Director Peter Jackson’s $270 million adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit opens in American movie theaters tonight at midnight and you can’t throw a piece of lembas (sorry, Hobbit joke) without it hitting a Hobbit merchandise display or a Hobbit-themed menu at your local Denny’s.
While early reviews of the film have been mixed, it’s sure to be better received than previous adaptations. Here’s a primer on some lesser-known Hobbit adaptations.
The Hobbit was first published in 1937 and was a worldwide smash, but Tolkien held on to the movie adaptation rights until the ‘60s. Reason: He feared Disney might get ahold of them and he hated Disney’s films. Tolkien finally sold the rights to United Artists in 1969, around the same time that the Beatles approached Stanley Kubrick to direct them in a live-action version for UA. Each member of the band would play a character (John Lennon wanted to play Gollum). But Kubrick turned them down, and soon after, Tolkien rejected the Fab Four’s plan and killed the project entirely.
Meanwhile, Tolkien had actually approved an animated version in 1966. Director Gene Deitch planned on making a full-length cartoon of The Hobbit, but he didn’t have the budget. He was only able to complete 12 minutes. Which you can watch, here:
A decade passed before another studio would tackle the tome. Rankin/Bass, best known for stop-motion holiday specials such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, made a full-length version that aired on NBC in 1977. A mainstay on home video for kids in the ‘80s, it was faithful to the source material and was nominated for several awards. Also, it was kind of creepy. Here’s a clip.
The final version of The Hobbit, before New Zealand director Peter Jackson made The Lord of the Rings series in the late ‘90s, came out of Finland in 1993. It aired on the Yle TV1 network. Here you go:
But perhaps the best known (and our favorite) Hobbit story on film is “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” an early—and super-groovy—music video from 1967 performed by Leonard Nimoy.