Can ‘The Hobbit’ escape the towering shadow of ‘The Lord of the Rings’?

Oct. 07, 2009 | 5:27 a.m.


This week we’re taking a look at four major trilogies from this decade that are looking to add a fourth film despite substantial challenges — not least among those challenges the skepticism of moviegoers who may wonder if some of these Hollywood vehicles are running on empty. You can find the other three installments of the series right here.




The story so far: Director Peter Jackson’s majestic and magical interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic is arguably the gold standard now for fantasy-film franchises. The “Rings” film trilogy piled up a staggering $2.92 billion in worldwide box office (plus more than $3 billion in DVD and others ancillary sales) and also pulled off a magic trick that has eluded the “Star Wars” or “Harry Potter” franchises — it cast a spell over  voters in the marquee Oscar categories of best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay.

Guillermo del Toro gets a grip

The challenge:

The bad news is Jackson won’t be directing this time. The good news, though, is that Guillermo del Toro is his handpicked successor. After the twitchy, unsettling and singular fairy visions of the Oscar-winning “Pan’s Labyrinth,” there’s plenty of reason to get excited about the Guadalajara native’s mighty imagination coming to bear on, say, the black forest of Mirkwood. Still, “The Hobbit,” published in 1937, is considered by some to be Tolkien’s literary warm-up act for the his 1950s “Rings” epic, which is more complex, darker and intended for an older audience. Also, off the screen, del Toro has the daunting task of following the crescendo success of “The Return of the King,” which on its own racked up $1.1 billion to go with those Academy Awards. The stakes are high: “The Hobbit” will be told over two films with a combined budget north of $300 million.

The status: Work is well underway in New Zealand on “The Hobbit,” although principal photography won’t begin until April. Major casting announcements are imminent (Ian McKellan, above, is already in, as are Andy Serkis and Hugo Weaving, according to recent comments by del Toro in a BBC interview) and there will be plenty of time for fans to debate them — the first of the two films isn’t due until December 2011, with the sequel to follow in December 2012. Jackson is on board as co-writer and executive producer and, by all accounts, his working relationship with del Toro is a supportive and upbeat one. And, miraculously, the film seems to have finally escaped the dreaded pits of litigation; an ugly dispute with the heirs of the late Tolkien was settled last month and Jackson’s bitter, scorched-earth battle with New Line Cinema was somehow resolved in 2007 and now seems like a fading memory — well, at least to all of us who didn’t pay attorney fees.

The prediction: This Friday, when del Toro blows out the candles to celebrate his 45th birthday, I doubt his wish will have anything to do with the box-office performance of “The Hobbit.” This is a filmmaker driven by the demands of his imagination, not studio expectations. It’s a good thing that del Toro will not obsess about matching “Rings” in commercial success because there’s no way it’s going to happen. I wonder if these films can match the massive swoon and battlefield sweep of Jackson’s trilogy, and while Tolkien fans will likely love them, I suspect that a significant percentage of the American moviegoing public has some Middle-earth fatigue at this point. As for the true Tolkien devotees and fantasy diehards, I’m guessing they become gleefully divided over the Jackson trilogy versus del Toro double feature and inherit a decade of a debate like the Radiohead fans who still bicker about “Kid A” and “OK Computer.

— Geoff Boucher

LOTR Spider-Man X-Men Pirates

Four major franchises look to make a fourth film, but should they?




“The Hobbit” is just the beginning of the del Toro Decade

Daniel Radcliffe as Bilbo Baggins? “Potter” stars says thanks but no

Guillermo del Toro will take Disney on a scary ride

Peter Jackson: Movie fans are “fed up with the lack of original ideas”

QuantcastPhoto at top is Ian McKellen in “Lord of the Rings,” Credit: New Line. Guillermo del Toro photo from Universal. Photos at bottom are McKellen again, then Tobey Maguire in “Spider-Man,” Halle Berry in “X-Men: The Last Stand” and Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Credits from left: New Line Cinema, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios.


32 Responses to Can ‘The Hobbit’ escape the towering shadow of ‘The Lord of the Rings’?

  1. David Platt says:

    Like the analysis. Wrong conclusion. The media are already obsessed with the Hobbit. The fan base is pining. The advance buzz will gather like rolling thunder to 2011. The film will make £1bn at the box office and the same on DVD. Slam dunk. Deffo. Dead cert.

  2. shaun says:

    I agree. There will be no audience fatigue, especially when you condider the eight year gap between the new film and the last one. This will be a slam dunk, and will probably make as much if not more than the last film, especially when you figure in the higher price of tickets now.

