'THE HOBBIT': RE-ORCHESTRATED
OR HAMISH MUIR PRESENTS 'THE HOBBIT'
a reconstruction of Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth trilogy
This editing project was completed during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is a re-edit and response to Peter Jackson's films of 'The Hobbit' (2012-2013). It uses footage from the action fantasy films and transposes them using different music, transitions and motifs. It is an attempt to turn a major blockbuster film into something more theatrical and operatic. It seeks to draw on themes that concerned the author J.R.R. Tolkien (namely Northern mythology and a sense of place), and experiment with bringing a Hollywood film into the context of theatre.
The principle behind the project was to experiment with the existing footage, shifting it into something surreal by juxtaposing it with other archival footage.
It is a film 'after' Jackson's work. An inspiration was the Wooster Group's reconstruction of Richard Burton's film version of 'Hamlet'. To some extent, the film could be treated as a living scenography with a fragmented, scripted performance to be enacted alongside.
What was most intriguing about 'The Hobbit' was the narrative structure. In many ways, it is quite a traditional structure of one character journeying from one episodic obstacle to the next. However, the structure of the book is difficult to translate to film because there are thirteen interchangeable dwarves and the obstacles are incidental. The trolls, spiders, wolves, bears, goblins etc. have tenuous connections to the themes and characters.
Additionally, there are two anti-climaxes: the company arrive at the Lonely Mountain but the dragon is killed by a side character - Bard in Laketown. The main characters - Thorin and Bilbo - don't really conclude the confrontation with Smaug the dragon, which the story has been building towards. This convolutes and confuses the quest.
The second anti-climax is the battle of the five armies. The whole quest is about the dragon but it is not the final part of the story. In the book, the climax is a battle in which Bilbo gets knocked unconscious and hardly witnesses. All of these factors make the story structure unconventional. If you were to write 'The Hobbit' as one story leading to one climax, there would be fewer dwarves (or some would be killed by the various monsters they meet on the way), killing the dragon would be the primary focus or perhaps Bilbo would be used to bait the dragon outside of the mountain, and the climax would be battling the dragon in order to reclaim the mountain – perhaps Thorin would slay the dragon but sacrifice himself in doing so. This structure would be more conventional and build to an obvious crescendo where the primary antagonist (Smaug) is defeated by one of the primary heroes (Bilbo or Thorin). The battle of the five armies changes the stakes, which shift once the dragon is dead. However, Tolkein’s story does not need to be conventional or follow the structure of a Disney film. There is something more interesting about Bard killing Smaug as Bard becomes the hero that Thorin could never be. Thorin feels guilt and envy for Bard “the dragon slayer” because Bard takes the glory of bagging the dragon. Bard also faces the full desolation of Smaug with the destruction of Lake Town. The battle also represents something common in Tolkein’s work – that even if evil is defeated, it leaves scars that can be more complicated and psychological. In 'The Lord of the Rings' books (not in the films), the scouring of the Shire is a bitter epilogue that means that even though the ring was destroyed, the homeland still fell into ruin. Throughout the books and films, the Shire is so important to the hobbits because it represents the preservation of an idyllic life and the good in the world that they are fighting for. Preserving an ideal is never possible and Frodo returns, unable to rejoin the life he previously had. Many have suggested that this is an allegory of PTSD that Tolkien may have suffered after WWI, though Tolkien famously didn’t intend his works to be interpreted in a directly allegorical sense. The battle of the five armies has a similar purpose to the scouring of the Shire. It is a reminder that by removing a threat, different forms of evil can take its place. In an interview, Benedict Cumberbatch likened the death of Smaug to the fall of the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the consequent rise of ISIS. When the dragon falls, it does not solve all of Thorin’s problems - it fragments and complicates them.
Another issue concerns the role of the protagonist – is the hero of the story Bilbo or Thorin? Bilbo would be the obvious answer but much of the stakes of the story and the conflicts are to do with Thorin. As is the case in much of Tolkein’s mythology, the hobbit character Bilbo serves the role of an unreliable narrator. To some extent, 'The Hobbit' is a portrait of the warrior Thorin Oakenshield by Bilbo Baggins. Through the way Bilbo portrays Thorin, we understand the character of Bilbo. In practice, both characters had objectives and obstacles. The audience had to be put in Bilbo’s point of view as much as possible even if he is not the subject of his story, despite the titular name.
Copyright Note: Arctic Lion Theatre do not own any footage from Warner Bros. the Hobbit films or the other archival material used. The films can only be watched if existing physical or digital copies have been purchased of the originals. The project was made not for profit, under fair use, and only as an experiment in dramatising film criticism.