Ted Nasmith is a Canadian artist, illustrator and architectural renderer. He is best known as one of the world’s most prominent illustrators of J. R. R. Tolkien’s works — The Silmarillion, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. More than just an artist, Nasmith is also considered a Tolkien scholar who is well-read in ancient history, religion, and other areas. His talent and knowledge makes Nasmith a highly sought-after guest speaker at Tolkien-related gatherings and conventions — and he is a prominent member of several Tolkien-related organizations (such as the Tolkien Society, the Mythopoeic Society, and Mensa’s Beyond Bree).
TheOneRing.net asked Ted to comment on the recent activity regarding The Hobbit, here is what he had to say:
The Hobbit film: Will Peter Jackson direct, or …?
After King Kong came out I lost respect for PJ, unfortunately. I remember someone in our group raving at the time, hoping PJ would surely direct The Hobbit soon, but I wasn’t feeling quite so impressed. As it happened, I was having a difficult night then for unrelated reasons, and wasn’t well disposed in general. King Kong, in true LotR epic fashion (as we expected) ran about 3 hours, but which for me was roughly 60 minutes too long for that particular tale, and was a clear case of style and seemingly unlimited budget over substance, if ever there was. Mr. Jackson is nothing if not ambitious, and whatever else you can say about his chosen projects, he is a director who undeniably loves the Big Spectacle, and who is clearly the man of the hour for CGI epics now and to come.
With The Lord of the Rings, PJ undeniably achieved a far greater epic piece of cinema, though. Here there simply was plenty of substance, more than enough. He had something to prove, too, having had the normal constraints imposed on him by his financiers, as we know (and to be quite fair, often dealing with blatant interference; its downside). And yet here too, he still went for the Big Shot more often than the more nuanced, exquisitely poignant moments, at least ones I missed seeing. The ironic thing is, PJ has demonstrated his ability to convey certain terrible beauties in Tolkien, such as Arwen and Aragorn’s bittersweet love, but his adaptation and emphasis too often seemed more geared to set up the cast of thousands mayhem and other mainstream staples like comic relief via Gimli and Legolas than it was the melancholy or solemn scenes and moods of the original. However, one expects these compromises in Hollywood cinema, and PJ ultimately gave us the grand epic we’d so long anticipated, lovingly and painstakingly realized.
I now think that PJ probably can and will do a perfectly unique and effective re-imagining of The Hobbit, but I also still believe other directors might produce a different but no less loving adaptation, too—just not with the same continuity. There’s the rub. Continuity is obviously a problem if you want to link the two stories up via a 3rd, LotR prequel, a la Star Wars. The main argument then is of course that it’s agreeable and important to keep Mr. Jackson at the helm, his having already established the actors in their roles, and in order to have the artistic continuity of both actors, settings and the rest of the established apparatus. It makes eminent sense, and I do hope cooler heads prevail and Peter can decide freely whether he wishes to take it on after all this.
As to the your specific questions, I think there are other locations available with easily as great a resemblance to Middle-earth; you’ve got the breadth of Europe to consider, places like Russia, Poland, Scandinavia, Germany, or beautiful lesser known regions such as Romania, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria or Ukraine—and of course Britain itself! Like many, I love Sir Ian McKellen’s portrayal of Gandalf, but I think audiences have accepted key casting switches in the past, and Gandalf isn’t quite as prominent a role in The Hobbit as in LotR. (How many Supermans and Batmans have we seen just in recent years, for instance?)
On the question of a LotR prequel, scripted from the LotR appendices etc.; I think it is an interesting proposition, and if handled intelligently it could be worthwhile. It would certainly be fun to have a full trilogy of stories, but many will rightly question it. If it’s the third of three films, in which the first two complete the tale of The Hobbit, then presumably you’ve got a problem with what sort of story you’re telling and whether it amounts to just a pastiche of apocryphal material. Would this final installment end up a bit of an anti-climactic dud? If it were to give us glimpses of the sinking of Numenor, the history of Sauron and his occupying, then abandonment of Dol Guldur in Mirkwood, or Gollum’s capture, and other episodes normally ‘offstage’, then it could be quite intriguing, but is it a proper story?
– Ted Nasmith