Okay, so Steven Soderbergh whacking almost an hour out of “2001: A Space Odyssey” didn’t go over so well. But there are still plenty of more-flawed movies that could stand being whittled down to size. There was “Star Wars: Turn to the Darkside 3.1,” which recut the little-loved prequel trilogy into a manageable under-three hours. There was a DIY guide to reassembling every moment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in chronological order, “The Godfather Saga“-style. And now, there’s “The Hobbit: The Tolkien Edit,” which cuts Peter Jackson’s eight-hour, three-film monstrosity nearly in half, down to a still-lengthy but more manageable four hours and 21 minutes.
In a blog post, the guardian angel known only as “TolkienEditor,” explains some what of she/he removed:
- The investigation of Dol Guldor has been completely excised, including the appearances of Radagast, Saruman and Galadriel. This was the most obvious cut, and the easiest to carry out (a testament to its irrelevance to the main narrative). Like the novel, Gandalf abruptly disappears on the borders of Mirkwood, and then reappears at the siege of the Lonely Mountain with tidings of an orc army.
- The Tauriel-Legolas-Kili love triangle has also been removed. Indeed, Tauriel is no longer a character in the film, and Legolas only gets a brief cameo during the Mirkwood arrest. This was the next clear candidate for elimination, given how little plot value and personality these two woodland sprites added to the story. Dwarves are way more fun to hang out with anyway. :P
- The prelude with old Bilbo is gone. As with the novel, I find the film works better if the scope starts out small (in a cosy hobbit hole), and then grows organically as Bilbo ventures out into the big, scary world. It is far more elegant to first learn about Smaug from the dwarves’ haunting ballad (rather than a bombastic CGI sequence). The prelude also undermines the real-and-present stakes of the story by framing it as one big flashback.
- Several of the orc skirmishes have been cut. I felt that the Battle of the Five Armies provided more than enough orc mayhem. If you pack in too much before then, they just become monotonous, and it lessons their menace in the audience’s mind. I was tempted to leave in the very first Azog confrontation (since it resembles a chapter from the novel), but decided to cut it for a variety of reasons. Specifically, I found it tonally jarring to jump from the emotional crescendo of Thorin being saved by Bilbo (and the sense of safety the company feels after being rescued by the eagles), straight back into another chase sequence. Plus, I think the film works better if Bilbo is still trying to earn Thorin’s respect the entire journey, as he was in the novel. Not to mention the absurdity of Bilbo suddenly turning into John McClane with a sword!
If you actually think you’ll miss the Tauriel-Legolas-Kili love triangle — or even if you can identify all three of those characters without a quick Google — “The Tolkien Edit” might not be for you. (Fear not, Jackson’s eleventy-thousand-hour Extended Edition will be along presently.) But if you’re curious what a less for-fans-only version of “The Hobbit” might look like, there are several ways to download it via TolkienEditor’s site, at least for as long as it lasts.