.
Despite any naysayer’s complaints, this is a Very Good Thing. Unlike the simple, spare Hobbit novel, Lord of the Rings boasts more than enough material to fill out multiple films. Even the shortest book of the trilogy—Return of the King—outweighs The Hobbit by some 40,000 words.
So… imagine Jackson has six films to flesh out his epic. Characters given short shrift in the current incarnation develop actual personalities. Two examples: Denethor’s more nuanced portrayal earns the audience’s sympathy (instead of its unmitigated scorn). Or Jackson offers some context for understanding why Faramir struggles to resist the Ring.
Even the books’ main characters—the hobbits themselves—benefit from more screen time. Jackson can establish the hobbits’ relationships more organically (as things stand, Frodo has hardly a single conversation with Merry or Pippin). Including the excised Old Forest and Barrow-wight sequences provides an effective bridge from the Shire’s bucolic safety to the hobbits’ dangerous journey. Even old Bilbo gets one last heroic beat at the Council of Elrond, where he courageously offers to carry the Ring to Mount Doom himself.
Making Lord of the Rings after The Hobbit offers logistical advantages, as well. For one, it makes the actors’ ages an asset, rather than a liability. In An Unexpected Journey, efforts to de-age an eighty-year-old Ian Holm fail to disguise how differently he speaks and moves than in Fellowship. Ian McKellen, thought still quintessentially Gandalf, appears noticeably older (despite the character’s younger age). Even Elijah Wood, still a teenager during LOTR‘s production run, looks strangely angular in the Hobbit prequel. Watch the trilogies back-to-back, and these incontinuities can’t be ignored. If the movies had been filmed in order, however, these problems take care of themselves. Of course Gandalf looks older; it’s been sixty years!
Another logistical advantage to making Lord of the Rings last? Better handling of locations shared by both The Hobbit and Fellowship. Both books follow the same geographical path, after all: Bag End, the Shire, the Trollshaws, Rivendell, then the Misty Mountains. In An Unexpected Journey, the characters spend hours visiting locales the audience has already seen.
Flip the movies around, though, and the audience shares the characters’ emotional responses to these locales. Like Bilbo in *The Hobbit*, we look down, astonished, at Rivendell’s beauty. We better appreciate Gandalf’s satisfied smile when he pulls up to Bag End in Fellowship. And the Fellowship’s ordeal on Caradhras rings true—echoing as it does the dwarves’ failed attempt to scale the same mountain range.
I loved the Lord of the Rings films. But had Peter Jackson filmed The Hobbit first, Rings could have breathed. In addition, the sequels could have built on the prequel’s events (rather than re-hash them).
Unfortunately, legal wrangling prevented this hypothetical scenario from unfolding. Still, it’s fun to imagine what might have been.
Some non-Tolkienites consider Jackson’s Rings trilogy bloated and over-long. Adding (say) three more films would drive them batty. There’s no accounting for taste. ↩
Count me among the Tolkien fans who applauded Jackson for making Faramir more human. Still, his motivations weren’t entirely clear from theatrical cut. A deleted scene from Two Towers (Extended Edition) goes a long way towards giving an underdeveloped character like Faramir some much-needed depth. ↩