Why The Hobbit Trilogy Failed

Last weekend, I attempted to re-watch Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy with my kids. They'd recently enjoyed the LOTR movies and were keen to see more Middle Earth adventures.

"It's probably not as bad as I remember," I thought to myself. "And maybe the extended editions do a better job of tying everything together." NOPE.

The artistic failure of The Hobbit is one of the great tragedies of modern cinema. After the huge success of Jackson's The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the world was expecting something far grander than the tired and bloated fanfic we ended up with.

Granted, the source material is slighter and arguably less suitable for the big screen than LOTR - but these are obstacles other adaptations have managed to overcome. (Where The Wild Things Are was a picture book. Pirates Of The Caribbean was a bloody theme park ride.)

There really is no excuse. In over nine hours of movies, the only good bit is Smaug the dragon. So what went wrong?

The Everything In Middle Earth YouTube channel explores some of the reasons The Hobbit failed. In addition to nitpicking the film's artistic flaws (of which there are many) it also shines a light on the poor filmmaking decisions behind the scenes - from Jackson's initial reluctance to direct to the last-minute decision to split two movies into three.

Fair warning: the presentation is decidedly low-fi - it's basically a podcast interspersed with movie stills - but it does a pretty good job of explaining why Jackson's return to Middle Earth backfired spectacularly.

For a slicker and more detailed take, check out Lindsay Ellis' epic two-part evisceration below:


Comments

    The Hobbit is one book while LOTR is 3. They dragged the source material out to trilogy levels when the material simply isn't there for it.

      It's worse than that. Look at the word count.

      Lord Of The Rings: 481,103 words

      The Hobbit: 95,356 words

      LOTR is pretty much five times the size of The Hobbit. How anyone thought The Hobbit should be three movies... it hurts my head to think about.

        I'm not sure raw numbers do much. While I obviously agree that three movies were too much, I really don't see it working in less than two. I mean, if you went just by those numbers, the Hobbit not only should have been one movie but, actually, one really short movie. And surely you can see how even removing all the added stuff (some of which is, honestly speaking, sorely needed as the book is overly sparse in detail and somewhat rushed-feeling) you cannot fit all the book's different little arcs into satisfying fleshed-for-cinema scenes in 80 minutes or so.

        I argue the opposite: the split of the original LOTR in three books was arbitrary and undesired by Tolkien. Allowing the cinema adaptation to be shackled by that format resulted in overlong movies with differing numbers and quality of narrative arcs. Ideally, I think, LOTR should have been 4-5 movies.

      It's not just that, its also that Guerimo Del Toro pulled out at the 11th hour and then Peter Jackson got called in and self admittedly had to wing a lot of the film.

      I think it was partly due to the NZ interests wanting to keep the franchise going longer like LOTR for both money and to keep the spotlight shining as long as possible.It ended up being like a huge rip off to fans.LOTR was a boon for NZ while it lasted and still spins millions in $ and recognition. The sad thing is it probably did the franchise no favours in the long run. It could have made a great single movie. The book which was a little gem had the life squeezed out of it.

      There might be a lower word count but the events of the Hobbit span a much greater period of time. There's a lot more ground to cover.

    I still enjoyed the Hobbit movies. I don't think anything would really top LOTR but the Hobbit was still good, if a little padded.

    I definitely wouldn't call the movies a "failure" by any stretch, saying that is pretty extreme and pretty clickbaity.

      $3B in box office from $745M is definitely not a failure! Doubt making just one movie instead of three would have made as much profit!

        I actually hate that type of decision - that splitting a story into multiple movies will make more money. The same happened with the 3rd part of Hunger Games and both movies were terrible (even though it probably made lots of money).

        Precisely my point, the movies were most definitely NOT a failure. What some people (especially the creators of these internet videos) fail to understand is that just because you might not like a movie (or a game, or a book, or a TV show, or whatever) doesn't mean it's a failure.

          I think there's some distinction between being a financial success and being a creative success. Popularity and quality don't necessarily correlate.

