Uploaded on 6 Sep 2011
Sometimes, a body gets a hankering that only Leonard Nimoy singing about hobbits while surrounded by 60’s pixie chicks can sate. Fortunately, we live in a world where those hankerings need not go unfulfilled!
This was originally filmed in 1967, on a variety show called Malibu U. The colour portion of the video is from “Funk Me Up Scotty,” a 1996 documentary from BBC2 about the musical careers of the cast of the original Star Trek. The show cut the last verse and an instrumental/dance interlude, which I’ve restored using black & white footage from I know not where.
February 28, 2015
January 8, 2015
Jeff LaSala explains why the films based on JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit must be judged separately from the the books:
Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films get a lot of flak for being overwrought and overlong. Many of the criticisms are valid enough (I have some of my own), some are a matter of taste, and some, I feel, are simply misguided. My view, as a fan of Tolkien first and Jackson second, is that the naysayers are judging the films for what they’re not. They are not a cinematic translation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel but an adaptation in the truest sense of the word. And they are specifically an adaptation of events in Middle-earth 60 years prior to Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party which include those covered in The Hobbit and the appendices of The Lord of the Rings.
To adapt something is to change, alter, or modify it to make it suitable for new conditions, which is where the problems occur for fans of a richly detailed story. No, not merely a story, a whole legendarium (Tolkien himself called it such) that lots of people care a hell of a lot about. The expectation seems to have been that Jackson should have kept to the books closely, should have told the story just as Tolkien did. But ultimately, that’s just not realistic.
It’s not like he didn’t know what’s in the books; in addition to knowing them well, he was surrounded by Tolkien scholars, Elvish linguists, and other literary experts. Rather, he’s an uber-successful director, producer, and screenwriter who has to wrangle massive movie budgets and we’re not. He loves Tolkien’s work but had taken on the self-imposed, if herculean task of maneuvering a beloved tale through the Hollywood machine. Have you ever watched a comic book, novel, or even play adapted to film and thought, “That’s exactly how I would have done it”? If you have, then that’s amazing! If not, well, in this age of Hollywood remakes, reboots, and adaptations, why expect these films to be any different?
It’s been said that “the filmmakers have wrung all they could out of the source material,” but I find that to be a lazy stab because it’s simply untrue. Indeed, to me that’s the irony. While three Hobbit films meant there should be room for some fleshing out of otherwise sparse details — the very thing people are complaining about, that he made a short book longer than they felt it needed to be — Jackson still didn’t actually cover everything. I reserve a more final opinion for when the Extended (i.e. the real) Edition of Five Armies comes out, because it promises to include 30 more minutes, but there are elements of the story simply left off.
I can forgive almost any extension or stretching of characters and themes, so long as they’re not completely antithetical to Tolkien’s ideals, but only if the existing story, including the appendices-based backstory, is exhausted first. Beorn’s house; the Eagles and their eyries (and why they help at all); the drunk Wood-elves and the full interrogation of the dwarves; the thrush and its world-saving delivery of vital information; the aftermath of the battle — all of these have been gutted. In the behind-the-scenes features of the DVDs, you can even see that some of it was filmed (such as the captive dwarves being brought before Thrandruil, not merely Thorin), but never made even the Extended cut. Sadly.
But these are movies; they need to take into account a moviegoer’s patience (and bladder). Of course, short making a full-blown movie series (rather than mere trilogy) there is never enough time to cover everything. Think of all that was removed from The Lord of the Rings, which has a full run-time of just over 11 hours. Given that, are you in the “What, no ‘Scouring of the Shire’?” camp or the “Nah, it’s fine as is” camp?
Well, I still want the Scouring, but I agree that it would have been worse to give it a perfunctory couple of minutes on the screen than to omit it altogether. I’d pay to see it as a stand-alone, but I don’t know if that would be viable commercially.
January 4, 2015
Due to various reasons, we only got around to seeing Peter Jackson’s latest (last?) Middle Earth movie this week. As a result, I’ve been consciously avoiding reading too many reviews on the movie beforehand. I’d heard enough negative things that by the time we actually got to see it, it was no where near as bad as I’d been told. It’s not a great movie, but it’s good enough and I quite enjoyed watching it. Last month, Howard Tayler (of Schlock Mercenary fame) reviewed it and I mostly agree with his opinion:
If you did enjoy them, this one pretty much sticks the landing. There were bits I didn’t like much (the Sauron/Necromancer “Jefferson Airplane” visual tops that list) but this didn’t feel overblown or too long. It felt huge, and justly so.
