Brad Cook looks back on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings ahead of the release of the Middle-earth Ultimate Collector’s Edition 4K box set…
With the first Lord of the Rings film celebrating its 20-year anniversary in 2021, I thought it would be nice to take a trip down memory lane. Many of you can likely relate to this story.
I still have my copy of The Hobbit that I bought at a book fair in elementary school. It’s well-worn and well-loved, and the cover is attached with tape. Somehow, it survived many moves and a cross-country trip.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel spoke to me back then in a way no other book had. It was my first experience with serious world building, and Tolkien greatly broadened those horizons when I later devoured The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, I don’t know when those three paperbacks disappeared, but I have an omnibus edition of LOTR that I bought several years ago.
And, of course, like many Gen Xers, I faithfully watched Rankin/Bass’s animated adaptations of The Hobbit and The Return of the King and rented Ralph Bakshi’s heavily rotoscoped The Lord of the Rings animated movie that only told half the book’s epic story. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that my interest in Tolkien led to playing the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game and creating my own worlds, including a Drow city in a bag of infinite holding.
There were rumblings of new movies over the years, and I heard about how The Beatles had taken an interest in adapting The Lord of the Rings during the 60s. Apparently they would have shortened the story by having the characters travel across Middle-Earth on eagles, which is something that seems to pop up as a Twitter debate every so often.
For the record, my view is that they couldn’t simply fly to Mordor on eagles because, for one thing, the eagles do what they want and it takes a lot to convince them to give you a ride. And for another thing, the Ring Wraiths had their own flying beasts and would have zeroed in on the eagles in a heartbeat, thanks to their Ring radar.
Enter Peter Jackson
During the late 90s, I spent my idle time at work surfing the Internet for movie news. When word spread online that Peter Jackson had not one but three movies in development to properly adapt The Lord of the Rings, I made TheOneRing.net one of my go-to spots for news about the production. In late December 2001, I went with my family to see The Fellowship of the Ring, and … well, it would have been magical if I didn’t have to keep shushing the group behind us who talked during the whole thing. Seriously, who does that?
I saw all three films in the theater and of course acquired the Extended Editions of them on DVD, housed in handsome cases made to resemble old books. I later snagged the trilogy on Blu-ray and was sent the new Middle-Earth 4K Ultimate Collector’s Edition for a review [read that here]. You might say I’m a fan.
Beyond The Lord of the Rings
And then along came Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit. By the time the first entry in the director’s new Tolkien trilogy hit the screen in 2012, we were well into the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s big Infinity Saga storyline, Disney had announced plans for the Star Wars sequel trilogy and standalone films, the new Star Trek Kelvin timeline reboot was underway, and there were plenty of other science-fiction and fantasy films and TV shows for fans to enjoy. In other words, we had entered a Golden Age for fans of that kind of entertainment.
As a result, the Hobbit movies didn’t feel as special to me as the Lord of the Rings films had, and Jackson’s decision to draw from the latter’s appendices to build out the storyline produced mixed results. While I can appreciate story beats like showing us Sauron’s renewed presence in Middle-Earth, the films felt a bit bloated overall, and the latest CGI technology made some sequences, in particular the barrel ride down the river, feel more like a videogame than a movie.
That said, I wish I could go back in time and show grade school age me those six movies and tell him about this service called Amazon Prime Video that’s currently developing five seasons worth of a TV show set in Middle-Earth. It will take place during the Second Age, when Sauron and the Elves battled in early wars of the Ring, so there will be plenty of action and a lot of setting up of the events of Jackson’s movies, which take place during Middle-Earth’s Third Age.
I assume that in addition to the LOTR appendices, much of the show will be based on The Silmarillion, which chronicles Middle-Earth’s history and was published by the author’s son after Tolkien died. I admit I had trouble getting into that novel, since it’s more of a history book than a fiction one. Yes, Tolkien’s idea was that Middle-Earth really did exist and he was merely relaying its history to the modern world, so The Silmarillion fits that conceit, but, honestly, it’s still a boring read. Sorry, fellow Tolkien fans, but I usually prefer real historical books, and if I want to visit Middle-Earth, I’d rather do so via a dramatic story.
So while many people probably assumed that the Hobbit trilogy was the end of Tolkien-based storytelling in film and on TV, the reality is that the author left behind a rich history just waiting to be mined for even more content. I imagine that the Amazon Prime show will only be the beginning of even more epic tales to come.