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Ian Clark's Pop Culture Club: First part of 'The Hobbit' is finally coming to theaters

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 09. 2012 1:43AM

After some fits and starts that almost tanked the project, it's finally time to return to Middle-earth.

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" opens in theaters on Friday, the first part of a trilogy of films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's 1937 classic.

Following the massive success of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy from director Peter Jackson in the early 2000s, interest was high to adapt "The Hobbit" to the big screen.

The final LotR film, "The Return of the King," garnered 11 Academy Awards (winning each category for which it was nominated) in 2003.

Coming off that high note, seeing "The Hobbit" come to life seemed like a no-brainer. Jackson was set to step aside as director, but produce the adaptation (which was to be split into two films) with Guillermo del Toro directing.

But Jackson had a falling out with New Line Cinema (the movie studio that distributed the LotR trilogy) and things soured for the project.

Fortunately, everything was resolved and after del Toro bowed out due to delays, Jackson took up the director's chair again, insuring that the look of Middle-earth established in the LotR movies would be carried over into the new Hobbit trilogy to unify the entire series.

Tolkien's original book is considered to be a children's novel, though it has obviously been enjoyed by all ages in the 80-plus years since it's release.

The story centers on a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins who is asked by the wizard Gandalf to join 13 dwarves on a quest to reclaim their treasure hoard from a dragon named Smaug under the Lonely Mountain.

Several characters that would go on to have roles in the "Lord of the Rings" books were introduced in "The Hobbit," among them Gollum (Bilbo obtains the fabled one ring from Gollum in the pages of "The Hobbit") and the aforementioned Gandalf.

To that end, Jackson has wisely chosen to use the same actors for these recurring characters, bringing back the excellent Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf as well as Hugo Weaving as elven leader Elrond and Ian Holm as the older Bilbo.

Martin Freeman, perhaps best known from British television roles on the orignal "The Office" and "Sherlock," will be taking on the role of younger Bilbo.

The movie is also receiving attention for Jackson's decision to shoot at a frame rate of 48 frames per second rather than the standard 24. Some early viewings of the movie have seen complaints about how it looks - and even that the increased frame rate is causing people to become ill.

There's also the question of why this single book needs to be three movies.

Jackson will be making use of much of Tolkien's other ancillary works from the Middle-earth tales, especially "The Silmarillion," a 1977 work that was published after Tolkien's death by his son Christopher.

While splitting movies into multiple parts is a newer trend (the "Harry Potter," "Twilight" and "Hunger Games" adaptations have, or will, split books into several movies), the ultimate question is, is this a ploy to make more money or does it make the product better?

Hopefully, it's the latter for "The Hobbit" and the final product will be able to stand tall (no pun intented) next to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

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Ian Clark's Pop Culture Club appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Check out his podcast "Nerdherders" on iTunes or at His e-mail address is

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