Tolkien tells us that there are battles in Middle Earth. Jackson shows them to us. Tolkien tells us that there are thirteen dwarves in the party. Jackson shows them to us. Tolkien tells us that Laketown gets burnt by a dragon, and the survivors become refugees. Jackson shows us all that. The list goes on — The Hobbit is a short novel (by the standards of epic fantasy) because Tolkien does a lot of telling in between the showing. The Hobbit trilogy of films is a long movie (by the standards of genre-fiction films) because Jackson expands on the tells to give us a big show.
In order to make any of that engaging, we need to be seeing it through people with whom we identify. This is why during previous films we’re introduced to Legolas and Tauriel, Bard’s children, Azog, and the whole host of other named characters. Each of the dwarves is his own distinct character, and Laketown is full of the faces of human people who look like they could be our neighbors.
I’m down with all of this. In fact, I’d be quite happy to see the trilogy with an additional 90 minutes of footage, because some pieces felt a bit short.
January 1, 2015
In The Federalist, Jonathan Witt and Jay W. Richards wonder if the Shire is a hippie paradise:
“The Battle of the Five Armies,” the final installment of The Hobbit film trilogy, opened last week, and online boards are buzzing with discussions of Peter Jackson’s casting decisions, his use or overuse of computer-generated imagery and what Middle-Earth’s creator, J.R.R. Tolkien, would have thought of the films. Geeky questions, to be sure, but for those who follow both Tolkien and politics, we suggest a still geekier line of inquiry: How would Tolkien vote? That is, what kind of political vision did the Oxford professor carry into his novels?
His wildly popular novels have, after all, shaped generations of followers, and are shot through with valuable insights about man and government that might not be obvious to a casual reader or fan of the movie versions. Tolkien’s political insights, moreover, are in danger of being lost and forgotten in the capitols of the West. Here, in other words, is a vein worth mining.
An early hint of this can be found in the beloved homeland of the hobbits, the Shire. Her pastoral villages have no department of unmotorized vehicles, no internal revenue service, no government official telling people who may and may not have laying hens in their backyards, no government schools lining up hobbit children in geometric rows to teach regimented behavior and groupthink, no government-controlled currency, and no political institution even capable of collecting tariffs on foreign goods.
“The Shire at this time had hardly any ‘government,’” we eventually learn. “Families for the most part managed their own affairs.”
Significantly, Tolkien once described himself as a hobbit “in all but size,” commenting in the same letter that his “political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control, not whiskered men with bombs).” As he explained, “The most improper job of any man, even saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”
In the Shire, Tolkien created a society after his own heart, one marked by minimal government, private charity, and a commitment to property rights and the rule of law.
This isn’t to say the Shire is without problems. Near the end of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo returns home after a quest to destroy a corrupting ring of absolute power. To his dismay, a gang of bossy outsiders has infiltrated the Shire, “gatherers and sharers … going around counting and measuring and taking off to storage,” supposedly “for fair distribution,” but what becomes of most of it is anyone’s guess.
Ugly new buildings are being thrown up, beautiful hobbit homes spoiled. And for all the effort to “spread the wealth around” (to borrow a phrase from our current president), the only thing that seems to be spreading is the gatherers’ power. It’s a critique of aesthetically impoverished urban development, to be sure. But conservatives and progressives alike also have seen in it a pointed critique of the modern, hyper-regulated nanny state.
As Hal Colebatch put it in the Tolkien Encyclopedia, the Shire’s joyless regime of bureaucratic rules and suffocating redistribution “owed much to the drabness, bleakness and bureaucratic regulation of postwar Britain under the Attlee labor Government.”
November 7, 2014
August 7, 2014
I have a very powerful reaction to these buildings that, I believe, has nothing to do with having been a Tolkien fan for most of my life. In fact, some of the most Tolkien-specific details – the round doors, the dragon motifs in the pub – could be removed without attenuating that reaction a bit.
To me, they feel right. They feel like home. And I’m not entirely sure why, because I’ve never lived in such antique architecture. But I think it may have something to do with Christopher Alexander’s “Timeless Way of Building”.
Alexander’s ideas are not easy to summarize. He believes that there is a timeless set of generative ur-patterns which are continuously rediscovered in the world’s most beautiful buildings – patterns which derive from an interplay among mathematical harmonies, the psychological/social needs of human beings, and the properties of the materials we build in.
Alexander celebrates folk architecture adapted to local needs and materials. He loves organic forms and buildings that merge naturally with their surroundings. He respects architectural tradition, finding harmony and beauty even in its accidents.
