The Failure of The Hobbit Trilogy

The Lord of the Rings movies are my Star Wars trilogy. I grew up with them and I love them dearly. Similarly, The Hobbit trilogy is my Star Wars prequel trilogy. It almost destroys my memory of my original trilogy that I love so much. I really think Peter Jackson screwed it up and he’s done his best to explain what happened.

This video is from some special features from the release of The Battle of Five Armies. It explains how because Guillermo del Toro left the project so late, Jackson wasn’t given any time to prepare his vision of the movie, and he didn’t want to use all of del Toro’s pre-production work.

So:

I just started shooting the movie with most of it not prepped at all.

That’s quite the reveal from the director of a massive blockbuster movie that’s considered a failure. He’s owning up to it; not giving excuses, but explaining why.

Richard Taylor, Weta Workshop Creative Director, explains the feeling of barely staying on top of it during production:

You now have to plan on the go. You’re laying the tracks directly in front of the train. And that chased us all the way to the end.

Some quotes from Jackson:

When you’re going on to a set, very complicated, and you’re winging it; you’ve got nothing to go on: no storyboards, no pre-vis. You’ve got these massively complicated scenes and you’re just making it up there and then on the spot.

And:

I spent so much of the hobbit feeling like I was not on top of it. The fact that I hadn’t much prep and I was making it up as I went along and even from a script point of view, Philippa, Fran, and I hadn’t really got the entire scripts written all the way through to our satisfaction so that was a really high pressure situation.

And:

When you’re in the momentum of a film. Day after day you’re shooting, week after week you’re shooting. What you’re lacking is time to think. I don’t even have time to think for half an hour if I’m on the set directing because in that half an hour I’ve got thirty people coming up to me and asking me questions. So I can help everyone else but I can’t help me. I can’t get the time I need to think.

This paints a picture of a genius director who never got his chance to create something amazing because his brain was always behind, always playing catch up. There was never any space for him to truly create. This is why the movie feels so derivative and bland. There was no real creation. Contrast this with the singular vision he brought to the Lord of the Rings trilogy where he had multiple years of pre-production to establish his vision.

I don’t think this is the whole story though. The real failure of The Hobbit trilogy is more nuanced. Sure, one half is the lack of creativity, but the other half is the George Lucas effect. The Star Wars prequel trilogy failed primarily because George Lucas has terrible taste and his crew was afraid to confront him.

Peter Jackson has mostly good taste, but his bad taste was completely unchecked in The Hobbit trilogy. His poor taste manifested itself in things like crude jokes between an elf and a dwarf, hugely bloated set pieces of wargs chasing bunny sleds, completely unbelievable action sequences that show off Legolas’s powers, etc.

This was allowed to happen because Jackson was so stressed and frazzled all the time. Imagine you’re working for a world renowned director who has created this generation’s greatest film trilogy. But now he’s stressed out of his mind and only sleeps three hours per night. Your job is to tell him that his ideas are bad. Have fun with that one.

This just barely scratches the surface of why The Hobbit trilogy failed. I’m glad the above video exists to help start to explain it.