Thursday, January 12, 2012

Well, That Was a Different Take

So a man named Bill Snyder came across a 1937 British children's book and saw at once its potential; he acquired the film rights in 1964 for a fairly small amount because no one knew the author yet. The only condition was that the rights would revert if no motion picture were made by June 30, 1966. That book was The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. He got a young screenwriter to work up a screenplay on it. By this point The Lord of the Rings had been published, but very few people even knew that, and certainly not the people involved here. Because of this, the screenwriter, whose name was Gene Deitch, did what people do with children's books when they want to make them movies: he modified some of the storyline to make it easier to follow, added some characters for interest, and, in short, ignored the greater background of the book for the simple reason that he had no idea that it existed. He did, eventually, manage to read LOTR, and started revising his script to take it into account (to avoid shutting down the possible sequel, of course). But at first nobody knew Tolkien yet! Try as they might, Snyder, Deitch, and others struggled to find anyone who would want to back the movie. This ate up precious time and the clock was ticking. And then, with the publication of the paperback LOTR, Tolkien exploded into public recognition as the clock was ticking. Suddenly the film rights held by Snyder were much more valuable, and he wasn't going to risk losing them. But there was a loophole: the Tolkien lawyers had been a little sloppy in their language, and thus all Snyder had to do to keep the rights was produce some kind of full-color motion picture. So he made Deitch cut down his script to a short short and in thirty days had the very first film version of The Hobbit thrown together, all twelve minutes of it. Because of it Snyder was able to keep the rights long enough to sell them back for much more than he had paid for them.

Behold it now in the splendor of its sublime awfulness! (ht) But be prepared for the strangeness....


  1. Arius5:16 AM

    What was that?

    Why was Gandalf so scary looking? He was far scarier than the dragon.

  2. Catherine Hodge12:57 PM

    I can't say I watched it with a mixture of exhilaration and horror, but I gaped in amazement through the whole thing.

    We're reading The Hobbit aloud, so i let the kids see this. "What was the most incorrect element of this movie?" I asked. Eleanor (9 1/2) said, "The princess." It's a bizarre sexism to consciously make a story so crassly commercial by throwing in a girl. Every other character is wildly distorted, true, but at least they're taken from the original. Maybe she's the prototype of Liv Tyler waving a sword in FOTR, hissing at the Ringwraiths.

  3. branemrys3:10 PM

    I can sort of imagine how this could take shape. So we have this obscure children's story, very good; and we haven't read the LOTR yet. We have to sell some kind of movie premise to Hollywood, and there are all sorts of things that make that difficulty. For one thing, the geography and demographics of the book is pretty complicated -- children can follow it, maybe, but Hollywood producers certainly couldn't be expected to. Further, there's a lot of hubbub about the Arkenstone, even though it doesn't do anything, there's all these extra characters, and, what's worse, they're dwarves, just as if it's Snow White. So strip down this ensemble cast to basics -- pretty much Thorin Oakenshield is all you need, maybe with another character or two for support and comic relief, and we can just conflate Dale and the Lonely Mountain, because who wants complicated politics in a children's movie? Further, why in the world is Bilbo along at all? It's just one continuous mystery. And why does Gandalf leave right in the middle for no good reason? Better just use him to start things off. And here we've got a story that has nothing but men, and, what is worse, obvious bachelors, but it has a dragon, and it's fairy-tale-like, and every Hollywood producer we hit up for money is going to ask us where the princess is, and where's the love story. Voila! The perfect Hobbit movie for Hollywood. And then we just abbreviate it to get this. The only part missing is the ring, and since none of its invisibility power is even so much as mentioned, I suspect that this was originally one of the back-introductions to leave open a sequel.

  4. Catherine Hodge11:07 AM

    Your fictional backstory here is more interesting than the finished product.

    And speaking of fiction: will you be posting any more of Aegidius?

  5. branemrys1:49 PM

    There will be more coming; it got set aside longer than I intended, and it has had to compete with gearing up for the term, and I haven't been in a place where it wouldn't be a hassle to upload it. But look for more this next week.


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