Revisiting The Hobbit movie (yes – as one movie not three)

Having recently re-read The Lord of the Rings trilogy (see my earlier post) and realizing that Peter Jackson had changed more in the movie versions than I had realized, I decided to rewatch the three Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies for the third time, but this time in the Extended Edition, which I’ve never seen. I purchased a copy of that, which has just arrived. But I have been pondering whether to watch the Hobbit movies before watching LOTR.  I really disliked Peter Jackson’s padding out the story with made-up elements that were not in the book, and spinning it out to three overblown movies. There were some aspects I enjoyed, but I just could not bring myself to watch them again, let alone in the extended editions.

Then I stumbled across a “fan edit” of the Hobbit movies to make a single movie (of length just under 4 hours) which is reasonable faithful to the book, removes excess material and the more ridiculous action sequences. This fan edit, called “The Hobbit – The Cardinal Cut” is described here and can be downloaded or watched on Youtube.

I had not heard of “fan edits” and discovered that there are at least half a dozen that are publicly available. Most of these have had similar aims in editing the movies down to a single movie around four hours long.  A reddit post that lists them and discusses them can be found here. Apparently, it is not illegal or a breach of copyright to make such an edit if you have purchased the original movies. You can download and watch it legally, if you have purchased the original movies.

I have now watched The Cardinal Cut, and I have to say I quite enjoyed it, and much more than the originals. There are still problems with the CGI and the overall look, and that some of the over-the-top stuff is still in important scenes so impossible to remove. Also there are a few continuity problems. For example, the movie skips almost directly from the troll encounter to entering Rivendell. But the experience was much more enjoyable, and closer to Tolkien’s vision.

There are some inherent problems with The Hobbit that make it harder to film than the LOTR. The Fellowship in LOTR contains 9 distinct characters with very different personalities and characteristics. We get to know them all individually and all are played by actors who really are perfect representations of my imagined characters. In contrast, the group of 13 dwarves are mostly indistinguishable. Apart from Thorin and 2 or 3 others, by the end of the movie I was still unable to put names to most of them, and certainly had no real sense of their personalities. Makes it harder to engage with the group.

Also, many of the other actors did not fit very well the characters I imagined. That includes many of the dwarves, who simply didn’t look dwarf-like enough, just shrunken men, unlike Gimli in LOTR. I must admit I was quite surprised to find out that Billy Connolly played Dain Ironfoot. The Big Yin was shrunk for the movie! So the actual production values of the original movies limit what can be done with a fan edit.

I’ve now read a little more about the making of The Hobbit and watched some interviews with Peter Jackson. For the LOTR movies, he had a three and a half year pre-production period in which every aspect of the movie was developed and lovingly worked over, including design and artwork, production of weapons and other props, the detailed story line, casting etc. Peter Jackson, the cast and crew, all paid a huge amount of attention to the detail and the feel of Middle Earth.

In contrast, Jackson was parachuted in as Director of The Hobbit at the last minute, to replace the original director, Guillermo del Toro, who had intended to split The Hobbit into two movies. Jackson added a third after taking over, turning a single, modestly-sized novel into 3 lengthy movies. He only had two months of preparation before starting filming and is on record as saying that he “winged it”, and started each day’s filming with little pre-planning, often asking his cast to take long lunch breaks so he could plan the afternoon’s shooting. This shows. Additionally, there was much more reliance on CGI than in LOTR, for which much of New Zealand’s population had been stuffed into rubber orc costumes, etc. That gave the LOTR a much more “real” feeling.

Filming the Hobbit in the same style as the Lord of the Rings was guaranteed to do violence to the book. Tolkien himself tried to rewrite the Hobbit in the Lord of the Rings style, but gave up quite early on, acknowledging that it was just a different kind of story. In bloating one book, written as a simple adventure story focused on Bilbo, and in a tone directed to children, Jackson introduced new characters and extraneous material, as well as very extended battle, chase and fight sequences. Some of the most egregious of these include the whole Dol Goldur section, where Gandalf meets up with Galadriel, Saruman and Radagast to battle the Necromancer, and the love triangle between one of the dwarves, Legolas and Tauriel, a kick-ass female elf made up by Peter Jackson. Evangeline Lily, who played Tauriel, and admittedly did a good job of it, said that when she took the role she asked them to guarantee there will be no love triangle, and they said there wasn’t.  However, they called her back for re-shoots the next year and added the love triangle.

Jackson has the excuse he was parachuted in with no real time for developing the story properly, but overall, he is still to blame for the decision to make three movies out of one book, to go so over the top with ridiculous action and fight sequences, and to add some quite egregious extraneous material. To give him his due, I have to say that the casting of Thranduil was a piece of genius. I can never take my eyes off him when he is on the screen. Amazing charisma and great characterization. And one of the very few instances where the back story made up by Peter Jackson actually works well.

The Cardinal Cut is not quite the perfect cut of the movie for me. I would like a little of Tauriel included (despite wanting to stick closer to the book), minus love triangle and cartoon fighting style, a little more of the backstory of Thranduil, and some more attention to continuity and flow. The best of the other fan edits might achieve this, or simply give a somewhat different take.  I think I will watch the best of the other fan edits, before turning to the LOTR Extended Edition. The only remaining question is whether to watch the entire LOTR trilogy in one hit, just over 12 hours of viewing including the credits. Or to watch one movie per evening, and spend additional time on the Appendices (with total run time of around 12 hours also).

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