We are about a month away from the U.S. release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of three features loquacious director Peter Jackson plans to wring out of the beloved 300-page children’s novel.
Jackson reportedly has said that much of the additional storytelling for the three installments — upcoming are The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: There and Back Again — will come from appendices author J.R.R. Tolkien included in his sequel to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings. However, Tolkien geeks already know that very little from those appendices actually occurs within the time frame of The Hobbit; they are mostly about sunken continents, ancient Orc-Dwarf wars, and romances between kings and female characters who don’t rate dialogue in the main narrative — stuff like that.
Trailers clearly show that viewers will follow the wizard Gandalf on his mission that, in the book, whisks him away from the titular Bilbo Baggins and a band of dwarfs with no immediate explanation — which is entirely the point, from a literary point-of-view. But for a filmmaker who decided 100 minutes of cinematic perfection needed to be stretched to 187 minutes and include footage of a giant ape ice skating, any unfilmed minutia must seem like a wasted opportunity.
In this vein, here is a tongue-and-cheek look at three classic children’s books that Jackson (or a like-minded filmmaker) could contort into multiple features. The prerequisites here are:
a) A built-in audience of geeks who are sure to show out for opening weekend,
b) Plenty of opportunity for ground-breaking, lengthy CGI segments,
c) Companion works that can be cobbled around the standard three acts of the core storyline.
A Wrinkle in Time. Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved 1962 science-fantasy story has been crying out for a credible screen adaptation for more than four decades. There’s a built-in audience, and it has the additional appeal of being one of most challenged books of the 20th century, due to its liberal Christian themes. The story has three clear narrative acts: Cool inter-dimensional travel and the revelation of cosmic evil The Dark Thing; the rescue of the main characters’ missing father from a soulless captor; and the final confrontation with the villainous IT. And really, who does not want to see Aunt Beast in CGI? If the source material gets a little thin, a filmmaker could pull a Jackson and cut in scenes from future L’Engle books. Certainly, The Hobbit trilogy (it is still hard to type that) is going to be chock full of cut-ins from The Lord of the Rings antecedents that have absolutely nothing to do with the central narrative. (That’s one reason Tolkien left them, ya think?) Who wouldn’t want to see the brewing rebellion within Charles Wallace’s cells, complete with mice-fish farandola, that L’Engle wove into her trippy sequel, A Wind in the Door?
The Last Battle. While we are on the topic of Christian themes, let’s not overlook C.S. Lewis’ final and most theosophical entry in his fabled Chronicles of Narnia, first published in 1956. First off, only a director with Jackson’s box-office track record could even get this one made. For those who have not read the book, it’s basically Lewis’ lay theology of the Shadowlands adapted to the children’s adventure format. The three acts are clearly outlined: a funny animal adventure starring a talking donkey and orangutan; the reunion and establishing adventure of a beloved cast of characters in the Pevensie family; and finally a whole lotta death and the end of the world, which is great news, by the way. As with all the Narnia books, there is unlimited opportunity for extended CGI sequences, and this time you get the vile Calormen diety Tash in addition to a giant lion. And there are a ton of characters re-introduced in the book that can have their back stories from The Magician’s Nephew and The Horse and His Boy piped in for filler.
The Mouse and The Motorcycle. Really, I’d be happy with three full movies of nothing but Ralph wearing his ping pong ball helmet racing through furniture and evading cats. The three acts could not be more clear: Ralph learns to ride a motorcycle; Ralph loses motorcycle and must make daring escape from pile of sheets; Ralph bravely regains human friend’s trust by endangering his own life to get the kid an aspirin. There has to be at least three chase scenes per movie right there. Plus, a coy filmmaker could co-opt the motorcycle getting destroyed and Ralph getting a toy car replacement, which Beverly Cleary gave us in 1985’s Ralph S. Mouse, as a real tear-jerker ending to the trilogy. And surely Ribsy and Beezus could pop into The Mountain View Inn for a stretch cameo or three.