The Hobbit trilogy so far in its brief existence has picked up a bad reputation for being a mere cash-cow trilogy that is neither meaningful nor worthy of being made. In particular, the argument of taking three films to adapt a slim novel is being used as the standard bearer of this sentiment. In this piece, I intend to take this central argument to task. Additionally I am going outline a few reasons as to why the Hobbit films so far are as worthy as the Lord of the Rings films, if not more so. Of course, I have not seen the third film- “The Battle of the Five Armies” yet, so if my reasons lack any punch or sharpness, I hope you will grant me that one concession.
Firstly, The Hobbit novel by all intents and purposes is not a slim novel, of course, your perception of “slim” may differ from mine, but here are a few objective facts about its length across many different forms. A standard paperwork version comes in at a good 400 pages; the hardback version is 270 pages, the newest Kindle version is 305 pages and finally, the unabridged audio book adds up to a total of 11 hours in listening time.
So far, the films in their theatrical cuts have been less than three hours in their running time, with the first being about 2 Hours and 40 minutes and the second being 2 Hours and 30 minutes. I imagine that the third film will have a similar length. Even taking the extended editions into account, with what has been established, I can say with conviction that they are going to be less than the time it takes for you to listen to the novel.
A slim novel I would count as something like The Great Gatsby, which is 180 pages, Of Mice and Men- 128 pages or even Animal Farm- 144 pages. I would define 300 pages and above as something that can be no longer thought of as “slim” novel. In fact, looking at it in context of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit is as long as “The Fellowship of the Ring,” longer than “The Two Towers”, and shorter than “The Return of the King.” So, The Hobbit is not a “slim” novel by the parameters I have set up, so does it still remain a potent argument?
I don`t think so because I think it shows a lack of engagement with what director Peter Jackson is trying to do with the material. I think that Peter Jackson is trying to make a cinematic prequel to his Lord of the Rings trilogy while additionally trying to reconcile and synthesise elements of both stories that Tolkien never got to do in his lifetime. Furthermore, he is bringing in other elements from his vast corpus. It is quite a bold and ambitious undertaking that should be applauded.
So far, I think he has justified the length, and it has helped the films tremendously. One great example is in the character of Bard, who in the novel becomes a major character after the killing of Smaug, to the point of arguing a major position with one of the main characters, Thorin later in the story. Because of no prior connection, other then his killing of Smaug, his arguments lack a little punch. With what has been established in the films. His father, Girion, Lord of Dale failing to kill Smug, Bard`s outcry and condemning of Thorin`s quest and ultimately being seen as a nuisance in the eyes of “The Master of Lake-Town.” Bard has much more depth, and when it comes to his scenes with Thorin in film three, they will have an extra source of depth, that is not only fulfilling dramatically but thematically too.
What`s more none of this would have come to pass if the Hobbit just stayed as two films, originally Mr Jackson was going to end the first film at the point where Bard aims an arrow and Thorin and company. None of this extra material for him would have been able to be in the film due time constraints. Finally, I think the Hobbit is as worthy as Lord of the Rings because of its two central characters, Bilbo and Thorin respectively.
The former is far more interesting then Frodo because of his internal conflict of him being adventurous versus being the usual conception of what a Hobbit is. It is summed up nicely by the two lines of family he belongs too, the Baggins side encapsulating the less adventurous side and the Took side representing the adventurous spirit. Cinematically, it is also interesting to see how a small person, who has minded his own business his whole life and suppressed his keen eye for adventure to go on a huge one that will fundamentally change him and the world he belongs to forever.
In regards to Thorin, I think he is a fascinating character; He suffers from a family disease that is known as “Dragon Sickness” and it is a tension point for him tragically falling. Also, he is a tough character who has seen a lot of hardship, he is stubborn, passionate and a commendable leader. Plus, his point of view is sympathetic, we can understand why he feels the way he does, even if we can see what it costs him in the short term. A great example of this comes from the scene in “The Desolation of Smaug” where he confronts the Elf King- Thranduil.
He refuses to cooperate with the king because he had witnessed when the Elvis turned their back on the Dwarfs when Erebor was being attacked by Smaug. Despite understanding his motives at this moment, the audience is equally frustrated because his choice here is undermining his quest that has a set time to it. Thorin works in the great tradition of tragic characters, who start out with noble intentions, but have one intrinsic flaw that makes them fall from grace. In Thorin`s case it is his family line that is in conflict with his need to liberate and restore his race.