Forecast: Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug  teaser trailer went up on YouTube today. Starring all the folks you saw in the first movie, plus Benedict Cumberbatch as The Wrath of Smaug.

Oh, and Evangeline Lilly as a feisty red-headed elf warrior named Tauriel. You didn’t see her in the first movie. Or Tolkien’s book, come to think of it.

Frankel’s New Hobbit Parody

Parodies are the cornerstone of Valerie Estelle Frankel’s career. Now the author who’s sent up Harry Potter, Buffy, and The Hunger Games has twisted The Hobbit into a Gordian knot of mirth, judging by her description on Amazon:

An Unexpected Parody: The Unauthorized Spoof of The Hobbit revisits the film with mayhem, mirth, and magic missiles—or at least, crumpled newspaper missiles. Torn Teepeeshield, the Hot Prince of the Dwarves, puts aside his developing stardom in dwarf cabaret to quest to the LameOldMountain and destroy the dragon Erpolushun, or in the common tongue, Smog. Gonedaft the Grey, formerly known as Gonedaft the Grizzled and Gonedaft of the Rainbow Tie-die that He So Can’t Pull Off, recruits Bumble Baglunch, country gentleman and professional coward, since as an avid comic book fan and all-around geek, Bumble’s too smart to fall prey to obvious fantasy clichés. Together with Bobbin, Noggin, Rover, Clover, Sloppy, Ploppy, Frappe, Hottie, Spottie, Quaff, Sloth, and Ezekiel the dwarves, they journey across Renfair Earth to revive their franchise. Destiny may be a word writers use to pave over plotholes, but Bumble is determined to triumph nonetheless and play as good a game of goblin golf as his ancestors.

It will be quite some book if it sustains this level of humorous invention all the way through

[Thanks to Willard Stone for the story.]

Tolkien Litigation No Place for the Humble

When the Tolkien Estate and HarperCollins’ sued Warner Bros., New Line and Rings/Hobbit rightsholder Saul Zaentz in November, they told the court that The Lord of the Rings is “reported to be the second most-read book in the United States after the Bible.” (Maybe you thought that honor belonged to Redshirts?)

But in Saul Zaentz’ answer to the lawsuit he is quick to correct the mistaken impression that LOTR’s or The Hobbit’s value has anything to do with the books:

Zaentz admits that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (and associated and proprietary characters, elements and marks) are among the most famous and valuable marks in the world, and that an excellent reputation and highly valuable goodwill has been developed in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (and associated characters, elements and marks) and in the products, goods and services featuring them. Zaentz denies that this is a result of Plaintiffs’ efforts; rather, the fame and goodwill developed in these marks, products, goods, and services is largely the result of the dedicated efforts of Zaentz and its licensees (including Warner Bros.) over the past four decades.

The answer also calls upon the court the affirm that under earlier agreements with the Tolkien Estate Zaentz holds “broad merchandising rights in such services such as hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, ringtones, and online games, casino gambling and online/downloadable video games.”

This includes Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Online Slot Game, the most notorious example of the digital exploitation of Tolkien’s brand. (See What Has It Got In Its Jackpotses?) The Estate’s view is that the “defendants have, with increasing boldness, engaged in a continuing and escalating pattern of usurping rights to which they are not entitled.” However, Zaentz’ answer claims they have been doing this without objection for a long time, and that in 1996 the parties confirmed rights to online video games.

Short Subjects

I’ve been to see The Hobbit, though not as a human guinea pig for the 48-frame rate process — the most convenient screening for me was shown in 2D, 24-frame.

As for the movie: I was pleasantly surprised that this rocking, three-hour epic kept me engaged all the way. No dull stretches, like in a previous stfnal marathon, The Postman, where I took a 10-minute walk in the middle of the film.

True, as the reviewers point out, a lot of The Hobbit’s time is lavished showing the “unexpected party.” But beyond the obvious slapstick comedy, the extended sequence endows every dwarf with an individual character and personality. No doubt it’s sacrilege to say I thought most of the dwarves in the book were fungible except for the two extremes, kingly Thorin and corpulent Bombur, while the movie works hard to make them deeply distinctive in every way, not just in costume and hairstyle. (The riot will begin in five, four….)

The last half of the movie is largely a series of calamities orchestrated in CGI. There was more of that than I needed, partly because I felt I’d seen some of this action before and didn’t like it the first time, watching hordes of goblins chase our heroes through underground passages and over rickety scaffolding within the mountain in a mashup of the mine chase from Temple of Doom and the descent of the unbalanced stairs and landings in National Treasure. But I don’t say they should have done something different – the record box office speaks for itself – much as I found other parts of the movie more to my taste.

Credit where it is due the technology, though, which is crucial to the movie’s dramatic meeting between Bilbo and Gollum, certainly one of the highlights.

With further thought I might also be able to put into words my appreciation for the parallels between the Lord of the Rings trilogy and this first of the three Hobbit pictures. Consider, for example, what does it mean to be a king in Middle-Earth? Contrast Thorin Oakenshield’s obvious nobility and clarity about his role, a character Aragorn kept under wraps for two-and-a-half movies.

Anyway, The Hobbit is a fair trade for the time and bucks required to see it.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Nausea

KTVI in St. Louis reported ”The Hobbit Making Some Movie-Goers Sick” on opening night, blaming the movie’s novel 48 frames-per-second rate for giving some viewers upset tummies.