When I look at these buildings, and the Tolkien sketches from which they derive, that’s what I see. The timelessness, the organic quality, the rootedness in place. When I look inside them, I see a kind of humane warmth that is all too rare in any building I actually visit. […]
I think it might be that Tolkien, an eccentric genius nostalgic for the English countryside of his pre-World-War-I youth, abstracted and distilled out of its vernacular architecture exactly those elements which are timeless in Christopher Alexander’s sense. There is a pattern language, a harmony, here. These buildings make sense as wholes. They are restful and welcoming.
They’re also rugged. You can tell by looking at the Hobbit House, or that inn in New Zealand, that you’d have to work pretty hard to do more than superficial damage to either. They’ll age well; scratches and scars will become patina. And a century from now or two, long after this year’s version of “modern” looks absurdly dated, they’ll still look like they belong exactly where they are.
Eric S. Raymond, “Tolkien and the Timeless Way of Building”, Armed and Dangerous, 2014-08-02.
December 28, 2013
Actually, Dr. J says a more faithful movie would stink (note that there are mild spoilers in the quoted section and bigger spoilers in the full post):
I love J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I read it for the first time when I was six years old and have returned to it many times over the years. I still have a soft spot in my heart for the cheesy cartoon version of the story that Rankin/Bass did when I was a kid. I’ve shoved the book into each of my children’s hands as soon as I thought his reading skills could handle it.
So I can understand it when writers I respect, such as Daniel Larison at the American Conservative, express a sense of horror at Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of the beloved book, particularly the second film, The Desolation of Smaug, which is now in theaters. The criticisms abound. Why did Jackson think he could turn a 200-page children’s book into three lengthy films? Why does he have Gandalf wandering around mountain tombs and an old, ruined fortress, settings that appear nowhere in the book? Why did he put Legolas in the film when the elf does not appear in the book? Why does Bard the bowman get a complicated back story that’s absent in the book? Why does Smaug chase the dwarves around the halls of Erebor when they never even confronted each other in the book? (Are you noticing a pattern here?)
What appears to be the common desire of these critics is for Jackson to have made a simpler Hobbit with the story told in one or (at most) two films and with a script that hews closely to the text of the original book. As something of a Tolkien purist myself, I completely understand this wish. However, although I disagree with some of Jackson’s decisions (particularly the elf/dwarf romance in the Desolation of Smaug), I have to come to his defense on his overall approach to these films. In fact, I’m certain that the “faithful film adaptation” of the 1937 Hobbit these critics seem to want would in fact turn out to be awful, or at least fall far short of Tolkien’s ultimate vision. Here are five reasons why:
December 27, 2013
At the Smithsonian blog, Rachel Nuwer talks to some Tolkien scholars about the latest installment of The Hobbit:
Die-hard J.R.R. Tolkien fans, however, likely side with that first review, as shown in some blog posts, Reddit threads and Tolkien forums. Jackson strayed from The Hobbit book in his first movie but those additions largely borrowed from Tolkien’s broader lore. In this film, however, the director has taken more liberties, beefing up the action and introducing invented characters such as Tauriel, the “she-elf,” but sacrificing some development of beloved characters in the process.
To stretch The Hobbit — originally a light-hearted 300-page children’s story — into what, in the end, will likely be a nearly nine-hour epic trilogy, Jackson again relied on three main sources: original material from The Hobbit book, including expanding on minor elements that were mentioned only in passing in that text; details that Tolkien revealed in The Lord of the Rings books and their Appendices; and things he just made up himself. The sly allusions to Tolkien’s broader world are still there, but they are even more obscure than before. In some ways, however, this makes picking out those hidden gems and Easter eggs all the more appealing for fans.
Last year, we consulted with two Tolkien experts, John Rateliff, an independent scholar, and Michael Drout, an English professor at Wheaton College, to help us sort through the cinematic noise and identify true Tolkien threads. We’ve returned to them this year to get their take on the new movie and help us navigate the sliding scale from unadulterated Tolkien to Jackson invention.
December 14, 2013
Despite the tone of many reviews, I’m still looking forward to seeing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug soon. Here’s Kurt Loder in Reason with his views on the movie:
Part Two: In which we rejoin Bilbo and Gandalf on their way to Erebor in company with the questing dwarves Thorin, Balin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dopey, Sneezy, Grumpy — you remember. Once again they’re menaced by fearsome orcs and snarling wargs as they gamely transit glorious New Zealand. Some familiar faces pass through: the mind-reading Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), the mushroom-addled wizard Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy). Orlando Bloom’s fiercely blond Legolas is dragged back from the Lord of the Rings series (no word from Tolkien about this), and even the fiery Eye of Sauron gets a quick peek in.