            The popularity -v- quality argument is an interesting one. I think you could successfully argue that if a movie is ridiculously popular then by definition it has to be good, even if the critics say that it isn't.

              Ain't nobody gonna concede that The Room is good :P

                That's true there will always be "so bad it's good" movies. But even though people *want* to see them it's not because they expect to enjoy it, it's curiosity about "how bad can this be".

        I was going to post something similar. They made a ton of money. So they're definitely not financial failures. That said, they did decrease in box office as the trilogy progressed. That's a sure sign that people weren't *as* impressed with them.

        I understand what Jackson was trying to do - provide scenes that set up for the LotR trilogy. But adding that in padded out the run time unnecessarily and distracted from the *actual* story. As did introducing new characters and shoehorning LotR characters in when they weren't in the book.

        There is a ton of stuff going on in the book, even if the word count isn't super high. But I feel like it would have worked better as either one long movie or at most a two parter.

    I'm a huge fan of The Hobbit book and was glad it was becoming a movie but...you know, it could have been just one movie. Stretching it out so much is what made the trilogy unwatchably boring.

    Before the screaming matches begin, how exactly are we defining 'failure' ?
    Obviously not by financial recoup, and all the stories were adequately told, with the notable omission of Tom Bombadil.

    Is this another Matrix trilogy complaint, where the initial experience was so good, it left the remaining, but very capable movies, in it's wake ?
    If so, that's not a failure of film making, (which ostensibly is to tell a story,) but a failure of the audiences expectations.

    Are you actually championing the opinion that special effects were superior to the acting talents of Martin Freeman and Sir Ian McKellen ?

    Now, we all know you've poked your readers for a reaction, so will be interesting to see your responses.

      The artistic failure of The Hobbit is one of the great tragedies of modern cinema.

      Your Matrix comparison is fair, but it goes deeper than that. The Hobbit movies just aren't very good even outside of LOTR comparisons. The embedded videos explain all the reasons why.

        There's a difference between you thinking a movie isn't very good (a subjective opinion) and labelling a movie as a "failure".

          But it's not just me thinking it. The general consensus is that these movies were a disappointment. That makes them a failure in my book - especially when compared to the Oscar winning heights of the previous triology.

          If you enjoyed them I genuinely envy you - The Hobbit was my favorite book growing up.

            The general consensus is that these movies were a disappointment

            That statement is add odds with the metacritic, imdb or rotten tomato aggregate scores.

              According to Metacritic, exactly 50% of critics gave The Hobbit a positive score. (And "positive" just means above average, not great.)

                I don’t think that points to a “consensus of disappointment”, especially so as it sits next to the audience score which is much more favourable and pulls from a dramatically larger sample size.

                  Bloody good arguing. Your points are spot on.

                  Love or hate the movies, it was far from a failure

                  Come on man, 50% metacritic score is objectively *terrible*. RT 65% for Hobbit 1 is ok, 74% for Desolation of Smaug is good, 59% for Battle of 5 Armies - again - Terrible. These are financially successful ok movies. They should have been 1-2 movies of incredible amazingness. Alas.

          Except all we have is subjectivity. Expecting an opinion piece to offer something approximating an objectively verifiable truth of failure is nothing more than semantic pedantry.

    Awful movies, but you can see the fingerprints of the execs all over them. Dumb shit like adding Legolas, the daft psychic conversations with Gandalf and Galadriel, the HORRIBLE imagining and voicing of the Goblin King. It was all just so shit. But yeah, commercial success validates it all I suppose.

    I hope for a reboot someday that matches the tone (and more English, less fantastical setting) of the book.

      I agree with most of what you said, except that bit about the fantastical setting. I'd say the setting was the thing they got the most "correct". The world they were in felt very much Middle Earth to me.

      The biggest disappointment to me (other than the added "fluff") was the CGI. I feel like for LotR they mixed real effects (makeup, animatronics etc) with CGI almost flawlessly. In the Hobbit movies I felt like they decided to ignore "real" effects and tried to do everything with CGI and there were certain things that just suffered because of it.