David Bratman saw The Hobbit screened in the traditional format – he says it’s the movie itself that made him sick:

I saw it in 2D, 24 fps, and I still feel as if I’ve been bludgeoned by a giant stick.

Nobody who loves the book should be wooed thereby into seeing this movie (unless, poor sods like me, they feel they have to). Nobody.

I doubt I’ll have any more to say until the bruises begin to go down.

I expect to see it in the next couple of days and will report any adverse effects… 

Tolkien and the Hobbit

PBS’ Newshour marked the opening of The Hobbit by interviewing Jason Fisher, editor of Tolkien and the Study of his Sources: Critical Essays (a collection to which Diana contributed) —

How did language play into his creation of mythology?

Jason Fisher: Tolkien envisioned a whole series of different languages; languages spoken by elves, men and dwarves. Because he was actually trained in what would become historical linguistics, which was mainly called philology in his day, he was trained in how languages related to one another and changed over time. He attempted to mimic [that evolution] in his own creative world.

Tolkien’s interest in language led him to create languages, and he therefore wanted to create a mythology and a world in which those languages might have been spoken. For him it started with languages, with words, with names, and from those he created narratives and full stories.

Second Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Giant dwarves, unlike jumbo shrimp, is not an oxymoron among New York’s advertising painters.

In ”This Is How You Paint 150 Foot Tall Hobbit Dwarves”, Tor Books Art Director Irene Gallo returns to the topic of painting movie ads on a Park Avenue building. It’s a sequel to her interview with Dan Cohen of Art FX Murals about the ad for Batman painted on the same building (see Paint By (Big) Numbers).

Don’t miss it!

[Thanks to Janice Gelb for the story.]

Hobbit Twacks!

The LOTR geneology project has created a visual aid for moviegoers…

Here are some choice links to stories inspired by the imminent release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

(1) If you’re curious about the movie’s score, listen to the closing theme, ”Song of the Lonely Mountain” by Neil Finn.

(2) Christopher Tolkien’s first-ever press interview, published in Le Monde on July 9, is available online. Christopher is not a Peter Jackson enthusiast:

Invited to meet Peter Jackson, the Tolkien family preferred not to. Why? “They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25,” Christopher says regretfully. “And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film.”

This divorce has been systematically driven by the logic of Hollywood. “Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time,” Christopher Tolkien observes sadly. “The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away.”

(3) I’m betting the Tolkien estate wishes it could inflict on Jackson the same fate a court just inflicted on Global Asylum’s faux Hobbit film:

A U.S. District Court in California granted a temporary restraining order on Monday preventing a parody of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” from going on sale three days before Peter Jackson’s movie opens in theaters nationwide.

Global Asylum, a film production company that makes parodies of blockbuster films, such as “Transmorphers” in place of ‘Transformers,” has made a parody of “The Hobbit” titled “Age of the Hobbits.” It was set to go on sale on DVD, Blu-Ray and online platforms December 11.

(4) Scholars interested in The Hobbit know all roads lead to… Milwaukee? Well, if not all roads, surely a superhighway or two. That’s home to Marquette University, where Christopher Tolkien deposited many of J.R.R. Tolkien’s original manuscripts:

Yes, Tolkien fans: the stories belong to the ages, but the manuscripts belong to Marquette University. It has been so since 1957, thanks to a very smart librarian, William Ready, who had been hired the year before to help fill a then-new Memorial Library. He approached the not-yet-famous Professor Tolkien through a British rare-book seller, struck a deal for less than $5,000, and in 1957 and 1958 the boxes from Oxford arrived: “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” in longhand drafts, typewritten manuscripts and page proofs, with revisions and rejected fragments, along with minor and then-unpublished texts and other papers. After the professor died in 1973, his son Christopher sent more papers still, until Marquette came to hold the vast machinery of Middle-earth in all its original parts, along with thousands of pages of articles, commentary and fan fiction — the vast forests and foothills of secondary scholarship now girding Mount Tolkien.

[Thanks for these links goes out to David Klaus, Martin Morse Wooster and Andrew Porter.]

Lard of the Rings

Denny’s invites you to stuff yourself as often as Hobbits with selections from its Middle-Earth-themed menu, coming November 6 as a tie-in with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And being a fan I’m sure you’ll give the idea some thought.

Items on the menu include Radagast’s Red Velvet Pancake Puppies, Bilbo’s Berry Smoothie, Gandalf’s Gobble Melt, “The Ring” Burger, Hobbit Hole Breakfast, Frodo’s Pot Roast Skillet, and the “Build Your Own Hobbit Slam” with optional items such as “Shire Sausage.”

The advertising campaign has already kicked off in Los Angeles. Around town are unbranded billboards displaying a message written in runes. Translation: “Middle Earth is coming to America’s diner.” English text will replace the runes on October 24.


TV spots promoting the menu will air beginning November 12.

Trading cards are part of the tie-in campaign, too, reports Advertising Age:

Denny’s customers will also receive a trading card pack with select “Hobbit”-inspired entrees that include collectible cards — there are 12 in total to collect — and Denny’s coupons. The chain will also put QR codes on placemats that will provide customers with additional “Hobbit”-related content such as videos, online games and a behind-the-scenes look at the national TV spot.

Hobbits eat seven meals a day – breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper. Once Denny’s publicity takes hold Taco Bell’s “Fourthmeal” will sound like nothing more than a healthy snack.

[Thanks to Janice Gelb for the story.]