A Long Lost Adaptation of The Hobbit Makes Its Way Online

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A Long Lost Adaptation of The Hobbit Makes Its Way Online

The strange tale of how the man behind Tom & Jerry made a twelve-minute Hobbit movie in a month to exploit a Hollywood contract loophole.

Believe it not, there was once a time when no one knew what the hell a "hobbit" was. In fact, it wasn't until thirty years after its publication that anyone paid much attention to J.R.R. Tolkien's little children's adventure book at all. And like anything's transition from nearly unknown to major pop culture sensation, there was some lucky bastard who got involved at precisely the right moment to make a hefty little profit (and a beautiful, albeit odd, little film).

In 1964, William L. Snyder, an American filmmaker with Academy-Award-winning roots in animation, contacted his longtime collaborator Gene Deitch (the man who created the successful Tom & Jerry cartoons) with an idea for a film based on The Hobbit. Deitch, like most others of his time, hadn't heard of it, but was immediately charmed by the captivating tale of Bilbo and his dwarven companions crossing Middle Earth in search of a big, nasty dragon. Snyder had picked up the film rights from the Tolkien estate for "peanuts," and was interested in getting to work on a screenplay as soon as possible. It wasn't much later that The Lord of the Rings was released in paperback, now 13 years after its publication, and started gaining serious traction. That success, of course, carried over to The Hobbit.

Deitch recalls the moment well:

We were well into the Hobbit screenplay when The Lord of The Rings came out in paperback editions. Having assumed there was only The Hobbit to contend with, and following Snyder's wish, we had taken some liberties with the story that a few years later would be grounds for burning at the stake. For example, I had introduced a series of songs, changed some of the characters' names, played loosely with the plot, and even created a girl character, a Princess no less, to go along on the quest, and to eventually overcome Bilbo Baggins' bachelorhood! I could Hollywoodize as well as the next man ...

When I did manage to get and read The Lord of the Rings, I realized I was dealing with something far more magnificent than what appeared in The Hobbit alone, and I then back-spaced elements from The Lord into my script so as to logically allow for a sequel.

With Tolkien's popularity on the rise, Snyder began to realize that he held the rights to something much bigger than he'd purchased. So, hoping to match pace with the growing craze, he was quick to Hollywood, a finished Hobbit screenplay under his arm, hoping to find a studio willing to financially back his adaptation. According to Deitch, Snyder had asked for far too much money from those with whom he'd met, and was universally turned down.

With the project all but dead, Deitch heard nothing from Snyder regarding their Hobbit film for months. Then, a day came when Snyder called with an odd request: reduce the screenplay to twelve minutes, animate it, then voice and edit it within thirty days.

Deitch went on to explain Snyder's reasoning for the strange phone call:

What had happened was that in the meantime, the Tolkien craze had exploded, and the value of the film rights reached outer space. Suddenly, Bill had the possibility of getting a hefty profit without having to finance or produce anything!

Why invest money, plus a year-and-a-half of work, when you can make money without all that sweat? Not only had the Tolkien estate lawyers given Snyder the rights for peanuts, but in their ignorance of film terminology, they had left a million-dollar-loop-hole in the contract: It merely stated that in order to hold his option for The Lord of the Rings, Snyder had to "produce a full-color motion picture version" of The Hobbit by June 30th, 1966. Please note: It did not say it had to be an animated movie, and it not say how long the film had to be!

Before Snyder could sell the rights for a large profit, he'd need to legally maintain those rights. And to legally maintain the rights, he'd need to actually make a film. Following Snyder's instructions, Deitch scrambled to assemble the best talent he could on ultra-short notice, while somehow managing to adapt his feature-length screenplay into the twelve-minute adventure you can now watch above. If you're at all familiar with the animation and/or filmmaking process (and even if you aren't), the magnitude of Deitch's accomplishment should be abundantly clear.

The film was produced just in time for the June 30th deadline, and one day later, Deitch and Snyder screened it. The audience for the premiere was plucked straight from the sidewalk at $0.10 admission. Afterward, Deitch handed each of the viewers a piece of paper to sign, stating: "On this day of June 31, 1966, [I] paid admission to see the full-color animated film, The Hobbit."

