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An Open Letter To Peter Jackson On Splitting 'The Hobbit' Into Three Movies

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by Oliver Lyttelton
July 25, 2012 10:02 AM
13 Comments
  • |

Dear Mr. Jackson,

As big fans of your work all the way back to "Bad Taste" (in fact, of your work, the only film we're not fond of is "The Lovely Bones," and let's face it, every filmmaker gets a misfire at some point), we wanted to drop you a line after hearing about some recent events. Like many film fans, we're looking forward to your return to Middle Earth, with the first of your two-part adaptation of "The Hobbit," when it comes to theaters in December.

After all, "The Lord of the Rings" is, if not our absolute favorite of your films (that would be "Heavenly Creatures"), a pretty tremendous triptych, and one of the most impressive achievements not just in genre filmmaking, but in modern movies in general. And despite controversies over your new 48fps technique (which we're intrigued to see, having not caught it ourselves), it looks, from trailers and Comic-Con footage, as though you haven't skipped a beat in the decade since photography on the original trilogy, with the same fine handle on tone, casting and imagery.

But there have been some slightly troubling rumors in the last couple of weeks, first emerging at Comic-Con, and now gaining more steam. As was reported last night, you really are seriously considering turning the two "The Hobbit" movies into three. And we wanted to write this letter to ask -- nay, beg -- you to reconsider your plans. Because they sound potentially disastrous.

You're far from the first to put such a plan into action. "Kill Bill" was the trailblazer, Quentin Tarantino and Harvey Weinstein splitting a film intended as one epic into two. More recently, "Harry Potter" set the trend, splitting its final installment, "Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows" into two installments, and adding nearly a billion dollars of box office as a result. "Twilight" was next up, with this November's "Breaking Dawn Pt. 2" closing the saga with the final vampire battle. And Lionsgate has already announced that the final "Hunger Games" movie, "Mockingjay," will also be split into two movies, even though the second film isn't even in production yet.

Of these more recent franchise pictures (excluding 'Kill Bill'), 'Deathly Hallows' seemed to be most led by creative, narrative reasons, rather than a cash grab (the book was something of a behemoth, and very plotty), but even then, it resulted in a first film which was somewhat draggy and anti-climactic. However, at least they were conceived in advance as two films. As far as we can tell, you developed and wrote (with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo Del Toro) "The Hobbit" with the idea in mind of two movies. And it's only of late that you've decided that they might be three. Presumably, with less than six months until "An Unexpected Journey" hits theaters, that film will be left relatively intact, with the material for "There And Back Again" being split, and mixed with the footage from the two months of extra shooting you want to do next summer.

As much as we're looking forward to "The Hobbit," we've always been a little concerned by the split into two, let alone three. The book is a relatively meagre 300 pages, and certainly less rich and epic in scope than the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. But there was talk that you'd bring in aspects of the appendices from the books to help bridge the gap between "the Hobbit" and the existing films, and we had faith, given the excellence of the previous films, that you'd find a way to do so organically -- the first three films were terrific examples of adaptation in screenwriting, for the most part.

But here, you'd be retooling the films you've already written and shot so that they can stretch over as much as an extra three hours of narrative (assuming you're not breaking your recent habit of lengthy running times). But no matter how you're re-tooling these films, does the structure of the story support that? Will you still be able to have satisfying climaxes and narrative beats in the same way? Or are you including moments of fan service that, when first adapting the book, your instinct found unnecessary for the story? The Extended Editions of the "Lord Of The Rings" films were great for fans, but the theatrical cuts remain the definitive takes as movies in and of themselves. And we'd certainly rather see leaner films that satisfy as movies, than bloated ones that adapt every scene and moment of not only "The Hobbit," but also the supplementary material (which even Tolkien only included as appendices). As much as we enjoyed "King Kong," it being twice as long as the 1933 original emphatically did not make it as good.

You're a Middle-Earth fan, obviously; you've proven that many, many times over, and your abiding love for the property is one of the things that made the original film so special. But you're also a filmmaker and a movie lover too. Let's not forget that you originally didn't want to direct "The Hobbit" at all, handing over the reins to Guillermo Del Toro. We've sure you've recaptured your love and enthusiasm for Tolkien over the last couple of years during production of the films, but do you really want to spend another 12 months of your life, and career, on a third film that smacks of being, at best, an afterthought (a sor tof Middle-Earth "Wake Up, Ron Burgundy"), and at worst, a naked money-grab?

Maybe we're being pessimisstic. Maybe you looked at your assembly of the two films so far, found an organic way to split them further, and realized that extra material from the appendices would be beneficial to the story you're telling. Or maybe it's just that you'd like to get back together with a crew and cast that you clearly love dearly one more time, and get an extra few dozen million dollars for your trouble. There have been worse motivations for making a movie. But you've already got a tough battle living up to your achievement with the 'LOTR' trilogy -- the very reason you gave for originally passing on directing "The Hobbit" -- and do you really want to follow-up that up with three potentially watered down and/or self-indulgent follow-ups?

