The James Clayton Column: Preparing for The Hobbit

Feature James Clayton 7 Dec 2012 - 03:40

With An Unexpected Journey almost upon us, James explains how we can prepare ourselves for the arrival of The Hobbit...

“Not far left to go now, Hobbitses!” After years in development and some difficulties around legal issues, the departure of a director and decisions to turn one movie into two and then into three, we’ve finally got to the point where The Hobbit is arriving in cinemas.

Excitement and anticipation is high as the fresh filmic adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s first literary work emerges at last. A few minor production concerns aside, all the signs are positive as Peter Jackson and crew return us to the rich lore and cinematic wonder of the pre-eminent high fantasy realm in first instalment The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

It’s exhilarating and uplifting knowing that we’re coming back to Middle Earth, both reacquainting ourselves with a few old friends (Gandalf is my homeboy) and meeting appealing new faces (most of them luxuriantly bearded) as we begin a new trilogy adventure.

Yes, my Precious, after waiting what seems an age, I and many others are eager to hit the cinema and soak up more of the Tolkienverse in movie format, but wait! Hold on Hobbitses! Are we really ready for An Unexpected Journey that we have expected but might possibly not have fully prepared ourselves for?

To paraphrase Boromir, “One does not simply walk into The Hobbit.” The tragic Sean Bean lookalike of Gondor has a point - these are not mere motion picture entertainments that you prance into casually. These films are the zenith of fantasy cinema, the ultimate screen adaptations of epic literature and the most immersive visual storytelling articles of the modern era. You need to brace yourself and ensure that you are absolutely attuned to the experience before you take your seat in the auditorium.

Fear not though, for there is still time to hone your mind, body and spirit so that you’re in full-on Hobbit-Mode, all set and in the perfect state to absorb An Unexpected Journey. The following advisory tips will hopefully enable you to do that and encourage you to ready yourself appropriately for the upcoming Tolkien trip. “This way, Hobbitses - follow me...”

Read The Hobbit

The original book by JRR Tolkien (author, philologist, Oxford professor and ‘Father of Modern Fantasy’) is wonderful. By reading or re-reading it you’ll familiarise (or refamiliarise) yourself with Middle Earth and come to appreciate the tale of an hesitant Halfling who met some dwarfs and became a bold adversity-beating traveller hero.

The book is available in multiple languages, in digital and print formats and can easily be located at many libraries and retail outlets. I suggest searching out a fancy illustrated hardback copy to make the experience a bit special. Ogle the pictures, caress the texture of the bound cover and sniff the pages while imagining that you’re in Bilbo’s study back in Bag End and you will find bliss.

Read The Lord Of The Rings and plough through the rest of Tolkien’s mythopoeia

If you’re thirsty for more lore after The Hobbit, the ideal next step is The Lord Of The Rings which follows on from Tolkien’s ‘children’s story’ and expansively fleshes out his legendarium. If you manage to burn through that vast tome and still feel like you need to know more about Middle Earth, there are more details in various appendices, letters and in The Silmarillion.

Ultimately, hard study of these ludicrously convoluted chronicles will show you that, firstly, Tolkien was insanely detailed in his worldbuilding. Additionally, you’ll now know which dwarf is the son of which dwarf, how the characteristic traits of the Shire-folk have evolved over the ages and who was hanging around during the Siege of Barad-Dûr, whose side they were on and what they rated as their favourite type of vegetable. Level up with all this inconsequential trivia and you’ll impress, erm, someone.

Watch every single Lord Of The Rings film

The movies are an excellent alternative to the books if you can’t read. (If that’s the case, by the way, this column is available in Braille or audiobook format upon request.) Otherwise, Peter Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkien’s masterpiece are - I’ll state it again - the greatest fantasy epics in cinema history thus far. Anticipating The Hobbit movies, revisiting the Rings series allows you to immerse yourself once more in the immense sensual scope and mood of Jackson’s Middle Earth and touch base with its themes, settings and protagonists.

By vowing to tackle the trilogy in one sitting (extended editions of course, ‘cause we’re obsessive devout completionists) you commit yourself to an epic quest paralleling that of the Fellowship. After the 12-hour movie marathon you might be a drained emotional wreck hallucinating Orc corpses and giant fiery eyes in the sky but you’ll also be even keener to see An Unexpected Journey (if you haven’t physically atrophied during the marathon).

Look at everything in high-definition 3D and at 48 frames-per-second speed

Since the Rings trilogy’s release we’ve experienced the rise of 3D exhibition in multiplexes. This means that An Unexpected Journey will be the audience’s first extra-dimensional experience in Middle Earth and that could be quite jarring. What’s potentially even more unnerving from a sensory perspective is the fact that The Hobbit is a groundbreaking cinematic production filmed in and played at 48 frames-per-second instead of the standard 24fps.

In theory this means there’ll be less motion blur, and it’s claimed to work beautifully in 3D, but cinemagoers’ eyes aren’t used to this presentation format and the sight of high-definition, incredibly realistic-looking fantasy movies. To adequately prepare your ocular organs, therefore, it may be a good idea to wear 3D specs at all times during daily life. If you keep them on while you read The Hobbit and go for strolls though Shire-esque countryside you’ll be even more in synch with the High Frame Rate 3D cinema trip through Tolkien’s realms and less upset when an ugly, unbearably realistic troll fizogg bursts out of the screen.

Practise patience and hold tight for a long hard journey

You’re going to have to wait until next Christmas for The Desolation Of Smaug, and then until July 2014 for the final instalment, There And Back Again. You’ll then have to hang on even longer for the inevitable release of a bonus expanded edition Blu-ray Hobbit trilogy boxset with bonus features such as deleted scenes, essential blooper reels and the documentary ‘Sylvester McCoy’s Middle Earth Method Acting: Becoming Radagast the Brown’.

This could potentially be a very trying experience, so the practise of patience is a very good idea. Train your mind to tolerate the timegap and savour An Unexpected Journey and all available Middle Earth ephemera when it’s present and available. In truth, suspense and the denial of instant geekstreak gratification makes it all the more extraordinary and special when you finally reach your next fix.

With that, you are now more than ready for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A great adventure lies ahead so here’s to going ‘There and Back Again’ and enjoying another epic quest through Middle Earth.

James Clayton is never going to toss a dwarf and is never going to simply walk into Mordor ‘cause he has too much respect for The Lord of the Rings mythos. You can see all his links here or follow him on Twitter.

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