So the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be coming out in its fantastic Peter Jackson version later this year. Although in its book form it is the first novel and The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the sequel, in the film version the roles are reversed such that the Hobbit becomes the sequel production, prequel in story-line movie.
This makes me curious to see how the story gets told. Although in Middle Earth time, the events of the Hobbit precede those in The Lord of the Rings, the story itself is getting reversed. This is fine as long as the audience thinks of the film versions as part of a story that is being told by a new storyteller, in this case Peter Jackson.
When Mr. Jackson tells his version of the books in this order, he will no doubt assume that people have seen his first three films. As such, he will likely place characters from the Lord of the Rings into situations that allow for a connection backwards in Middle Earth time between the two trilogies. I argue that making the films this way will then require that the films are viewed in this sequence as well.
I am afraid that this will not be the case among a certain segment of the Tolkien/Jackson movie viewing audience.
When all of the Star Wars prequels were completed, I heard many folks talk about wanting to watch all six movies as a huge movie marathon (Note: much less work than an actual marathon. And better snacks). Unfortunately, this is usually followed up by the idea to watch them all "in order." I say "in order" with the bunny ear quotes because they mean in internal historical order not storytelling order.
I argue that anyone who watches the movies in the internal historical order will be disappointed. How surprising would it be watching the original Star Wars trilogy after you already know that (Spoiler Alert) Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father? Or how grossed out you would be knowing that Leia is his sister? It's bad enough thinking about Luke's incestuous thoughts and their awkward kiss in retrospect. Now imagine watching it all unfurl Episodes I through VI and getting thoroughly confused by the plot holes, technology downgrades and the apparent lack of written history in the Star Wars universe.
I for one will always watch the Star Wars movies in their story telling order and will show them to my children that was as well. I say that the same goes for the new Hobbit films.
Although the Tolkien movies have the benefit of being based on classic novels that have been read and re-read for decades freeing the new storyteller to tell his version of the tale, I still say that the die has been cast on these films. Although The Hobbit should always been read before the Lord of the Rings, it should always be watched after it.