It’s not often that film titles get media coverage, but then The Hobbit is no ordinary film – or should we say, trilogy of films. Peter Jackson, the force behind the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, finally overcame myriad obstacles and began filming The Hobbit, oh, sometime late in the 1600s (that’s what it seems like, anyway). The first film in series is due out in December 2012; the second, December 2013, and the third in July 2014.
His decision to split one fairly short (originally, 305 pages) book into three feature length films has been caused the spillage of many electrons on the internet. But what I want to focus on here are the names of the films, as they are generating a lot of interest on their own. Obviously the word “hobbit” had to be included in each of them, not only to stay true to the book title, but to ensure that anyone coming to the films for the first time would understand that they are three parts of a whole, and not three distantly-related films. (The Hobbit is distantly related to The Lord of the Rings – some of the same characters appear, but the plot is completely different.) The subtitles, or descriptors as we call them in the naming biz, tell you what’s going to happen in that film. The original book had a subtitle, too: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.
That, however, is not the subtitle of the first film – it’s the title of the last film. Presumably, there will be more focus on the “back” rather than the “there”, since at that point the main characters, Bilbo Baggins, returns home to the Shire from his adventures. The first film is subtitled “An Unexpected Journey”. To those who have read the book, it’s a clear reference to the first chapter, which is titled “An Unexpected Party”; the party, and the arrival of the dwarves, is what kicks off the action and leads to the titular journey. It’s a nice nod to the book, and gets the plot started in a way that leaves open the resolution of the journey. If it was really titled “There and Back Again”, you’d pretty much know what happens (or at least you’d know that Bilbo probably isn’t going to die until the end of movie 3).
The second movie subtitle, “The Desolation of Smaug”, focuses on the villain, the dragon. (“Desolation” refers to the area that he’s burned with his nasty dragon breath, not that he’s a lonely guy.) Bilbo & Company travel to the Lonely Mountain to kill Smaug and recover the dwarves’ treasure, and they see an awful lot of desolation on the way there, and even after. Presumably this film will give us a lot of fire, terror, sneaking around in tunnels, shiny shiny gold, and a grand finale in which the dragon flames out spectacularly over a lake. (There’s also a sub-plot about some dude named Sauron, but you don’t need to worry about that now.) You’d think this is the end of the story, and Bilbo would be ready to tackle the “and Back” part of his Unexpected Journey, but you’d be WRONG.
There is still more plot to go, involving a battle between dwarves, orcs, wargs (evil wolves) elves, and men. There are also some eagles and bears involved. And one hobbit, of course. “There and Back Again” is an odd choice for the third film, since Bilbo’s already at the Lonely Mountain, and the only place to go back to is home in the Shire (and when he does, hilarity ensues). Is the title meant as a big wrap-up of the trilogy? Are we supposed to infer that it applies to all the other characters as well as Bilbo – that they went “there” to the big battle, and “back again” to their homes?
Having been a Tolkien geek since high school, I can easily make sense of these titles even if I disagree with the choices. But what about someone who knows nothing about the book? Will these subtitles help or hinder their understanding of the plot? I wonder if it was necessary to give the movies subtitles in the first place; couldn’t they have gone with Parts 1, 2, and 3? But perhaps the subtitles are necessary to draw in the folks who wouldn’t go see a movie about a hobbit (because they haven’t read the book), but who would see an adventure film. With dragons!
Overall Grade: B+