Okay, okay. The Desolation of Smaug is actually a lot livelier than the first Hobbit installment, An Unexpected Journey. For one thing, there’s nothing in it as fun-smothering as the endless hobbit-hole chow-down that opened the previous film. There’s a lot more action this time, and at several points director Peter Jackson exceeds even his own very high standard in designing and executing it.
The story is so simple that we wonder once more why it should take nearly three friggin hours to tell it. Bilbo (amiable Martin Freeman) is slogging along with the 13 dwarves en route to the ancestral homeland from which they were long ago expelled by the dragon Smaug. Their leader, Prince Thorin (Richard Armitage), has recruited him to join in re-entering the stony innards of the Lonely Mountain, where Smaug still sleeps, and, once there, to find and secure a glowy artifact called the Arkenstone, which is…I don’t know, really important. Gandalf (Ian McKellen, crinkly as ever) is intermittently absent, but Bilbo is still secretly in possession of the One Ring he snookered away from Gollum in the last film. Maybe that’ll help.
Entering the dark, broody forest of Mirkwood (where “the very air is heavy with illusion,” Gandalf mutters), the party is attacked by a very real army of giant spiders — a scary scene that allows Jackson to flex his low-budget-horror muscles. Before long the hardy band is imprisoned by a tribe of unfriendly elves. But then they manage a spectacular escape — the movie’s most thrilling sequence – in which Bilbo and company, each squeezed into an empty wine barrel, plunge down a churning waterway as warrior orcs pursue them, leaping from bank to bank, and an intervening band of friendlier elves wades in to fend them off. Blood gushes, limbs fly, and the action builds in endlessly inventive ways. Only when this sequence finally concludes do we note that it’s gone on too damn long.
December 13, 2013
Ethan Gilsdorf reviews the second film in The Hobbit trilogy:
If you are resigned to the idea of Jackson and co-screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro cribbing from other source materials in the Tolkien legendarium to expand the world of The Hobbit, then Smaug might sit right with you. But if you insist on even moderate fealty to Tolkien’s book, then Smaug might feel overlong, bloated, and unfaithful.
Once again, Jackson’s art team has done a mesmerizing job visualizing the various stops on this Middle-earth tour. The Elvenking’s Hall, an intricately carved wood and rock dungeon, is magnificent. Mirkwood and its tangle of paths, tree-trunks, toadstools and spiderwebs feels like a mushroom trip gone bad. The Tombs of the High Fells and the crumbed fortress of Dol Guldur would be any D&Der’s wet dream. Set on piers and walkways over the water, Lake-town resembles a Renaissance-inspired Venice made of wood. The secret mountain stairway to the back door of Smaug’s lair, which the Company must ascend, proves to be a masterpiece of design. All are jaw-plummeting environments where I wanted to linger longer. In fact, I’d wished PJ had told his editor Jabez Olssen to let each shot linger a little longer, and asked cinematographer Andrew Lesnie to please hold his shots steady and in place — sans some swooping camera move — for more than five seconds.
Let me set my biases free. As a fan of Tolkien and a fan of Jackson’s first trilogy, it’s difficult to distance myself from my desire for movie that I’d hoped The Hobbit would deliver. This Hobbit Peter Jackson is less impressive than the Peter Jackson I came to know, respect and love in Lord of the Rings. This is an undisciplined director on display, showing no restraint. To me, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is too too loud, too fast, too much focused on action and distracting plot threads. I prefer the relative simplicity of Tolkien’s first Hobbit to the over-inflated, overblown, over-the-top epic Jackson aims his bow at here. Even if you accept the liberties Jackson and Company take with the script, to my mind, the movie as a movie experience, independent of the book, is not well served by all this extra material.
The question remains, how much of this can audiences withstand? How hard can Jackson pound on their armor before their defenses of patience give way? My suspicion is that chink in their dragon scales, if there is one, will be revealed when the final film in the trilogy, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, hits us with its Black Arrow next December.
October 1, 2013
The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug opens nationwide across the UK on 13th December 2013
The second in a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the adventures of the title character Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he journeys with the Wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and thirteen Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) on an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a production of New Line Cinema and MGM, with New Line managing production. Warner Bros Pictures is handling worldwide theatrical distribution, with select international territories as well as all international television distribution being handled by MGM.
