Peter Jackson first mentioned at Comic-Con two weeks ago that he was toying with what to do with all the extra footage he has shot for a two film adaptation of The Hobbit. Now, reports are hot and heavy that he’s actually going to turn his two films into a trilogy. When I spoke with Peter Jackson about The Hobbit in San Diego, he was very excited about the 125 pages of notes in an appendices that JRR Tolkien wrote and included in the final The Lord of the Rings novel Return of the King. I’m told now that the possibility is perhaps better than it was then that this might happen, but that it is by no means a certainty. There are internal discussions, and I have to say, they make me wince. There wasn’t a wasted second in LOTR, with the films building to a satisfying, nearly $1.2 billion worldwide gross and Oscar-winning conclusion. I read The Hobbit numerous times and I don’t think that Bilbo Baggins has three films in him.
Jackson told me that the notes written by Tolkien presaged his intention to update The Hobbit and give it more of the weight of Lord Of The Rings. Here’s what he said:
“That goes back to JRR Tolkien writing The Hobbit first, for children, and only after did he develop his mythology much more over the 16 or 17 years later when The Lord of the Rings came out, which is way more epic and mythic and serious. What people have to realize is we’ve adapted The Hobbit, plus taken this additional 125 pages of notes, that’s what you’d call them. Because Tolkien himself was planning the rewrite The Hobbit after The Lord of the Rings, to make it speak to the story of The Lord of the Rings much more. In the novel, Gandalf disappears for various patches of time. In 1936, when Tolkien was writing that book, he didn’t have a clue what Gandalf was doing. But later on, when he did The Lord of the Rings and he’d hit on this whole epic story, he was going to go back and revise The Hobbit and he wrote all these notes about how Gandalf disappears and was really investigating the possible return of Sauron, the villain from The Lord of the Rings. Sauron doesn’t appear at all in The Hobbit. Tolkien was retrospectively fitting The Hobbit to embrace that mythology. He never wrote that book, but there are 125 pages of notes published at the back of Return of the King in one of the later editions. It was called The Appendices, and they are essentially his expanded Hobbit notes. So we had the rights to those as well and were allowed to use them.” Said Jackson: “We haven’t just adapted The Hobbit; we’ve adapted that book plus great chunks of his appendices and woven it all together. The movie explains where Gandalf goes; the book never does. We’ve explained it using Tolkien’s own notes. That helped inform the tone of the movie, because it allowed us to pull in material he wrote in The Lord of the Rings era and incorporate it with The Hobbit.”
The prospect of The Hobbit being turned into a trilogy would be welcome to New Line and financier Warner Bros and MGM. The actors would get an extra payday, and have a lot of leverage. And after Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn split into two films and The Hunger Games announced its intention to do the same and tell a three-book tale in four films, it seems logical. But the fact is, Jackson has already turned a single book into two films here; can he squeeze out a third without boring his fans?
I don’t think anybody would say that the last Twilight Saga benefited creatively by splitting one absorbing tale into two films. Watching Bella give birth to her vampire child was excruciating, it went on and on and on. Werewolves fought vampires, none of them got hurt. Bella grew emaciated, turned skeleton skinny, then died and came back to life. Edward and Jacob stood around, brooding. All of this happened halfway through the last book by Stephenie Meyer, and readers got to see a cool ending with those creepy vampire characters played by Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning. That doesn’t come until the finale. But the movie grossed over $700 million worldwide!
I’d like to think that Jackson would be immune to a blatant cash grab. But let’s face it: in Hollywood, at the end of the day, it’s always about squeezing out the most money possible, knowing fans will endure whatever slop gets served to them if they are addicted to the earlier films. You can see evidence of that in the last three Star Wars movies, which are now being served up again in glorious 3D. Let’s hope Jackson doesn’t spoil the return to Middle Earth. Lord of the Rings was a groundbreaking trilogy because it was fueled by three fully realized books by Tolkien. Jackson has already cut one book and a set of Tolkien notes into a double feature. As a fan of LOTR, I’m concerned.