Ah... Peter Jackson...
Director of arguably the most beloved trilogy of all time, The Lord of the Rings. Lauded by Tolkien fans and critics alike, the trilogy opened up the fantasy genre to the Academy Awards, and introduced a whole new generation to the beauty of Tolkien's fictional world, Middle Earth.
The same, however, can not be said about his follow up, a drawn out, CGI love affair of Tolkien's short novel, The Hobbit. Boasting only (excluding appendices) 304 pages, the studio decided to flesh out The Hobbit into a major trilogy blockbuster. Which, when compared to the LOTR trilogy is slightly ludicrous, considering (again excluding appendices) The Fellowship of the Ring had 479 pages, The Two Towers 415 and The Return of the King 347.
But... you know... money.
Peter Jackson has now revealed what many fans already suspected: he started to film The Hobbit trilogy with absolutely no preparation, shooting scenes without storyboards and completed scripts, describing the whole process as "making it up as I went along." And audiences would agree that it came across pretty clearly on screen.
In brutally honest footage from the Battle of Five Armies DVD Appendices 11 and 12, the man responsible for bringing Middle Earth to the big screen outlines what went wrong.
Y'see, Peter Jackson wasn't supposed to direct The Hobbit trilogy at all. Back in 2010, the reins of Tolkien's 1937 novel were firmly in the hands of Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. Once del Toro had to leave, Peter Jackson took over as the only man the studio trusted.
So What Went Wrong?
Well, this left him absolutely no time to fulfill his vision of what the movie should be, suddenly plunging him into 21 hour days.
"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."
And it wasn't just Jackson who was unprepared. Faithful collaborators, and co-writers/visionaries for the LOTR trilogy Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, also had no time to prepare. This meant that scripts where wholly unfinished, at times in draft stage and not at a satisfactory level when shooting commenced.
"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 […] 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.”
This sad state of affairs can explain why The Battle of Five Armies was pushed back by five months in 2013, to a December 2014 opening. With such a complex finale set to shoot, even Peter Jackson couldn't work his magic to bring his battle to fruition with an impending deadline.
“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.”
Sadly, Peter Jackson admits he largely "winged it" right up until the final battle. Even so, many felt let down by the climactic battle and film as a whole. Large portions were added to the original story with seemingly no advantage to the narrative. Characters and scenes were boldly fleshed out, and the CGI was so over the top, at times it seemed like an animated movie gone wrong (I will never forgive what they did to Billy Connolly). All this added together, it's easy to see why The Battle of the Five Armies sits at a measly 60% on Rotten Tomatoes.
There was a Silver Lining... Kind of...
Although perhaps not giving every fan what they wanted, Jackson did deliver to the studio. The trilogy culminated in a total box office receipt of nearly $3B worldwide, proving that Tolkien (and Jackson) will forever be a commercial hit, and meaning the studios really didn't care that it didn't live up to the lofty heights of The Lord of the Rings. Staggeringly, The Hobbit trilogy cost THREE TIMES more to produce than its Oscar winning predecessor.
In hindsight, I'll always be thankful to Peter Jackson for bringing my beloved Lord of the Rings to the big screen... And always slightly sad that he could never fulfill his true vision of The Hobbit on screen...
Maybe one day we'll see a Peter Jackson planned, prepped and fully backed cinematic adaptation of The Silmarillion.