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?