The other week, I saw the final Hobbit film, which I enjoyed. It's much too long -- like all the Hobbit films -- and is largely one long battle scene. But the fight focuses on personalities which I think gives it substance, and the filmmaking craft it so otherworldly stunning that on that level alone, I was enthralled. It's not a movie everyone will like -- and I didn't remotely love it -- but there was much more than enough for me to marvel at.
I mention all this though for another reason entirely. It's the reason I've loved the six Lord of the Rings/ Hobbit movies. It's a tiny reason, and an odd one. But -- I love them for this.
And that's the inclusion of Ian Holm, as Bilbo Baggins.
The 83-year-old British actor has had a distinguished career. Prior to the LOTR films, he was probably most recognized for playing the ostracized track coach, Sam Mussabini, in the Oscar-winning Best Picture, Chariots of Fire. But he also won the Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in 1967 in Harold Pinter's play, The Homecoming. And won the Olivier Award as Best Actor in 1998 for King Lear. He got an Oscar nomination as supporting actor in Chariots of Fire.
But it's for another far-lesser-known role that I bring all this up. But first a bit of history.
Back in 1981, the BBC broadcast a 26-part radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, 13 hours long, broken into half-hour segments. Now, this might sound problematic and mind-numbing to some, but they aired it on National Public Radio in the U.S, and all I can tell you is that it was spectacular. I was riveted to the whole thing, waiting for each new episode. (My recollection is here in the U.S. they put two half-hours together each week.) The acting, writing, sound production, everything was just grippingly done. (You can read about it here.)
How great was it? A couple years later, NPR re-aired it. I had no interest in listening to it again -- once was plenty, and I'd read the trilogy twice -- but I thought I'd tune in to the first episode for all time's sake, in appreciation and just to remind me how well it was done. Within minutes, I was hooked again...and I listened to the entire 13-hour series all over again.
And starring as Frodo Baggins was...Ian Holm!
He was brilliant. Just freaking wonderful. It was a glorious performance. And when two decades later I read that a movie series would be made of the LOTR trilogy, all I could think of was Ian Holm and his great portrayal as Frodo on the radio. I knew there was no way on earth (or Middle Earth) that he could play Frodo in the films -- that was only thanks to the magic of radio -- but I was still sorry for his performance being overshadowed.
And then I read that he had been cast as Bilbo.
There was no question in mind that this was due, in part, of course, because he's such a great actor, but also as an homage to the BBC radio series. Peter Jackson is far too detailed to not know. The amount of research that he and his fellow filmmakers delved into for the world of Tolkien is highly documented and shows on the screen. It's just not conceivable to me that he wasn't aware of this 26-part radio adaptation by the BBC. And that he not only included Ian Holm in the films, but in the far-too appropriate role of Bilbo Baggins has especially endeared Peter Jackson to me.
And that Ian Holm is one of the few actors to also be in The Hobbit series, as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy is just icing on the cake. And that he gets an homage in this final film -- how and when, I will not say, you'll have to see for yourself -- is all the better.
And I'm serious about this, how thrilled I am for his notable inclusion. The BBC radio adaptation was that good, as was Ian Holm. If you're interested, you can check it out here on Amazon.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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