  3. Quatermass says:

    Andy Serkis – OK, but I hope he tones it down a bit and quits chewing the green screen. Hugo Weaving was ideally miffed at the humans, the perfect Elrond, and he's most welcome back. Stretching it to TWO films is pretty silly, and I think they'll live to regret that.

  4. With Del Toro directing, I will be able to ignore my boycott of Peter Jackson Tolkien-related movies and see the movie(s). ;)

  5. sal says:

    I have to agree, two movies is a bit much. Though, The Hobbit has tons going for it. Murkwood, Find the ring, Sting, battle of the 5 armys, killing the last dragon in middle earth, etc. I mean…watching the old cartoon version the hobbit, always wished to me be an epic movie

  6. Michael D says:

    I predict that the film version of the Hobbit will have problems. First off, the book simply doesn't compare to LOTR in terms of substance and literary depth. Tolkien wrote it before LOTR and it was oriented towards children. LOTR was a 40 year project with incredible layers of literature, language, and religion wrapped up in a great plot with great characters. I don't see how there is enough to the Hobbit to fill out two films. Second, Jackson succeeded with his version of LOTR because he mostly stayed true to the book. It is hard to see del Toro restraining his more creative and idiosyncratic tendencies, which means to me that he is likely to stray from the source material. That could work, but is likely to turn off Tolkien fans and is unlikely to improve the material.

  7. Lynn says:

    "Middle-earth fatigue"? By 2011 it will have been 8 years since the last LotR movie. What's there to be fatigued from?

  8. Sudhir says:

    I am curious who'll be cast as Bilbo Baggins? I don't imagine they'll bring back Sir Ian Holm from 'Lord of the Rings'. And what the heck is Andy Serkis's role going to be?

  9. Geoff Boucher says:

    Lynn,I think fatigue can last longer than you think. I know people who saw "Terminator Salvation" trailers (which had a similar timing span) and said, "Ugh, Im tired of that franchise" or, to flip it around a bit, they thought "That idea seems tired."

  10. Andrés Carran says:

    One shouldn't look at The Hobbit as the fourth installment of a saga… it makes it sound as something made up by studios to cash on previous success. That's simply not the case.
    Let's remember it's a stand alone story that was created years before Lord of the Rings.
    Are the movies related? Yes. However, that doesn't mean The Hobbit is either Lord of the Rings 4 or Episode 0 of the Trilogy.
    These movies stand alone in a common world, and that's where Jackson made his first correct call: bringing del Toro in, you guarantee a default degree of independence.
    The story was always there. A new director is on board. The Hobbit exists by itself.

  11. Chris says:

    The major difference between The Lord of the Rings / Hobbit franchise and all the rest are:
    All the Lord of the Rings movies were great films (in fact they got better with each addition), a dud has not been delivered by that camp and I don't think the Hobbit will be any different. Furthermore, both Jackson and del Toro have consistently made good films. If they could handle the others, they'll do just fine with the new ones.
    The other franchises, on the other hand, are guilty of delivering horrible sequels that make a fourth installment either a redeemer or a death squeal for the franchise they support. i.e.:
    -Spiderman: yes the first two were great but the third? Come on! And the actors all seemed like they were collecting a paycheck, the passion was gone. I really wish Sam Rami would just make another Evil Dead movie and ditch the idea of putting another nail in this once promising franchise.
    -X-men: Again, first two were great…then they gave us a polished turd and called it X-Men 3. Bryan Singer should never have left, the X-Men franchise died with his departure while he was busy destroying the chances of another series of Superman movies from taking off. A doubt a fourth will do anything.
    -Pirates: In this trilogy, only the first was great…the second cleaned house at the box office but was god awful (Johnny Depp even lost his swagger as Capt. Jack). The third was slightly better but I think both films could have been done away with altogether. I actually have hope for a fourth Pirates though: a new director might be able to come in with an outsiders perspective and correct the franchise. Plus a story line dealing with the fountain of youth sounds much more fulfilling than what the sequels dished up. Let's just hope they don't try and turn one film into two again with so many pointless subplots and a lack of story to back it up.

  12. Anita White says:

    I read the book the hobit and I am looking forward to the beginning of the tale. It's true hollywood is running on empty but this is different it is based on an actual book, whereas other sequels are last minute can we make another dollar type of deal and write a fast script.

  13. Sue says:

    I don't know any LotR fans who cannot wait for The Hobbit and are equally over the moon about del Toro directing. The Hobbit was written in a more "kid friendly" tone, but the story itself is complex, detailed and mature. I want to know how they will address how Sauron's presence affected the forest, especially the spiders and the elves.

  14. Dan says:

    Did you really just compare "The Hobbit" with "Terminator: Salvation"?
    People will be clamoring for these films. LOTR is adored by (pretty much) everyone.

