It was announced Monday that director Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Hobbit, which was already slated to be two films, will now be stretched over three films. What?! For those who don’t already know, The Hobbit was author J.R.R. Tolkien’s initial foray into the realm of Middle Earth, a children’s novel which later spawned his masterwork, The Lord of the Rings, which was split up into three volumes upon its first publication. LOTR is an incredibly dense and rich tapestry with pages and pages of appendices and supplements that couldn’t find their way into the novel proper.
When Jackson made the acclaimed and award-winning film adaptations of those books over ten years ago, there was too much material to fit into a the already-long theatrical cuts and so monster extended cuts were released on DVD to round out the saga. This begs the question: Does The Hobbit, even coupled with portions of the Unfinished Tales which are said to have been included, have enough to warrant three movies? I think my answer to this can be best summed up with this visual aid:
NO! No, it does not! It’s ridiculous. Look, I understand studios like money and they think that by having more movies in a series, the more money they’ll make. It’s the same logic that allowed the final books in both the Harry Potter and (ugh) Twilight series to be split in twain. So far, from what I’ve seen, this doesn’t work. While Harry Potter 7A was one of the series’ best entries, HP-7B was easily one of the worst. I’ve never seen a Twilight movie, nor do I ever hope to see one, but I can’t imagine the end of a book will be anything like as meaty, as satisfying, or as WHOLE as a whole book. Two films was going to push it enough, but a trilogy made of a 1200 page tome makes a lot more sense than one made from a 350 page book + maybe 200 more pages of supplements.
The way I see it, the reasons for this decision are mainly two-fold, and they’re maybe the two oldest folds in human history: Money and Power. The money bit is the easiest to explain. New Line Cinema, MGM, and Warner Bros. all have a stake in this franchise and given the monster worldwide success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, they’re pretty confident that, if two films could make them a heap of money, then three would, logically, make them a heap and a half of money. Add to this the fact that Jackson shot The Hobbit in 3D using a new 48-frames-per-second film technique which will drive the cost of each ticket up accordingly. More money per ticket multiplied by three instead of two is never going to look bad on the ol’ ledger.
Secondly, there’s power, specifically the power of Peter Jackson. Jackson’s always been a DIY filmmaker, making a bevy of gushy, low-budget horror films in his native New Zealand. Largely, his directorial style has remained unchanged since Bad Taste, his very first feature back in 1987, and in most respect, his autonomy in making them is the same too. What has changed is the budget each of his films now commands. Since The Lord of the Rings films made a shit-zillion dollars, he essentially has free reign to do what he likes, for good or ill. He followed up The Return of the King with his lavish, adaptation of King Kong, that for no real reason besides vanity was over 3 hours long. Kong had been a passion project of his since he was a boy and it could easily be seen as the most expensive fan film ever made. Jackson followed that with The Lovely Bones, adapted from a beloved novel by Alice Sebold. He seemed unwilling to tackle the rough subject matter in as gritty a way as was required and hence the film was very uneven.
Then we come to The Hobbit, which Jackson wasn’t originally going to direct. He handed the duties to another well-respected fantasy director, Guillermo del Toro, however when the production was held up due to MGM’s bankruptcy, del Toro bowed out, though he’s still credited as co-writer. While there was a search for a replacement, the studios’ wariness over an untested filmmaker meant the directing duty ultimately fell to Jackson himself, which may be where the problem lies. While Jackson has utter reverence for the source material, he seems more and more unwilling to cut extraneous material out of his adaptations. Filming on The Hobbit wrapped only a few weeks ago and, it would appear, there’s been enough footage shot for there to be an entire third film added. It’s conceivable they’re making it three parts to cut down the running time of each, but, given Jackson’s track record in the last decade, I can’t imagine that’s the case. It’s more likely a case of a man being unwilling to do any editing aside from merely arranging scenes in the right order.
So here we are, the maker of a trilogy based on three books now has a trilogy made out of one book and some added material. The pacing in these movies will be dire. If you thought there was a lot of walking in the first trilogy, just imagine how much we’ll see in a trilogy following one group of characters the whole way. At the end of the day, films should do what’s right by the story being told, not by the studio and filmmakers in charge of them.