The Hobbit trilogy is nowhere near as good as the almost mythic Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is a fact that no amount of fanboy defending can get around. In fact, some would even insist that they outright stunk. So what happened? How did the same team that produced such a sublime, Oscar winning adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy so thoroughly drop the ball on adapting what is essentially nothing more than a 300 page long children’s fantasy story? Well, firstly, it would would help if a breezy 300 hundred pages of story wasn’t stretched out into nearly 9-hours of movie, and secondly – and this is a biggie – the director knew what the hell he was doing.
That last accusation doesn’t even come from me, but from director/co-writer Peter Jackson himself who in a stunningly honest candid and behind-the-scenes video for the Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies DVD (via Guardian) revealed that a rushed production as a result of the “Guillermo Del Toro ditching projects” curse left him floundering around and “winging it” to get the films made.
For those of you that can’t see the video, basically Del Toro was all set to make The Hobbit as two films and then stepped out at the 11th hour leaving Jackson – who only supposed to produce this prequel to his LOTR saga – to direct as well. But Jackson had very different creative sensibilities to Del Toro and thus wanted to make a different sort of film, but the studios weren’t willing to budge on the release date, which meant that Jackson had virtually no time for his pre-production and storyboarding, as opposed to the years of prep work he got to do on LOTR.
Here’s Jackson explaining it in his own word:
“Because Guillermo Del Toro had to leave and I jumped in and took over, we didn’t wind the clock back a year and a half and give me a year and a half prep to design the movie, which was different to what he was doing. It was impossible, and as a result of it being impossible I just started shooting the movie with most of it not prepped at all.
“You’re going on to a set and you’re winging it, you’ve got these massively complicated scenes, no storyboards and you’re making it up there and then on the spot.”
Whoa. That sounds horrible. Especially for a movie of this scale – a scale it didn’t have originally, as Jackson ended up with so much extra footage that he infamously shoehorned in a third movie in the series. And now we know why. Jackson admits that it wasn’t just the visuals and technical aspects for which he was unprepared, but that he and co-writers Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens hadn’t even nailed down the script properly before they had to start shooting – a lack of control that persisted throughout as he was constantly one step behind, desperately trying to get ahead of this runaway production.
“…I spent most of The Hobbit feeling like I was not on top of it ][…] even from a script point of view Fran [Walsh], Philippa [Boyens] and I hadn’t got the entire scripts written to our satisfaction so that was a very high pressure situation.”
The result of all this on-the-fly filmmaking was that the series finale, the logistically complex The Battle of Five Armies, was pushed back five months in 2013 from its original July 2014 slot to a December 2014 release. And that couldn’t have come at a better time as it allowed a completely unprepared Jackson and co a little bit of breathing room to try and figure out how to approach the unwieldy climax which is essentially a 3-hour long protracted, multi-pronged battle sequence with a huge number of moving parts.
“We had allowed two months of shooting for that in 2012, and at some point when we were approaching that I went to our producers and the studio and said: ‘Because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing now, because I haven’t got storyboards and prep, why don’t we just finish earlier?’
“And so what that delay gives you is time for the director to clear his head and have some quiet time for inspiration to come about the battle, and start to really put something together.”
And the end result – for me at least although not so much for international critics – was actually the best entry in the entire trilogy. A trilogy that I may now be starting to view in a completely different light. Jackson had already proven himself an incredibly masterful filmmaker with the epic and sweeping Lord of the Rings – just check out his Oscars cabinet for proof – and even his cult classic movies before that clearly demonstrated his skills, which leads me to think that I should stop asking how he managed to screw up The Hobbit but rather start being grateful that he could actually hold it together at all as well as he did.
Last Updated: November 20, 2015