We come at last to the passing of an age. December 2014 will mark the end of Middle-earth on film with the release of the final Hobbit movie. It is a bitter sweet moment for many fans, regardless of how they feel about the movies. Since 1999 we have been following not only the journey of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, but the journey of one filmmaker Peter Jackson and his quest to bring Tolkien’s epic tale to life on the silver screen. Now all that will be left is for me to wait for the release of the Extended Edition DVD or Blu-Ray of the final film.
It was a feat that some believed impossible. For decades, Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were deemed unfilmable. Rankin/bass studios, best known for their Christmas specials of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman made a wonderful animated film of The Hobbit that stands head and shoulders with the best of their productions. They even tried to tie the story into Lord of the Rings. However, when they got to Return of the King cut several key characters( Legolas, Gimli, Arwen, Faramir, Saruman, and Treebeard to name a few), and left much to be desired in terms of the music. Due to budgetary constraints, animator Ralph Bakshi tried to tell The Fellowship of the Ring and half of The Two Towers in one film, but money ran out before he could complete the story in the sequel. And who can forget the horrendous 12-minute ash-can copy of an animated Hobbit movie that surfaced on the internet back in 2012? To say the least it came across as being like some junior high students book report that they wrote by reading the back of the book cover.
Other filmmakers expressed interest, such as Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, and Jim Henson. There was even talk when Kubrick was attached of having the Lord of the Rings movie star The Beatles. All abandoned the project deeming it to ambitious. The film project was not unlike the One Ring itself, getting passed from director to director until it lie in wait until it was found by the most unlikely of filmmakers, an unknown director named Peter Jackson, who hailed from New Zealand. His films went on to receive critical and commercial success, even scoring a Best Picture win in 2004. Then after years of delays a live action film for The Hobbit finally began.
To say that this trilogy of films has been met with fan controversy is an understatement. After all, The Hobbit was just one book that could easily make an hour and 47 minute films. However, by drawing from the appendices to explain the whereabouts of Gandalf Jackson has managed to do what Tolkien tried and that is tie The Hobbit into the greater scheme of the Middle-earth mythology. There are other things I could mention but that is not for my blog. I will let the purists dissect the films while I chose to appreciate them as they are. Simply put the Middle-earth film saga is one of my favorite cinematic sagas, and perhaps one of the few that can actually suit the definition of the word “epic.”
Thus, I come not to bury Jackson’s Middle-earth on film, but to laude it. For me it is more than just the end of a franchise. This has been a huge part of my young adulthood. I was a Junior in High School when the first film in Lord of the Rings debut, getting ready for my own unexpected journey: applying for college. The following Christmas, The Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring was one of the first DVDs I received as a gift when my family finally made the switch from VHS to DVD. That same winter, I went to see The Two Towers twice in theaters, the first time being with my high school Astronomy club for our Christmas party ( it was between seeing The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Star Trek: Nemesis. We put it to a vote and LOTR won.)
My Freshman Year of college rolled around and at Christmas time I was part of a floor wide scavenger hunt for our Christmas party where first prize were tickets to the midnight showing of the Return of the King. I am proud to say that my group won the hunt. Encouraged by my mother to go and have fun since my finals were finished, I went to my first ever midnight showing of a movie. In the process I ended up bonding with people who would go on to become some of my best friends. I would even amuse and entertain my friends to no end with my dead-on impression of Gollum.
After that, many times in college I would have Extended Edition Marathons, the most important coming during my junior year, when I found out I would not be allowed to continue in the Education Department . My dream shattered, I was at a cross roads in my life and couldn’t focus on my school work. My roommate was suffering from a bad case of wanderlust due to heading for a study abroad program in South Africa, and couldn’t focus on his studies, so we did an impromptu marathon.
It was just what I needed. When the ministers words that Sunday provided no comfort and I was wishing none of this that had happened, and feeling like I made a mistake in going to college it was Gandalf that told me, “So do all who live to see such times but that is not for them to decide. All we have left to do is decide what to do with the time that is given us.”
Later Samwise Gamgee encouraged me by saying,
“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something…That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”
I have said this before on my blog and I will say it again here: you can’t tell now by looking at my top book shelf, where half of the titles are by Tolkien, but there was a time I would refuse to crack open Tolkien’s works, unless for a school assignment. Fact is, at that time I felt I had out grown fantasy. It was kid stuff. Give me an End-Times Thriller or a low-budget Christian film any day of the week.
Then prior to the release of Lord of the Rings I picked up the books and read them for fun for the first time. If CS Lewis was the baptism of my imagination, Tolkien was the rebaptism. Reading Tolkien brought me back to a world of myth and fantasy and wonder. Tolkien reminded me just how great fantasy books can be.
More over I discovered something else. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were more than just a bunch of silly fantasy books for babies. They were stories of friendship, bravery, courage and sacrifice. They were tales that warned of the danger of greed, and reminded me yet again that absolute power can corrupt absolutely. They taught me that no matter how dark life may be there is still hope for a resolution, and that there is still beauty in this world worthy fighting for. That when faced with what looks like the end, all we can do is decide what to do with the time that is given us, and face those challenges head on.
More importantly, like Narnia, it taught me that growth, pain, loss, and death, were all a part of life’s journey. However, unlike so many more recent writers, Tolkien tells us it is ok to weep when we say farewell at the end, whilst reminding us that parting is not the end. No wonder CS Lewis said of Lord of the Rings, “ Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart…good beyond hope”.
Tolkien’s world was story about real life, just dressed up in fantasy clothes. I would not be the writer I am going to be without Tolkien, but that probably would have never happened had news of the films not sparked my interest in the first place. Thank you, Peter Jackson, and the cast and crew of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings for bringing this world and it’s timeless themes to life. Though you may not have intended it, you helped make one more Tolkien fan. I look forward to going with my friends and family to see The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. To answer the question in the trailer:
“I will follow you, one last time.”