Anyway. The Hobbit. I was truly impressed by it, and not really worried by anything that I saw. It's hard to tell much of anything from a trailer, of course. And do keep in mind I haven't seen the original trilogy in at least three years. It's possible that I am starved for all things Middle-earth, preferably accompanied by Howard Shore's music. But I am also even more of a Hobbit fan than a Lord of the Rings one, so I think I had some pretty high expectations. The trailer could have confirmed my worst fears; it didn't.
Before we go any further I should probably throw in a cut for spoilers, because we're totally going there.
In Lord of the Rings fandom (at least the fanfic corner of it), there are really two ways of looking at the canon (source material). See, in the prologue to Lord of the Rings Tolkien introduces a conceit that his writings aren't so much fiction as they are historical records of things that really happened. So when you write fanfic, the question is are you writing about the books or are you writing about the events the books are "about"? The latter choice gives you a lot more freedom to tell a story that's a different tone, even about different facts. (Because histories can be imperfect.) Of course, if you go too far astray you run the risk of having it not seem like an adaptation.
Tolkien's The Hobbit is a boy's adventure-tale. It was also written and read by its original audience before the Lord of the Rings. But Jackson's audience has seen the good guys stare down Armageddon; to go back to a child's story hour would just be wrong. Jackson isn't doing that. He's taking Tolkien's comments in the letters quite seriously, that while the Hobbit might be somewhat juvenile in tone, this is deadly serious business. And the tone of the movies reflects that.
I've blogged before about the "we must away, ere break of day" song. Every time I hear it, it sends shrills down my spine, and this time I literally wept when I listened to it. The way all the other dwarfs joined in, something about the looks on their faces just felt so right somehow. They are lean and dangerous and not to be trifled with, but also soaked in a rich history. You know, just like a Tolkien dwarf should be.
Which brings us to Thorin. This was probably my biggest worry about the adaptation. Tolkien's history with "nobody tosses a dwarf" (let alone the drinking-game that shall not be mentioned) didn't exactly leave me brimming with confidence that he could handle a truly heroic dwarf well. (Which Gimli is, but he pales in comparison to Thorin.) And then there is the Denethor fiasco; who would expect PJ to pull off a morally ambiguous character well after that? But Jackson seems to be handling Thorin more in the Strider mode than Denethor: dangerous and mysterious, to be sure, but also basically wholesome. We haven't of course seen him under the dragon-fever so we may get a full-on Denethoresque devolution going here, but based on what the trailer shows, I think this could actually be an interesting job on his character.
Speaking of Thorin, one of my favorite themes here is the relationship between Thorin and Gandalf - and how Thorin refuses to take charge of Bilbo's fate. Watching that blip, I was impressed by how nicely it tied in with the Unfinished Tales bits about that chance meeting in Bree. Also how it got across Gandalf's realization of what he was sending Bilbo off to. His hand may have been forced, a bit, with Frodo but with Bilbo? Not so much. Also: Thorin is a proud dwarf-lord, and you get the feeling in those scenes that this Thorin won't be dominated by Gandalf. I don't know how much of this PJ will make explicit, but there's a lot of bringing different threads from Tolkien's various work fleshing out The Hobbit - it struck me as doing what all good fanfic does (and really, that's all a movie adaptation can be, in the final analysis).
Then there is the Galadriel scene. That look of realization melts my heart every time.
And the Mirkwood spider-nests, so reminiscent of Shelob's lair.
And Gollum. Good God, Gollum is so perfect.
icanhas December nao, plz?
In all seriousness, the scenes here hit exactly the right note for this point in Tolkien's narrative, especially given the fact that the main characters are none of them heroes or professional warriors. You have Bilbo, of course, and the dwarves have been working at trade these last few days and were always refugees. You don't have Boromir and Legolas and the rest of the great princes, but here you have great hearts trying to find there way as adventure finds them.
As I said, you can only tell so much from a trilogy, but this is all really promising.