As Steven Lloyd Wilson pointed out in his review of The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, it would only take the average American reader six hours to read Tolkien’s slim adventure story of hobbits, elves, dwarves and dragons. If you add up the running time of Peter Jackson’s first two film adaptations, we’re already clocking in at five and a half hours. Unfortunately, we’re not finished. There’s a third installment on the way and we still have miles to go before we can get from there back again. But Peter Jackson originally planned his saga of Bilbo Baggins to be a more modest two-parter. He told Entertainment Weekly exactly where he would have split the story in twain:
The split was going to occur where Bard appears on the riverbank as a silhouetted figure with a bow. So the whole barrel sequence (from The Desolation of Smaug) was going to be the climax (of the first film). But it just felt like—it didn’t feel right. I know a lot of people had issues with the first movie in the sense of it being a meandering kind of a road film but…we actually rethought it all. And actually what felt more satisfying—there was certainly no shortage of material. I think people are always coming from the direction of ‘well how do you take a three hundred page book and turn it into three movies,’ but we were almost coming at it from the exact polar opposite which was once we had done our adaptation—and that had been long since done.
Jackson went on to defend New Line studios and shoot down the idea that stretching the film into three parts was their fault. He says, “People think it’s a cold-blooded cash grab from the studio, and no it didn’t come from the studio at all. It came from Fran, Philipa, and I.” So what we have here, folks, is a failure to expurgate. It’s not a matter of the studio asking the film be stretched, it’s a matter of the creatives being so enamored of their own work that they were unwilling to trim the fat. This crippling case of bloat is a problem many successful writers and directors face as their careers explode, forcing us to wonder if anyone ever says “no” to them at all. JK Rowling? Stieg Larsson (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)? Their editors stopped cutting their books. That’s how we end up camping in the woods with Harry and Hermoine for half of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows or getting the detailed backstory on every character, no matter how minor, in The Girl Who Played With Fire.
But what Jackson has done here is even worse. I quite like the original Lord Of The Rings trilogy and am forever grateful to Peter, Philipa and Fran for vividly bringing that world to life. Jackson’s passion is evident. So out of respect for that achievement, I will reserve my most corrosive bile for this latest adaptation and just say that being unwilling to cut down a story when adapting a book to the screen is merely amateurish. Creating new characters, scenarios and confrontations in order to “improve” upon a much-beloved classic? That’s arrogance. The addition of Azog, The White Orc or Tauriel, the white girl from Lost bring nothing substantial to the story. THE ELF/DWARF LOVE TRIANGLE BRING NOTHING SUBSTANTIAL TO THE STORY.
Here’s the part that boils my blood. Jackson says:
We just thought there’s a way that we could structure this that might be more satisfying, that might give us a sense of the beginning, the middle and the end. It might just tick all the boxes that it doesn’t seem to be doing at the moment…and their faces kind of froze because we were hitting them up with not just the fact that it had become three movies, but we also wanted to do a bit more shooting during the year to fill out a bit more of the storylines because we liked where some of it was going but we couldn’t necessarily shoot everything that we wanted on our original plan.
That is Peter Jackson blatantly stating he needed to improve on the storytelling structure of The Hobbit. Odd. I thought The Hobbit already had a beginning middle and end. It begins in a hole in the ground, in the middle there are wolves and spiders, a dragon and a big ol’ smashing battle and then we end where we began, in a hole in the ground. In the instance of Bilbo’s story, alas, Jackson’s child-like excitement and passion for all things Tolkien wasn’t able to outweigh his own arrogance. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is doing very well at the box office, but will it endure like the original trilogy of films? Like the book? In this instance, I think Tolkien and his 95,000 words have the upper hand. That’s as it should be. You can listen to Jackson’s entire interview below.
(Glossy header photo via The One Ring)