If Peter Jackson's epic trilogy adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" is too long for you, then perhaps this very first, animated short film version will be more your cup of tea. And indeed barely running twelve minutes long, there has to be a good story as to why Tolkien's novella got dramatically truncated. And indeed their is.
Producer William Snyder first optioned the rights to the book with plans for a feature film, but as negotiations with Fox got underway, his demand for money essentially killed any chance of it happening. However, he did have one ace up his sleeve — he could hang on the rights if he produced any version of the book as a movie, and that's just what he did with this short, which is nothing but illustrations with voiceover narration. But as director/animator/writer Gene Deitch explains on his blog, Gene Deitch Credits, he wasn't a big fan of this plan. Here's an excerpt but be sure to read the whole story over at Deitch's site:
The Tolkien estate had now been offered a fabulous sum for the rights, and Snyder’s rights would expire in one month. They were already rubbing their hands together. But Snyder played his ace: to fulfill just the letter of the contract – to deliver a “full-color film” of THE HOBBIT by June 30th. All he had to do was to order me to destroy my own screenplay – all my previous year’s work, and hoke up a super-condensed scenario on the order of a movie preview, (but still tell the entire basic story from beginning to end), and all within 12 minutes running time – one 35mm reel of film. Cheap. I had to get the artwork done, record voice and music, shoot it, edit it, and get it to a New York projection room on or before June 30th, 1966! I suppose I should have told him to shove it, but I was basically his slave at the time. It suddenly became an insane challenge.
I knew my screen storyline by heart, so I just had to put it through a mind-shredder, and write a sort of synopsis, with a few key lines of dialog scattered throughout. I called on close friend, brilliant Czech illustrator, Adolf Born, well known even then, and now the premier book illustrator in the Czech Republic. We managed to work out a simple storyboard. Adolf came up with a paper cutout scheme, and I worked out some multiple-exposure visual effects and scene continuity. We worked directly under the camera to shoot it. I got an American friend here, Herb Lass, who worked as a broadcaster for the Czechoslovak Radio’s English language transmissions, to come up to our apartment and record the narration. I borrowed a tape of dramatic movie music from a composer friend, Václav Lidl, which I quickly extracted and cut together, also at home. It was no problem with music rights, as I could assure him that the film would never actually be distributed, but would be – sadly – a mere decoy.
I love to see my name as director on the screen credits of my films, but I I did not want my name to be on such a chopped down version of my script, even though, thanks to Born, the film looked amazingly good. Now, nearly 45 years later, I’ve finally put my name back onto it. With the new Peter Jackson mega-version coming out, I can at least make an immodest shout that I made the very first ever film version of THE HOBBIT!
So, if you want to know what "The Hobbit" is like told in twelve minutes, check it out below. And while it might not give the story its proper due, the artwork is pretty great. [via Open Culture]