        Yep, it really felt like they took half the time and spend half the money - such a shame, given they had the amazing collective talents of Weta Workshop at their disposal. I just hope it's not a one-and-done deal. The book deserve better treatment in my opinion.

          It'll be interesting to see what happens with the TV series. Reportedly it has a huge budget, and being a TV show they could spread content out over several years. Although most TV shows tend to have condensed shooting schedules it could at least provide prep time for complicated stuff, like "we know we need to film massive battle scenes in the next season so we add another month to the shooting schedule and get the effects people on board three months early".

          Initially I wasn't sold on the idea of a LotR TV show but if they do it right they could cover literally centuries of Middle Earth content.

      matches the tone (and more English, less fantastical setting) of the book.

      I dunno, I feel this is part of the issue that is rarely spoken about. The Hobbit is pretty much a modern English fairy tale penned by a younger and more inexperienced Tolkien as the culmination of his studies on folklore and language. The difference in tone, prose, gravitas (or lack thereof), elaboration and intent between it and the purposefully epic fantasy of LOTR are massive. Pinning for the simpler, lighter, folkier version of the Hobbit in a world where LOTR already exists and establishes the Hobbit as a setting prequel seems pointless to me.

      Yes, Jackson's the Hobbit is over-fleshed, bloated even. But there's no room for pretending that no fleshing whatsoever was necessary, especially given audience's expectations.

        Very good points. It would be hard to back pedal the setting after the popularity of lotr. I hadn't thought about that.

        Pinning for the simpler, lighter, folkier version of the Hobbit in a world where LOTR already exists and establishes the Hobbit as a setting prequel seems pointless to me.

        There's an easy way they could have solved this - frame the movies as an older Bilbo retelling his adventures to the child hobbits during his 111th birthday party. (As briefly depicted in Fellowship Of The Ring.)

        This would have allowed them to remain faithful to the children book's tone without clashing with the look and feel of the previous movies.

          That's, actually, a really good idea that would've made sense for, what I like to call, them 'adding GST' when changing the book to a movie.

          Parts that were added (not from the book) could've been framed as being Bilbo's exaggeration of the past for the sake of storytelling.

          A sort of Merlin (Sam Neill) storytelling situation (reinforced further at the end when speaking with Frick and he said he told the story in that way because they wouldn't believe what actually happened).

    Lindsay Ellis's videos are great: those ones in particular exploring how the NZ government passed laws to screw over local actors. There's also part 3 of 2 from that series about the Hobbit (because of course there is):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qi7t_g5QObs

      The Hobbit Law was made mainly to help bring foreign production to New Zealand and apply only in those cases. We hire so many people on mega-production that most people outside unions are more than happy.

      https://imdb.com/name/nm8662749/

      Yeah. I saw her Hobbit analysis ages ago now and it put me on to her. Her film analysis is not just entertaining but solid too.

    Because Peter was forced to spread it out over 3 movies rather than 1 or 2

    Peter Jackson just became delusional from his own success. When he loftily declared "48fps is the future of cinema!" I was like, the guy has lost it.

    The movies were subpar because Peter never wanted to direct them in the first place. There was supposed to be another director originally but he pulled out due to other commitments so the studio basically begged Peter to direct it.

    If you watch the behind the scenes on the extended editions you can easily tell Peter is not really into it or fully committed. I think after the LOTR movies he was burnt out and didnt want to do anymore.

    It could have been so good if MGM had left Guillermo Del Toro to do his thing instead of making bad executive decisions until he washed his hands of the whole venture.

      I know right? Del Toro's creepy fairytale aesthetic would have been perfect for this movie. They tried to make it exactly like LOTR when a completely different tone was needed.

        I don't think that's the case. Jackson has a great artistic eye. But as has been pointed out it seems as though he didn't really want to do them, or was a bit burned out. I wonder what might have been if they'd been given a 12 month hiatus so he was both more prepared and less worn out?