  15. Geoff Boucher says:

    I have NO DOUBT that "Rings" fans will want to see "The Hobbit" (just like me!!!) but what I wrote is that the general moviegoing public (the ones that pushed the third film past $1 billion) are NOT clamoring for more. I hope the movie does great, I really do, I'm just saying that I don't expect it to be the highest or second-highest grossing film of all time. And it would have to do just that to match the third Rings film.

  16. Geoff Boucher says:

    Dan, yeah not the best analogy. Youre right. I was just trying to express the fact that there's an ebb and flow to the appetite of average moviegoing fans.

  17. Ben James says:

    The Hobbit, in my opinion, will be a booming success. Like many have noted before me, it will have been eight years since we last saw anything from Middle-Earth so I doubt people will be tired of it. And as far as stretching it out in to two movies, I think that is the best decision that could have been made. Yes, there might be a little imagination to the story-lines, but that happened in the LOTR films as well (The example that makes me the most angry is the elves in The Two Towers who weren't supposed to be there or not having Tom Bombadil). There is plenty material to make two well-rounded movies and keep us interested until they find a way to make The Silmarillion into a movie.

  18. Geoff, Great posts as always. I have to agree with the others about no reason to expect LOTR fatigue. The Terminator franchise had already delivered terrible sequel AND a so-so TV series just on the air when they launched the fourth film. The better comparison is Star Wars. While MUCH more time lapsed between teh third and fourth film, the first three Star Wars flicks were huge box office successes just like the LOTR trilogy. I hope Del Toro pitches The Hobbit at a different level: the darkness should creep in half way through the second film. X-Men I've never thought much of, Pirates even less so. Spidey could conceivably redeem itself because who wants that third film to be the last? (People: one villain at a time, please.) I think there's every reason to expect $700 mil worldwide from both Hobbit films, even if they're awful (for a total of $1.5 billion). That's conservative, I think and doesn't include DVD. But you say something in the article that is different from everything else I've read. I understood that the first film would tell the story of The Hobbit and that the second film would bridge the storyline from The Hobbit to The Fellowship of the Ring based on references in the books, end notes and what we know must have happened in that time span. So the entire story of the book of The Hobbit would be told in film one and the very risky film two will be made out of whole cloth. Have they changed their minds on this?

  19. Alan Bernier says:

    First of all Andy Serkis will of course be playing Gollum, who owns the One Ring until Bilbo takes it from him (not really knowing what it is at that time).
    As a Tolkien fan I look forward to these Hobbit movies, but I would really love to see other movies come out based on the remaining Middle Earth books (The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The Book of Lost Tales, etc.). Tolkien left enough unpublished material that his son Christopher has been able to produce over a dozen volumes containing stories and poems and much elvish lore.

  20. Steve84 says:

    The "bridge" film idea has indeed been abandoned. Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro both confirmed back in April that the story of The Hobbit will span both films. Although additional scenes featuring Gandalf (from the appendices of LotR) will be included.
    “We’ve decided to have The Hobbit span the two movies, including the White Council and the comings and goings of Gandalf to Dol Guldur,” says Del Toro.
    “We decided it would be a mistake to try to cram everything into one movie,” adds Jackson. “The essential brief was to do The Hobbit, and it allows us to make The Hobbit in a little more style, if you like, of the [LOTR] trilogy.”

  21. Richard Eldritch says:

    Del Toro recently hinted that the 1st film will finish with the departing of Gandalf, and Bilbo and Company entering Mirkwood. I think the bridging movie idea has been dropped, the bridging scenes being incorporated into the body of the two part film.

  22. Kelly says:

    I never get tired of watching The Lord of the Rings and can't wait for The Hobbit to come out. I have to admit that I was nervous that the Hobbit was being directed by someone other than Peter Jackson, but I am glad he is co-writing and producing. I really hope that Del Toro taps as much information and resources as he can from Peter and his team who worked on The Lord of the Rings to get that consistency. I am also very pleased that they have some of the actors from LOTR coming back to do their roles. It just wouldn't be the same without them.

  23. Filmfreak says:

    Silly article.
    "Towers" and "King" aren't sequels! "Rings" is one story, one book, one movie told in 3 parts. Tolkien, himself, wrote a great deal on decision to break this up. He didn't want to. It was one book, it should also be seen as one movie.
    You've clearly been sitting in your office too long if you think there is franchise fatigue on this.
    Turning The Hobbit into two movies was a great idea, allowing to pull in events from the appendices, events that happen at the same time as events in The Hobbit, adding to the film. (Also allowing Grandalf to gain much screen time in the second half.)