Yours,

The Playlist

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13 Comments

  • Jackson Pallock | December 4, 2012 3:13 AMReply

    @AdamOnDemand, your an Fing idiot. the Hobbit is not a trilogy. It's not a grand story. It's a small simple story that can be told in one movie. This is a complete cash grab.

    The book that needed to be split into 3 movies was the Fellowship of the Ring. To which Jackson cut to fucking shreads.

    The Silmarillion is a collection of stories. It is not a single story. It is background for the Hobbit and LoTR.

    You haven't clue.

  • Angela | August 2, 2012 5:33 PMReply

    I would like to co-sign this letter, even though the decision to split it into three movies is apparently already officially. You voiced my exact thoughts on this topic.

  • AdamOnDemand | August 2, 2012 1:31 PMReply

    I'm all for restoring the huge amounts of fascinating, rich, layered, complex characters, history, culture, locations, plot turns, sub-plots, that were lost in the reduction of the LOTR books to film. Particularly in adapting material for a new film series with unproven audience, you go for the most easily dramatized parts, and just hope you're not alienating too much of the book purists who'll be bemoaning the losses of characters, complexity, plots, subplots, etc. to the commercial cutting floor.

    Those films were a gamble which has nonetheless payed off hugely, and which now provide the market rational to expand the movies to fit the content, rather than shrink and dumb down the content to fit the market. Even while they're played in syndication on basic cable LOTR continues, a decade after their release, to draw great ratings from key audiences. Stretching The Hobbit over three movies provides much more time to include more of the book's depth, which would otherwise have been completely excluded or simplified ad absurdum in a single film.

    And, it makes great business sense. Execution will be key, of course, but, if done right, and The Hobbit trilogy is a success, it then tees up interest in The Silmarillion, which is huge, dense, covers thousands of years, multiple epochs and cultures, dozens of characters, and whose complexity would only make sense divided over a series of films. We're looking at another decade of franchise extension. And, if they're as good as the Jackson LOTR, they'll be hugely satisfying to the audience and commercial successes, with our without Oscars recognition.

  • Crackhead Joe | July 29, 2012 2:11 AMReply

    He isn't going to split The Hobbit into 3 parts so much as he's including other Middle Earth lore and helping bridge the gap between The Hobbit and LoTR.

  • StephenM | July 26, 2012 2:24 PMReply

    Agree with this letter entirely (although I do love the extended versions). Please don't split it into three!

  • Sir Peter Robert Jackson | July 26, 2012 12:57 AMReply

    fuck you.
    SHOW ME THE MONEY!

  • tristan eldritch | July 25, 2012 2:02 PMReply

    Dear Mr Jackson,

    Kudos for slimming down - GREAT JOB! I will never forgive you for your garish travesty of King Kong, or for putting ENYA, rather than Led Zep, on the Lord of the Rings soundtrack.

    Hope all is well besides,
    Tristan.

  • Tyrannosaurus Max | July 25, 2012 12:07 PMReply

    I would love to see a new Peter Jackson gore fest instead, but I'm definitely not holding my breath.

  • sean c | July 25, 2012 12:04 PMReply

    What are you guys talking about? At this point we know that there's so much material in ROTK appendices that could be spliced into the films to coincide with Bilbo's story (and will be), but why would you not want Jackson to expand on that. The 3 LOTR trilogies, extended editions included, are fantastic and never cease to entertain, despite the 4 hr runtime. Since Jackson has not let us down yet, why not trust him to tell even more of this wonderful story. I take what I can get, and with these films, the more the better.

  • Bill Edmunds | July 25, 2012 11:27 AMReply

    Nice article, but you're a bit off in your facts. Jackson hasn't spoken of making the Hobbit into 3 movies. He has merely said there is enough material in the appendices to make another movie. Not, I hasten to add, to make The Hobbit even longer.

  • Mike | July 27, 2012 2:17 AM

    Based on what he said recently, you're both off base. He wanted WB to let him film more material from Tolkien's notes, but he said that footage would likely pad out the films as is, rather than be another installment. WB's gotta be in full understanding of this, because 1. they said nothing this week about a 3rd installment & 2. the extra shooting won't even take place until 2013 & the currently final installment is out at the end of 2013, they're going to have to know what shape it'll take in theaters before they can market and release part 2. My money's on extra footage for video releases.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | July 25, 2012 11:34 AM

    And you haven't read the article linked in the third paragraph which inspired this article, clearly. http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/my-precious-talks-get-serious-for-the-hobbit-to-be-turned-into-a-trilogy-20120724

  • Arch | July 25, 2012 10:23 AMReply

    Great job Oliver. Smart, thoughtful and cool-headed "open letter" (god knows that's rare on the Internet). I even agree with your opinions on Jackson's movies !

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