Is Guillermo del Toro the right man to direct 'The Hobbit'?

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Time Out wonders if the 'Pan's Labyrinth' director can do Tolkien's work justice.

The announcement finally came: 'Pan's Labyrinth' and 'Hellboy' director Guillermo del Toro is 100 per cent confirmed as the man to adapt a two-part adaptation of JRR Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' prequel, 'The Hobbit'.

Del Toro will be moving to New Zealand for the next four years to focus all his energies on the project, working in tandem with Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and the WETA team to bring the films to fruition, and though there are no details on casting or script as yet, it is assumed that Ian McKellen will be returning to the role of the ageless Gandalf.

All we know about the films themselves is that one of them will be a straight adaptation of 'The Hobbit', while the other will span the 60–year period between that story and its epic successor.

Tolkienites worldwide will be rubbing their hairy hands together at this news, but is del Toro really the right director for the job?

On the surface, there seems to be no one better: often touted as Mexico's answer to Peter Jackson, the two share a love of deep fantasy with a focus on character and narrative consequence rare in films of that genre. They both started out on small-scale, low-budget horror projects before upping stumps to Hollywood (with varying degrees of success), but both have kept one foot firmly rooted in the soil of their homeland. Both have brought an unprecedented level of darkness and emotional intensity to the fantasy genre, and both are deeply beloved of the online fanboy community.

But the fact remains that del Toro has never handled a project on this scale before.

His previous big-budget studio experiments – 'Hellboy' and 'Blade 2' – were entertaining but fairly unsuccesful, unable to marry the director's ambitious comic-book storylines with the logistics of mainstream storytelling (though advance word on 'Hellboy 2' is extremely positive). Del Toro's more succesful forays into the fantasy genre – Spanish language efforts 'The Devil's Backbone' and 'Pan's Labyrinth' – were both notably smaller projects, confined to one location, weaving a claustrophobic fairytale atmosphere rather than the grand heroics required for a Tolkien adaptation.

And what will these adaptations entail? 'The Hobbit' itself is a fairly straightforward road narrative, though it's likely Jackson will push to widen the scope, taking in such off-page action as Gandalf's battle with 'The Necromancer', and Sauron's ensuing flight to Mordor. As a consequence, less important material is likely to be cut: the Norse-inspired passage with the mysterious bear-man seems likely to go.

The other problem with 'The Hobbit' in relation to Jackson's envisioning of the 'Rings' universe is its relative innocence: there are a lot of japes, pratfalls and daft musical interludes, the whole affair possessing a much lighter, more comic tone than its sequel: appropriate for a book which began life as a series of stories told aloud to Tolkien's children.

And what of this mysterious second film? Tolkien left innumerable notes, sketches and unfinished stories spanning the period, but there are still going to be a lot of blanks to fill in, and, as the later stages of the 'Rings' trilogy proved, Peter Jackson is a man willing to let his imagination run away with him, sometimes a little too far: no doubt we'll be treated to a fair amount of winsome Enya-scored elvish love scenes. But there's also scope for some fairly gripping stuff: Gollum's travels will no doubt play a large part, as will the corruption of Saruman (though it remains to be seen whether Christopher Lee will return, given his hissy fit over the excision of his death scene from the theatrical cut of 'Return of the King').

The eyes (and webcams) of the world will be on this project for the next four years, with expectation running higher than for any other film in history. But if del Toro can succesfully widen his scope and work fruitfully with the talented WETA team; if Jackson and his scriptwriters can find a convincing through-narrative for both films and reign in a tendency towards self indulgence; if everyone can remember this is just a movie... then we may be looking at something truly special.

Author: Tom Huddleston



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