With the contract fulfilled, Snyder was able to maintain the rights long enough to sell them for $100,000 (adjusted for inflation, that's about $700,000 in 2012 money). After his two year run with the rights to what's now about to become a $500 million epic, Snyder walked away with a cozy little middleman profit, while we, about 45 years later, get to see a long-lost twelve-minute (somewhat bizarre) re-imagining of The Hobbit by one of the most influential American artists to date. You can read the rest of Deitch's story, including how he made the film in a mere thirty days, on his website.

Source: The Mary Sue

Permalink

The fact that some people think Jackson butchered the lore and then this, this, thing comes up. Puts things into perspective.

Beware SLAG!

Now I a wanna see the full Snyder/Deitch version
*flame shield activated*

that is actualy a hillarious example of screwing the system over... but dam I would be scared to see this thread tomorrow... or in a couple of hours

Mike Kayatta:

Believe it not, there was once a time when no one knew what the hell a "hobbit" was. In fact, it wasn't until thirty years after its publication that anyone paid much attention to J.R.R. Tolkien's little children's adventure book at all.

That's just unabashedly false (and poorly researched). It was praised everywhere upon publication. In fact, the year it came out, 1937, Tolkien's publisher asked for a sequel (which in publishing is generally only asked for if there's money to be made by doing so). Tolkien gave him The Silmarillion. The publisher asked for "more hobbits" (or something to that regard) based on how popular The Hobbit was. And that's how we got The Lord of the Rings.

What you're thinking of is (and what's discussed in the article) that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were repopularized during the '60s as a symbol of the counterculture. But all those college kids reading it then had probably had it read to them as children by their parents, who had themselves read it during their youth in 1937.

Mike Kayatta:

Believe it not, there was once a time when no one knew what the hell a "hobbit" was. In fact, it wasn't until thirty years after its publication that anyone paid much attention to J.R.R. Tolkien's little children's adventure book at all.

Nope.

The Hobbit was a success upon release. Wildly so. Lord Of The Rings was only written because demand for a sequel to The Hobbit was so great. In the couple of decades separating the two, The Hobbit picked up a huge fanbase. The success of LOTR was initially built off Hobbit fans buying the sequel in droves.

Then the sixties and seventies happened, and things went into overdrive. But still, it's not like no-one had never heard of the Hobbit before the hippies started namedropping it everywhere.

EDIT

SLAG!!?!? SLAG THE TERRIBLE?!?!?

By what twisted logic does Slag make a better name for a dragon than Smaug?

It's official, everyone was high in the 60's. Fact.

Christ, reading the article i was impressed they could make an animated short in so little time, but having just watched it...

Mike Kayatta:
A Long Lost Adaptation of The Hobbit Makes Its Way Online

Afterward, Deitch handed each of the viewers a piece of paper to sign, stating: "On this day of June 31, 1966, [I] paid admission to see the full-color animated film, The Hobbit."

Permalink

That's an interesting date :-D

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:

Mike Kayatta:

Believe it not, there was once a time when no one knew what the hell a "hobbit" was. In fact, it wasn't until thirty years after its publication that anyone paid much attention to J.R.R. Tolkien's little children's adventure book at all.

Nope.

The Hobbit was a success upon release. Wildly so. Lord Of The Rings was only written because demand for a sequel to The Hobbit was so great. In the couple of decades separating the two, The Hobbit picked up a huge fanbase. The success of LOTR was initially built off Hobbit fans buying the sequel in droves.

Then the sixties and seventies happened, and things went into overdrive. But still, it's not like no-one had never heard of the Hobbit before the hippies started namedropping it everywhere.

EDIT

SLAG!!?!? SLAG THE TERRIBLE?!?!?

By what twisted logic does Slag make a better name for a dragon than Smaug?

Hit the nail on the head! My Dad gave me his old copy of the Hobbit when I was 10, he read it in the 50's, and his older sister read it in the early 50's, when it was about 15 years old... and before LOTR was completed! I read it because my dad said to, and then I read lord of the rings... This was long before the films! But when he read it he said it was pretty popular. It would have gained instant fame too, due to the academic position that Tolkien was in... All of the academics who studied English would have read it and spread it to friends...

2nd Point... If Smaug had suddenly been given a new background story, where he let people abuse his ring for money, then Slag would have been a fitting name!