        Side note: I love Del Toro's work and if anyone else was going to do it he'd be my first choice. But I did want to see Jackson's version.

        Interesting - I don't see "creepy fairytale" matching the tone of the book at all. To me The Hobbit was Tolkien's ode to pre-World War 1 England before industrialisation etc. Maybe over time I've conflated it with Wind In the Willows a little, but that's how I imagine The Hobbit in my head. We all interpret the words differently of course, that's what makes life interesting, but for me the movies missed the mark by such a long way. When you are dealing with the life work of a dead person I think you owe it to them to preserve the integrity of their work. I don't think the films did that at all. They took the commercially safe route of cookie cutting the LotR films, shovelling "more of the same" into the mouths of the masses.

    Critics, we still wait for your own movies... Hobbit was more kid oriented and was no failure at the box office and most kids loved it.

    https://imdb.com/name/nm8662749/

      Your first sentence is silly though. You don't need to be a chef to know the food put in front of you tastes bad; you don't need to be a software engineer to know the video game you just played is defective; and you don't need to be a film maker to know a film is deeply flawed. Analysis and creation are different skillsets, despite some overlap.

      But if you really think only the film maker's allowed to critique their own work, then look no further than Peter Jackson's own comments regarding the trilogy. Aside from the standout "I didn't know what the hell I was doing" comment he made about the Hobbit, he also said this:

      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.

      He's also said he wasn't happy with the films, that "I spent most of The Hobbit feeling like I was not on top of it", and that "I hadn't got the enter scripts written to our satisfaction".

    I know a few people who were involved in the production of the films and I will just say the movies are an incredible testament to the skill of Jackson and Weta to create the films with the amount of studio bs they had to deal with. Pretty much every stupid decision was the financing studio going over the top of Fran and Pete.

    If anyone but Pete directed those films with the complete lack of pre production he had it would have been a total disaster.

    I liked the Hobbit movies - there are fan cuts that take the whole thing down to 2-4 hours if you think it is too bloated. In my view the haters are jaded folk - I imagine if children watched the whole Hobbit/LOTR in order they would not claim there was a quality jump when hitting LOTR.

      The Hobbit trilogy is rated M though, it's not for children. The teens I know who saw both trilogies definitely thought the Hobbit was worse quality.

    I enjoyed the movies, and I am a Tolkien nutter from way back.

    I guess I never expected a scene for scene remake of the book, because it would have felt a bit light, and when you add in all the extra stuff about Gandalf and the return of the Necromancer etc I think it makes sense.

    Also, I will never understand this massive hyperbole of "I did not get what I wanted, this movie is a failure hurdy hurdy" that seems to arise when something is different to immediate expectation. My little boy loves these movies, because they have cool stuff in them for little boys.

    In saying that, I am not sure they had to add in Tauriel and the whole weird elf/dwarf love thing, and the quality would have been a bit better with 2 movies instead of 3.

    If you can get your hands on the 3 hour supercut of the Hobbit. it makes for a pretty decent flick by sticking to what happened in the book as much as possible

    were those movies a failure though? they drew huge crowds and lots of money both in box office and tail end home video. and to be honest they are pretty fun movies to watch.

    I hear the Dragonlance Saga is nine novels. We could have had an endless tide of films for twenty years.

    Author obviously didnt watch the lindsay ellis videos BECAUSE THE WHOLE POINT IS THAT THERE ARE THREE OF THEM INSTEAD OF TWO JUST LIKE THE HOBBIT MOVIES

    Ffs you know the article writing is lazy when they dont even fucking watch the videos they are doing articles about

      Isn’t that the point of the videos? You get to the end of the 2nd and it’s a fun surprise that it’s been extended to 3 videos. That was my experience when first watching them. The surprise would be compromised by posting all 3 videos in the article.

    My biggest issue was the over pushing of 3D when it wasn't adding to the films.
    The bumble bee thing at the start is a good example. Then there was the fight with the goblins in the mine, that just dragged on and on and I was over the film by the time it was done.

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