  24. N says:

    The Hobbit may be set in the same world & have some of the same characters in LOTR, but it's not a fourth installment… it's a prequeal to the books.. and perhaps its being made into a movie after it's sequels but that doesn't make it a 4th movie 0_o
    Still – exciting stuff!! Can't wait for 2011..!! :D
    As for the worst "4th movie" – even though I'm a huge POTC fan – I'm sorry but a 4th Pirates is the worst idea Disney's ever come up with.

  25. Some franchises are fairly timeless. The Hobbit is essential. Yes, it has big boots to fill, but to not attempt to do so at all would be cowardly.
    Spiderman and X-men– there's really no end to how many sequels those could have. So long as the writing is decent and the filming good– and they remember that it was the humanity and foibles of Spiderman that made him popular– they should do well. What I dread in such instances is the dire "Hollywood formula" film– sequels with the sole intent to make money rather than a good movie.
    Pirates of the Carribean– Dont' expect cerebral plots here. It's just a good romp. While I would like to see them get away from the over-the-edge fantasy concepts (Kraken-good — returning from the dead– hard to swallow)… so long as this franchise stars Depp, it's a shoe-in. The day it fails is the day Depp doesn't sign on. Hopefully… that's when they'll decide to end the franchise.
    All four of these concepts should do very well at the box-office. So long as they do very well and people come away entertained and feeling their money was well-spent– that's the whole purposes, isn't it?
    As a side-comment however, with tickets at $10+ each, and concessions through the roof, I am finding it less and less worthwhile to see the original release– and instead find myself more often waiting for an online or DVD release. What is it about theaters that makes families spend $50 to $100 a pop for what is basically next months 2-hour DVD release? Not worth it to me!

  26. lucy says:

    " And what the heck is Andy Serkis's role going to be?"
    *cough* Somebody obviously does not know the storyline of "The Hobbit."
    I think the two movies will do well. They won't be as great as the originals, but they'll still be great.

  27. kyle says:

    I believe that the director will be able to do as good if not better than Peter Jackson due to his keen eye for detail, and to remark on the people saying that there isn't enough content in the book for two movies, and its too much like a kids book the be worthy of the big screen, you've got to be kidding me. Doing the book in two movies will allow for more detail and a more accurate recreation of the book.

  28. Jan Jarrell says:

    majestic and magical interpretation?? Yeah.. if you don't happen to think too much of Tolkien's work. Jackson gutted Tolkien's vision, his story, and his characters. And given the face that he and his partners in crime are also penning 'The Hobbit' I'm sure we can look forward to more of the same.
    He's the gold standard? Don't make me laugh.

  29. edge says:

    I agree with "Michael D": del Toro is too idiosyncratic a director, and will be a distraction. "Pan's Labyrinth" is a good example of this. Alfonso Cuaron's quirky style nearly ruined the 3rd Harry Potter movie, and earned the lowest box office in the franchise so far. Though Jackson occasionally strayed from the source material, his love for the books always kept him in the "big Tolkien picture".
    Having said that, there's more than enough material for 2 movies, as there is a lot going on in Tolkien's history that is only hinted at in the Hobbit.

  30. Edge says:

    I agree that The Hobbit was written for children and the verbage is consistant with that. But in the context of the whole Middle Earth mithology this book has more than enough for 2 movies. Concepts only touched upon in The Hobbit are enough for 1-2 hours of film: The White Councils attack on Dol Goldur ; Aragorns tracking of Smeagol/Gollum ; The history between the Dwarves and Smaug ; The Elves distrust of the Dwarves ; The fact that Hobbits are fat lazy dudes who drink too much ale ; Why Bilbo Baggins of all Hobbits was the favourite of Gandalf – bit of back history re: The Tooks and The Brandybucks ; and why was Gandalf there in the 1st place. All opinions are respected but personally – The Hobbit was the first book I read – I loved it and can't wait for the movie. I've seen Pan's Labyrinth and loved it. Between Jackson and Del Toro it can't go wrong. Final thought: Bring on The Silmarillion as a 10 part series Band Of Brothers style and I can die a happy man.

  31. John Tallent says:

    I have to agree with Edge, The Silmarillion as a series would be wonderful. I have read that countless times and the stories within are very gripping fantasy.
    Some of Tolkien's best work ! The idea of making films based on these stories is outstanding !! I've told my wife this many times. Luthien dancing and singing Sauron into a deep sleep .. hey-hey-hey ! Imagine that visual. Just the thought of the Elves and their history of grief and tragedy brought to the big screen gets me all worked up ! Enough ! I'm going home to have tea and read myself back to Middle-earth.

  32. Alanna Davidson says:

    Make Daniel Radcliffe the star of The Hobbit!!!!! NOWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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