Heh. That was a fun little movie.

And an interesting back-story to boot. Not bad.

And so Tolkiens bane has been found. Why in the world would they change all those names when they had the rights? Doesn't make sense at all. Anyone complaining about how Jackson "butchered the lore" should watch this.

So painful. The Tolkien geek inside me just died a little

Someone turned The Hobbit into the Legend of Zelda! Just replace "Slag" with Ganondorf and the stupid heart crystal with the Master Sword. Job done.

I'm sorry, I don't care how old it is nor how quickly it was made, that was more of an elaborate slideshow than an annimation.

- Slag the Terrible? Seriously? I laughed out loud every time the narrator said Slag. So stupid!

- Bilbo's destined to be a dragon slayer now is he?

- It's a testiment to the writings of Tolkien that Hobbiton is always imagined the same way in all these various adaptations.

- Pretty certain Mirkwood doesn't circle Lonely Mountain quite like their map shows! How funny!

- So trolls are now... Groans?

- Goll-ooom?

- The worst shoe-horned love interest I've ever seen.

Berithil:
So painful. The Tolkien geek inside me just died a little

And the Tolkien Geek inside me just suddenly came to life with that trailer! Have people actually been complaining about that?

Proverbial Jon:
Someone turned The Hobbit into the Legend of Zelda! Just replace "Slag" with Ganondorf and the stupid heart crystal with the Master Sword. Job done.

I'm sorry, I don't care how old it is nor how quickly it was made, that was more of an elaborate slideshow than an annimation.

- Slag the Terrible? Seriously? I laughed out loud every time the narrator said Slag. So stupid!

- Bilbo's destined to be a dragon slayer now is he?

- It's a testiment to the writings of Tolkien that Hobbiton is always imagined the same way in all these various adaptations.

- Pretty certain Mirkwood doesn't circle Lonely Mountain quite like their map shows! How funny!

- So trolls are now... Groans?

- Goll-ooom?

- The worst shoe-horned love interest I've ever seen.

Berithil:
So painful. The Tolkien geek inside me just died a little

And the Tolkien Geek inside me just suddenly came to life with that trailer! Have people actually been complaining about that?

Yup. Complaints along the lines of "why is galadriel in this", " the dwarves don't look like dwarves", "why is gandalf fighting someone?" and "peter jacksons going to ruin it."

Seriously, people will complain about anything.

Is it just me, or does Bilbo look like the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith?

What the hell? Kill the dragon? The prophecy?

A must shamefur dispray!

You know what, as much as I'm all for faithfull adaptations, I do LIKE this little movie. It's wierd and it feels nothing like the actual story, but on it's own? I think it's charming.
And to defend the article, while the Hobbit might have been a success, when you compare it to how famous it got post-LotR, I think the article is justified as it is written. It's like comparing Artimes Fowl, (popular, sci-fi childrens books) with Harry Potter. Yeah, Fowl might be popular, but if I were to walk up to a stranger and say he looks like Comander Root, chances are he wouldn't know what I was talking abot. If I'd walked up and said someone renibded me of Hagrid, I can assume he knows what I'm saying. There is a difference between fame and mega-ultra-super-fame

I would like to respectably point to Mr. Kayatta here that Gene Deitch did not create "Tom & Jerry." William Hanna and Joseph Barbera created them at least two decades prior Mr. Deitch even began to work on their cartoons (in the early 60's). The fact that he did not know this does effectively bother me almost at a physical level. I just felt the urge of signing up an account on The Escapist in order to correct that mistake.

This is less "animation" and more "painting callouge with narration over it.

Proverbial Jon:
Someone turned The Hobbit into the Legend of Zelda! Just replace "Slag" with Ganondorf and the stupid heart crystal with the Master Sword. Job done.

I'm sorry, I don't care how old it is nor how quickly it was made, that was more of an elaborate slideshow than an annimation.

- Slag the Terrible? Seriously? I laughed out loud every time the narrator said Slag. So stupid!

- Bilbo's destined to be a dragon slayer now is he?

- It's a testiment to the writings of Tolkien that Hobbiton is always imagined the same way in all these various adaptations.

- Pretty certain Mirkwood doesn't circle Lonely Mountain quite like their map shows! How funny!

