It could be weeks or longer before I have a chance to see the new movie adaptation of The Hobbit. The reactions I’ve heard so far have been a bit mixed – not terrible-to-amazing mixed so much as okay-to-quite-good mixed. From what I understand, Peter Jackson attempted to give The Hobbit the kind of serious weight The Lord of the Rings had. Ignoring the three 3-hour movies for a short 1-book adventure story bit, which has been lampooned by others, I thought this was a bit ambitious.
The two stories are completely different in tone. That they both take place in Middle Earth is irrelevant. Might as well say Pride and Prejudice takes place in the same world as Pulp Fiction and District 9 and therefore is just as profanity-ridden and/or reflective of the scars of apartheid. They’re just plain different books.
For that matter, the Gandalf of The Hobbit is very different wizard from the one in The Lord of the Rings. He tells jokes and plays tricks (he uses the old “dwarves 2 by 2″ joke twice) and actually fears for his life when up against a few goblins and wolves. He is one part wandering exposition and one part traveling deus ex machina.
In The Lord of the Rings he is deadly serious pretty much all the time. He defies some of the biggest baddies in Middle Earth. Saruman? Check. Army of orcs? Check. Balrog? Check. He eventually comes out on top each time – slays the Balrog personally, scatters the orcs, and shatters the power of Saruman. The fact that being offered the One Ring has him pretty much pissing himself only shows exactly how terrifying its power really is (and makes me glad I’ll never have to engage Samwise in a battle of wills, because daaaamn).
There are similarities between the two Gandalfs. I can certainly make the argument that he’s simply serious when circumstances require and lighthearted when they don’t. It may also be a mark of the narrator “writing” the story – Bilbo clearly takes Gandalf less seriously than…whoever is behind The Lord of the Rings. I honestly like him in both stories, albeit for different reasons. But it’s Merlin in Disney’s The Sword in the Stone versus Merlin in Mary Stewart’s series beginning with The Crystal Cave (or I imagine the Merlin of the popular TV series).
Maybe I’ll have an ah ha moment in the theater and all will be forgiven. Maybe my fear that adding all new scenes of Gandalf’s errands while he’s not with Bilbo and the dwarves is just a transparent excuse to give cameo appearances to popular Lord of the Rings characters is misguided. Maybe this will really make The Hobbit feel like a prequel trilogy – and not even a sucky one like the new Star Wars movies.
But I’m a bit nervous just now. Hamlet is not a slapstick comedy, nor is Twelfth Night intended to be treated as Serious Business.