January 22, 2013
Yes, even in the Third Age, there were Keynsian apologists:
Over on the Guerrilla Economist blog, Ust Oldfield discusses the economic consequences of the dragon Smaug on Tolkien’s fictional universe, Middle Earth. He argues that the net effect on Middle Earth’s economy may well have been positive. Both Dwarves and dragons hoarded the gold, so there would have been no monetary shock from the rapid withdrawal of so much precious metal from the economy. The Dwarves were then forced to offer their labour and skills to the outside world as refugees, contributing to the economy at large.
Perhaps. But there is something wrong with this picture. Ust neglects to mention that much of the Dwarven kingdom of Erebor and nearby Dale were utterly destroyed. Thousands of years’ worth of accumulated physical, human (or should that be Dwarven?) and social capital incinerated. In order to have a net positive effect on the economy of Middle Earth, the Dwarves’ integration with the wider economy must outweigh this massive destruction of wealth. This is unlikely, to say the least. For a start, the human city of Dale existed because of its trade with Erebor. Therefore the Dwarves were already engaging in peaceful and mutually beneficial exchange with the rest of Middle Earth. The Dwarves’ actions as refugees can only have created less value if their highest-value, voluntary choices were forcibly eliminated.
January 21, 2013
In Wired, James Daily analyzes the contract between Bilbo Baggins and Thorin’s company:
Ordinarily I don’t discuss legal issues relating to fictional settings that are dramatically different from the real world in terms of their legal system. Thus, Star Wars, Star Trek, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, etc. are usually off-limits because we can’t meaningfully apply real-world law to them. But the contract featured in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was just too good a topic to pass up, especially since you can buy a high-quality replica of it that is over 5 feet long unfolded.
First, it seems fairly clear (to me, anyway) that Tolkien wrote the Shire (where hobbits live) as a close analog to pastoral England, with its similar legal and political structures. For example, the Shire has a mayor and sheriffs, and there is a system of inheritance similar to the common law. The common law fundamentals of contract law have not changed significantly since the time that the Shire is meant to evoke, so it makes sense that the contract would be broadly similar to a modern contract (and likewise that we could apply modern contract law to it).
So, without further ado, let’s get to it.
December 20, 2012
Mike and Jay talk about Peter Jackson’s latest trip to Middle-Earth, The Hobbit, and frustrate both Tolkien fans and HFR projection supporters in the process.
December 17, 2012
The Hobbit: “The company of Dwarves isn’t the hand-picked band of mighty warriors … but ordinary (if short) blokes united by faith and loyalty”
We went to see The Hobbit on the weekend, with a bit of foreboding thanks to the numerous advance reviews warning us that Jackson had sold out his film-making heritage for shiny 48fps gadgetry that made everything look fake. Thankfully, we didn’t find that to be the case at all: all four of us loved the movie to a greater or lesser extent. I plan on seeing it again while it’s still in the theatres (which I rarely do).
A Very British Dude was also impressed:
Those who loved Sir Peter Jackson’s adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy will love this movie. Those who didn’t, won’t. It’s as simple as that.
[. . .]
There are those critics who will think the movie “plodding” and over-long. That’s a complaint with Tolkien’s utter disregard for narrative arc. Indeed, it’s this lack of tidy endings, and profusion of sub-plot lines that make the mythology so compelling. It’s more like reality than many gritty cop-dramas or action movies today. There may even be purists who may take issue with the additions to the book’s tale, but as these are telling back-stories and tying the Hobbit deeper into the Lord of the Rings narrative, it didn’t bother me. [. . .]
The company of Dwarves isn’t the hand-picked band of mighty warriors that the Fellowship of the Ring was, but ordinary (if short) blokes united by faith and loyalty. This is a thread which runs through all Tolkien’s work: the idea that free people thrust into extraordinary situations will do remarkable things. Tolkien never claimed to have been influenced by his experiences on the Western Front in 1916, but it’s clear he was. He asserted there to be no analogy to the second world war in his books.
Gandalf’s greatest insight is that Hobbits — a sort of idealised rustic Englishman were a better bulwark against evil than the great princes and warriors of greater strength and fame, who’re too easily corrupted by power. This is perhaps the reason the mythological cycle of which the Hobbit forms a part is so appealing to the Anglo-Saxon world: it speaks to a dimly remembered folk-memory of doughty farmers and nascent local democracy dating from the dark-ages. The idea that we’re free, and they’re not.