- So trolls are now... Groans?

- Goll-ooom?

- The worst shoe-horned love interest I've ever seen.

Berithil:
So painful. The Tolkien geek inside me just died a little

And the Tolkien Geek inside me just suddenly came to life with that trailer! Have people actually been complaining about that?

Animation took a LONG time (and still does, but flash has quickened the process somewhat) to do, since they basically had to draw each and every movement of any object by hand. Even with cel animation, which allowed the animators to only have to animate character movements over the same background, so getting even this out in a month is quite impressive. The story changes I assume were just to avoid having to spend more running time explaining things (trying to explain who Bilbo really was in the Hobbit would take more than this film HAD running time). It doesn't matter if the locations are wrong, or if the names are miss used, if they get a name drop in the "movie" the they can keep the copyright to that character. It is like how X-men Origin's: Wolverine put in every, single, character, possible so that the studio can legally hold the copyright for it. If they just had only Wolverine, they would only maintain the rights TO wolverine.

Madhog:
I would like to respectably point to Mr. Kayatta here that Gene Deitch did not create "Tom & Jerry." William Hanna and Joseph Barbera created them at least two decades prior Mr. Deitch even began to work on their cartoons (in the early 60's). The fact that he did not know this does effectively bother me almost at a physical level. I just felt the urge of signing up an account on The Escapist in order to correct that mistake.

You are right. To clarify, I should say he created many of the Tom and Jerry Cartoons, not the conception of the series itself, as my wording would imply.

I'm not quite sure whether we should commend this man for managing to get a profit out of this license for pulling off a rather ingenious loophole in the contracts, or flog him for destroying Tolkien lore with this abomination.

Which is, and I regret to say... is still better than Twilight.

Wow, I haven't read the Hobbit in a long time but I don't really like the artistic lisence that guy took with his animated short. Ah well, but at least no one treated the project seriously...

Looking foreward to the new film ^^

Thank you for clarifying that to me. I appreciate that you took your time to comment on my little fanboysh outburst.
(personally, I don't even like the Deitch's version of "Tom & Jerry" ;)

Hahaha

They almost got eaten by Ents...sort of.

I love this version.

Huh. Well, that was entertaining! Definitely good for a laugh.

Can't wait to see Peter Jackson's version of The Hobbit.

wat teh fuk?

Seriously, those were only like 12 different pictures that were animated by zooming towards different areas and shaking them a little. Is that really what "the best talent" could do in the 60s?

rofltehcat:
wat teh fuk?

Seriously, those were only like 12 different pictures that were animated by zooming towards different areas and shaking them a little. Is that really what "the best talent" could do in the 60s?

You realize that all that art was hand-painted by one artist, filmed, voiced, edited and in the can in less than 30 days, right?

Mike, I'm afraid your clarification is still wrong. Deitch did not make "many" of the Tom and Jerry shorts. He made a few.

Cut and paste of my lengthy comment elsewhere on this:

Gene Deitch made some very unique Tom & Jerry cartoons, but he is by no means "the man behind Tom & Jerry". That honor belongs to Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, of later Hanna-Barbera fame. Bill and Joe created the duo at MGM in 1939, with the first short released in 1940. They made 114 cartoons about them in the next twenty years.

Much later, a few years after Bill and Joe had left MGM to form their well-known TV animation studio, MGM wanted some more T&J cartoons made. They ended up contracting out to Deitch's studio in Prague for them. He made 13.

Deitch is on record as not actually liking T&J much. He and his studio only saw a tiny handful of cartoons for reference. The budget was minimal. The resulting shorts are some of the most... um... *distinctive* T&J shorts made. They are not among the best. But they are distinctive. The soundtracks are spare. Sound effects are weird electronic noises. The cartoons are not timed or paced like any other short you've ever seen. They are, in a word, *broken*.

There is a hypnotic appeal to this sheer *wrongness*, but this is an appeal that's really only available to the jaded connoisseur of animation, similar to the way some hardened music fans claim to actually, unironically, like the Shags. Deitch's T&J shorts are outsider art. If you think you're ready for them, I suggest the first one delivered, [Switchin' Kitten](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p11v4RKvH5o). It's a nightmarish introduction to the alien world of Deitch's T&J work.

