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Middle-earth beckons once more. As viewers wait with bated breath for the long-anticipated release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Brody Rossiter explores the fantastical realms of the Tolkien phenomenon
n 21st September 1937 J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was published to universal and rapturous fanfare from critics and fantasy-loving bookworms alike. Initially adapted from the bedside fairytales the author recited to his children, The Hobbit would go on to become one of the most enduring and widely loved works of fiction of all time. Tolkien’s first excursion into the realm of his own creation, Middleearth, introduced readers to a mystical land entrenched in legend yet also exhibiting a painstakingly constructed sense of reality and historical depth. He drew intricate maps of stunning regions whilst establishing timelines in which races flourished through golden ages of prosperity only to descend into the ravages of war. The roots of family trees reached deep into the earth as sons and daughters were embittered by their forefathers’ feuds and strengthened by inherited alliances. He built towering cities from their foundations up, whilst crafting complex languages, religions and cultural traits to accompany the many races inhabiting the kingdoms of his imagination. Now, upon its 75th anniversary, Tolkien’s debut novel will no longer solely reside upon the page but come to life on cinema screens with a longawaited trilogy of films – revealing to cinemagoers the origins of one of the greatest stories ever told. In 2001 Peter Jackson achieved the seemingly impossible; directing the first instalment of Tolkien’s widely considered ‘unfilmable’ Lord of The Rings Trilogy. Two sequels, a staggering 17 Academy Awards (The Return
of the King won all eleven Oscars for which it was nominated) and billions of dollars in worldwide box office takings later, it became clear that ‘unfilmable’ wasn’t a word in the vocabulary of the ingenious Jackson and his formidable cast and crew. Despite Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo Del Toro initially inhabiting the role of director for The Hobbit, his transition from directorial duties to a screenwriting role due to lengthy production delays essentially re-opened the door for Jackson to reignite his passion for personifying Tolkien’s work. Set 60 years prior to the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, An Unexpected Journey follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he accompanies a rag-tag band of dwarfs upon their quest to liberate the Dwarven realm of Erebor from fearsome dragon, Smaug. Led by the intrepid warrior Thorin Oakenshield, the group must pass through the most dangerous reaches of Middle-earth, negotiating perilous mountains, troll-ridden wilds and sorcerers’ strongholds. Just when the adversity facing Bilbo seemingly couldn’t grow any greater he is separated from his Dwarf entourage inside the depths of the goblin tunnels, where he encounters the devilish Gollum and The One Ring for the first time. Andy Serkis reprises his voiceacting and motion-capture roles as the corrupted hobbit, whose obsession with his ‘precious’ has led to the downfall of many unsuspecting travellers. Despite being a prequel to the LOTR trilogy, Jackson’s distinctly British cast – including Richard Armitage and Benedict Cumberbatch – will be accompanied by many familiar and beloved characters. Amongst others, Frodo, Legolas
and Ian McKellen’s unmistakeable Gandalf the Grey will all make an appearance, neatly tying The Hobbit to Jackson’s previous films and offering a wealth of backstory for fans to piece together. Though fierce clashes will undoubtedly occur, audiences should expect a more playful and innocent tone from The Hobbit as opposed to The Lord of The Rings’ wartorn crusade into the heart of Mordor. Tolkien’s work was initially recognised as a children’s tale, so expect his company of dwarfs to not only vanquish enemies with the pointy end of their swords but an equally sharp wit. Aesthetically Jackson has once again ensured his interpretation of Tolkien’s environments and characters – from opulent Elven vistas to the wealth of facial hair adorning the thirteen dwarves – remains faithful to the smallest detail by reuniting with Weta Workshop. The New Zealand-based special effects company responsible for much of LOTR’s visual
splendour and magnificent set pieces such as The Two Towers’ ‘Battle of Helm’s Deep’ will undoubtedly prove an irreplaceable influence. Today fantasy storytelling is commonplace across several genres. In the vein of Tolkien, George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones has made the jump from literary sensation to the most expensive television series to ever grace our screens. Video games offer players their own interactive experiences to explore and shape - last year’s Nordic influenced ‘Skyrim’ shipping over ten million copies within its first week of release. Could these wildly popular series have ever been conceived without the inspiration of Tolkien’s fiction? Or Jackson’s films paving the way forward and revealing what is truly possible? This Christmas, Middleearth will once again somehow squeeze its sprawling landscapes and enchanting characters onto cinema screens in both IMAX and digital 3D. Audiences will be gifted with an experience that even Santa couldn’t deliver as Tolkien and Jackson prove that when it comes to fantasy epics, there is one series to rule them all.