While Skyfall shot back up to the #1 spot at the American box office this weekend, while being confirmed in its status as the highest-grossing film in the history of the British box office, and continued on its way toward possibly being the biggest grosser in series history, sure to be the big story at the box office next weekend (and certain to insure Skyfall does not spend its sixth weekend at the top of the chart) is the long-awaited release of The Hobbit.
The Hobbit expands beyond the single slim volume of the titular novel to become a full-blown three-film prequel to the Lord of the Rings making broader use of J.R.R. Tolkien's material. This invites an obvious comparison with another set of prequel films, Episodes I-III of Star Wars. These which certainly made enormous money - $2.4 trillion between 1999 and 2005, $3 trillion in today's terms, just from ticket sales. They have also done much to keep the franchise a going concern, with money coming in from further spin-offs like The Clone Wars, continued merchandising, direct income from the older films including proftable theatrical rereleases of the films (the 3-D reissue of The Phantom Menace this year brought in another $100 million worldwide), and even the prospect of new, major, canonical live-action films (with talk of Episode VII coming to a theater near you by 2015).
Still, they disappointed many of the hardcore fans, who have not
left the rest of us forget it, with that resentment a geek clichè even in mainstream, mundane culture. Much of it has been unreasonable and exaggerated, but it has not been inexplicable.
Naturally, one wonders at the odds of a repeat with The Hobbit. However, if the source material is anything to go by, there should be fewer issues with the retention of a sense of narrative unity between the originals and the Hobbit films. The prequels will make much more use of the original cast than Star Wars did (Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis, among others, returning to their roles), a difference facilitated by the shorter lapse between the last of the original series and the first of the prequels (nine years between The Return of the King and The Hobbit, compared with sixteen between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace), which also seems to have been less consequential for the look and feel of the films. (No one will complain that The Hobbit contains CGI, though the new film's high frame rate - 48 frames per second compared with the accustomed 24 - could be an issue.)
And for what it is worth, early responses have been reasonably favorable.
In short, fans of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy have that much more reason to be optimistic.
Weekend Box Office, December 7-9
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