He deserves a place in animation history for his lovely work in pioneering highly-stylized animation at UPA. But nobody would ever call him "the man behind Tom and Jerry".

The animation, if you can call it that, looks more like Alex Anderson to me.

HobbesMkii:

Mike Kayatta:

Believe it not, there was once a time when no one knew what the hell a "hobbit" was. In fact, it wasn't until thirty years after its publication that anyone paid much attention to J.R.R. Tolkien's little children's adventure book at all.

That's just unabashedly false (and poorly researched). It was praised everywhere upon publication. In fact, the year it came out, 1937, Tolkien's publisher asked for a sequel (which in publishing is generally only asked for if there's money to be made by doing so). Tolkien gave him The Silmarillion. The publisher asked for "more hobbits" (or something to that regard) based on how popular The Hobbit was. And that's how we got The Lord of the Rings.

What you're thinking of is (and what's discussed in the article) that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were repopularized during the '60s as a symbol of the counterculture. But all those college kids reading it then had probably had it read to them as children by their parents, who had themselves read it during their youth in 1937.

'The Silmarillion' wasn't published until a few years after Tolkien had died in the late 1970's. It was actually unfinished, but edited and rounded out by his nephew Christopher before being published in 1977. It's right there on Wikipedia. So ya, before you call someone out on not doing their homework make sure you do yours.

OT: Well that was weird. I think I'll just be glad this was never actually released.

I thought it was good. What he got pales compared to what the franchise worth now.

The audience for the premiere was plucked straight from the sidewalk at $0.10 admission

I was most amused by this part.

sir.rutthed:

HobbesMkii:

Mike Kayatta:

Believe it not, there was once a time when no one knew what the hell a "hobbit" was. In fact, it wasn't until thirty years after its publication that anyone paid much attention to J.R.R. Tolkien's little children's adventure book at all.

That's just unabashedly false (and poorly researched). It was praised everywhere upon publication. In fact, the year it came out, 1937, Tolkien's publisher asked for a sequel (which in publishing is generally only asked for if there's money to be made by doing so). Tolkien gave him The Silmarillion. The publisher asked for "more hobbits" (or something to that regard) based on how popular The Hobbit was. And that's how we got The Lord of the Rings.

What you're thinking of is (and what's discussed in the article) that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were repopularized during the '60s as a symbol of the counterculture. But all those college kids reading it then had probably had it read to them as children by their parents, who had themselves read it during their youth in 1937.

'The Silmarillion' wasn't published until a few years after Tolkien had died in the late 1970's. It was actually unfinished, but edited and rounded out by his nephew Christopher before being published in 1977. It's right there on Wikipedia. So ya, before you call someone out on not doing their homework make sure you do yours.

OT: Well that was weird. I think I'll just be glad this was never actually released.

You mean his son Christopher.

esperandote:

sir.rutthed:

HobbesMkii:

That's just unabashedly false (and poorly researched). It was praised everywhere upon publication. In fact, the year it came out, 1937, Tolkien's publisher asked for a sequel (which in publishing is generally only asked for if there's money to be made by doing so). Tolkien gave him The Silmarillion. The publisher asked for "more hobbits" (or something to that regard) based on how popular The Hobbit was. And that's how we got The Lord of the Rings.

What you're thinking of is (and what's discussed in the article) that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were repopularized during the '60s as a symbol of the counterculture. But all those college kids reading it then had probably had it read to them as children by their parents, who had themselves read it during their youth in 1937.

'The Silmarillion' wasn't published until a few years after Tolkien had died in the late 1970's. It was actually unfinished, but edited and rounded out by his nephew Christopher before being published in 1977. It's right there on Wikipedia. So ya, before you call someone out on not doing their homework make sure you do yours.

OT: Well that was weird. I think I'll just be glad this was never actually released.

You mean his son Christopher.

Right. My mistake. For some reason I'd always thought J.R.R. had never had children.

sir.rutthed:

esperandote:
You mean his son Christopher.

Right. My mistake. For some reason I'd always thought J.R.R. had never had children.

And i always thought he had just one kid.

You know, that was actually quite enjoyable on its own merits. I really liked the artwork and the narrator's voice.

(Though my inner Tolkien fanboy is quietly whimpering in a fetal position)

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