John D. Rateliff moved to Wisconsin in 1981 in order to work with the Tolkien manuscripts at Marquette University. He has been active in Tolkien scholarship for many years, delivering papers on Tolkien and the Inklings. While at Marquette, he assisted in the collation of their holdings with those Christopher Tolkien was editing for his History of Middle-earth series. A professional editor, he lives in the Seattle area with his wife and three cats (only one of whom is named after a Tolkien character). His upcoming book, History of “The Hobbit,” is described by TolkienLibrary.com as “An essential resource book for the forthcoming movie adaptation of The Hobbit.”
TheOneRing.net asked John to comment on the recent activity regarding The Hobbit, here is what he had to say: As I see it, there are two paths a film of THE HOBBIT could take, one being to stress its affinities with THE LORD OF THE RINGS and the other to emphasis its independence (it was after all originally written as a stand-alone story).
For the first path, Peter Jackson is obviously the man for the job. Only he could make a film of THE HOBBIT in such as way that it seems an extension of the three LORD OF THE RINGS movies, which is unquestionably what the overwhelming majority of people who saw the LotR movies want. Without Jackson at the helm, without his team of scriptwriters and his crew and his special effects people, it’d be impossible to make a film of THE HOBBIT that has the look and feel of the LotR films, even with New Zealand locations and the retention of some of the cast Jackson assembled. With Jackson in charge, I have every confidence he could make a film of THE HOBBIT just as good as his films of THE LORD OF THE RINGS (and that’s saying something).
For the second path, my feeling is that if Jackson and his team don’t make the film, then everything should change. New director, new scriptwriter, new cast, new crew, new concept artists, new composer, new special effects house, new locations. There’s more than one way to make a good film out of THE HOBBIT (and more than one bad way too, or course), and whoever would wind up in charge under that scenario should concentrate on making the best possible movie, not on doing things the way Jackson would have done them.
My greatest fear is that it’ll fall between these stools, and we’ll get pseudo-Jackson or “Jackson-lite”: an attempt to film something that looks like Jackson’s work without Jackson himself, which I think would be disastrous.
So, for me the best possible outcome would be for Jackson to make the film, in New Zealand, starring the two Sir Ians (McKellan and Holm), backed by Shore and Lee and Howe and the rest, but hopefully with more fidelity to Tolkien’s storyline and without the occasional gaffs that marred the second and third films ( e.g., the characterizations of Faramir and Denethor). I’ve come to accept that Holm’s starting as Bilbo is unlikely, but given the excellence of his performance in the first film, one can hope. That said, there are any number of talented actors out there who could play these characters — after all, I was one of those bitterly disappointed that Sean Connery was not cast as Gandalf in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, only to be deeply impressed by McKellan’s superlative performance, which I really think could hardly be bettered. So if we were forced to do without Sir Ian Holm I’m sure they could find someone else who could do a fine job — my own personal choice would be Sir Hugh Laurie, who’s about the right age to play Bilbo and has shown he can do both silly (Bertie Wooster) and serious (House).
As for a LotR prequel film, it’s an interesting idea but I don’t see how it’s practicable. There simply isn’t a single story between Bilbo’s adventures and Frodo’s quest to build a film around. There are lots of interesting snippets — Balin’s foray into Moria, the adventures of young Aragorn, and the like — but they don’t add up to any kind of coherent story. A tv special might be able to get away with a series of vignettes, but I don’t see how that would work in a theatrical film. In the end I’m reminded of Tolkien’s own decision, after writing a single chapter of his projected sequel to THE LORD OF THE RINGS, “The New Shadow”, to leave well enough alone, and think the studios would be wise to do the same.