Once upon a time, movies tended to top out at about 2 hours. To have a film that went longer than that meant that it better be really fucking epic – as in Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, Spartacus, or The Godfather. Those were EPICS; films that simply had to be 3 hours long just to get everything in. There were, of course, the epics that probably should never have been (Cleopatra, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Ben Hur), but the point is that a film that came out to 3 hours or multiple episodes simply had to justify its run-time. Films now tend to run 2.5 hours regularly. The Dark Knight Rises is 2 hours and 40 minutes; Casino Royale ran 2:20; even Hugo, a kids’ movie, ran over 2 hours. Movies as a rule are getting longer and longer. I would not mind, except that the vast majority of them could do with cutting out about 20-40 minutes and not lose anything except baggage, and perhaps a crushing blow to the delicate egos of multimillionaire artistes. Boo freakin’ hoo.
Then there are the films that are so epic in scope that they simply MUST be divided into more than one film because a single film (and single ticket price) cannot possibly encompass all the awesome epicness of such an epic. Right?
I’m a big fan of Lord of the Rings. I was all geeked out for it back in the day. I had regular arguments with my friends about whether Aragorn or Legolas was hotter (Aragorn, by a wide, wide, wide margin, BTW). If I was a fangirl, it was for Lord of the Rings. I was incredibly excited to hear about The Hobbit – what geek wasn’t? Ian McKellan back as Gandalf? Peter Jackson directing again? Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug? AHHHHHH!
So it pains me to say that I am among the many who thinks that Peter Jackson has lost his goddamn mind when he announced that he’s making not one, not two, but three Hobbit films. In what universe is The Hobbit three films? It’s a 300 page children’s book with dwarves and trolls and a fire-breathing dragon. It is not an epic fantasy adventure … like The Lord of the Rings. How can Jackson have possibly stretched it into three films without making it godawfully boring?
My ire, however, comes not only from the fact that The Hobbit is now going to have 500 endings and possibly a hefty dose from the Silmarillion or some other bit of Tolkien-lore that no one except the most die-hard fans actually care about. It’s that this is not the first single book to be turned into multiple films for no apparent reason. We have Breaking Dawn, which should never have happened in the first place and certainly not twice. The last book of The Hunger Games, widely considered to be the weakest, will be drawn out into two films. Same went for the last Harry Potter. Luckily Jackson already made Return of the King before this trend began, otherwise we would have an entire film of endings.
Here’s the great lie, though. The two or three parters are not films. They’re not really trilogies. All great trilogies have films that stand on their own. You can watch the three original Star Wars as three separate films. Same goes for The Godfather; in fact, given the quality of the last one, I’d really recommend it. They each have a beginning, a middle and an end; they have rising and falling action and resolution and character development that feels satisfactory within the singular film. They might set up questions for the next installment, but they are satisfying films that can stand on their own. The last two Harry Potters were not individual films. They were one huge ass film for which I had to pay two ticket prices.
Of course, I’m not such a sap as to believe that this doesn’t have anything to do with the bottom line. The reason why they extended Harry Potter and The Sequel of Doom into two films was because Warner Brothers had a spectacularly successful franchise that they did not want to end. The same is true for The Hunger Games and Twilight. And the same, I fear, is true for The Hobbit. Three films or not, it will make billions.Lord of the Rings was one of the first contemporary epics to prove that a projected three film series would sustain viewer interest over a long period. But it was based on three books, one book a film. It was not an extension of the director’s spectacular ego.
Even acknowledging the bottom line, I still have a sneaking suspicion that The Hobbit is more of a Jackson vanity project than anything. Guillermo del Toro was supposed to direct it initially, yet somehow it slipped back into Jackson’s hands. Jackson himself claimed that when he sat down in the editing room he suddenly realized that he ‘had three films’. Did you, Pete? Or are you just loathe to part with a single brilliant moment of Hobbiton? Might it be possible that no one can, or will, tell you no? Because obviously, you can do no wrong. King Kong was a great idea, wasn’t it? It didn’t turn out to be an embarassing clusterfuck of boring proportions, now did it?
I suppose that time will tell. Perhaps I am being unfair to Mr. Jackson. Perhaps The Hobbit will be everything it’s supposed to be, what with the dwarves and dragons and rings of power. I certainly hope so, if only for the sake of my six year old self who dreamt of being a hobbit fighting off gold crazed dragons and snorting trolls. But you know, I don’t think that I really care. I think that Tolkien wrote a great book that I have deep affection for. Peter Jackson’s ego cannot possibly ruin that. Though I am afraid that he’s going to try.