Peter Jackson makes no apology for making fans wait for the latest instalment of The Hobbit, he tells film critic Tony Earnshaw.
It’s the question many fans have considered: did expanding the slim tale of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit to make three movies allow Peter Jackson to pile on the thrills and spills?
What’s more, which character benefits from such a move? Given the repertory of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug includes elf archers, dwarf warriors, wizards, necromancers and immense dragons, the question seems justified.
“I don’t think any character really benefited,” says Jackson. “We didn’t change a lot. We made that decision after we had shot most of the film [and] it was based on what we had shot. We thought ‘We’re going to have to somehow cut a lot of this stuff out and we can reshape it.’ Then we did some more shooting.”
In addition to his extra shooting, Jackson and his cast completed 10 weeks of pick-ups for the second and third films in the Hobbit trilogy. The director claims it “allows you to let the characters drive the story”.
He adds: “In a novel the writer takes you on the journey and Tolkien’s voice is obviously fantastic at doing that. You feel like he’s right beside you telling you a bedtime story. But in the movie you don’t want me on screen talking about what’s happening. So in a film the discipline is that you have to have the story told through the dialogue of the characters [and] through their actions.
“That’s really why we ended up wanting to explore some of the character depth that we had done on The Lord of the Rings. I was also acutely aware that you’re going to end up with six films – Unexpected Journey being the beginning and The Return of the King being the end. I did want to have a unity – I didn’t want to make The Hobbit feel simple.”
Newcomer Evangeline Lilly, playing elf archer Tauriel, has been quoted as saying Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens “brilliantly tied the last Hobbit film to the first Lord of the Rings film through the one character who could do that, which is Legolas”.
Fans of the series clearly need that continuity. Maybe Jackson needs it, too. Which perhaps explains why he and his co-writers felt the need to open up the story and insert characters from other elements of the Tolkien world. “That’s a good point because people always ask about Tauriel and why we felt the need to create her,” agrees Jackson.
“In The Hobbit novel the dwarves are captured by the elves and they escape in the barrels. It’s a memorable part of the book but the elf king is not even named. It was only later on that Tolkien decided he should be Thranduil. Then he also decided that he had a son when Lord of the Rings was written 19 years later. And he created the character of the son of the king.
“So you’ve got material there, but in a memorable scene you can’t have just one person as the elf. We wanted three elven characters who were all different. That’s the thing too: to create characters that have conflict with each other and have different agendas.
“Thranduil, Legolas and Tauriel are all on different flight paths which makes for much more interesting ability for Philippa, Fran, and I to sort of write the narratives through their eyes. So that was it.”
And, even more so than the first in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug ends on a cliffhanger leaving fans with an agonising 12-month wait until they can see the finale. A smiling Jackson is unapologetic.
“I remember when I was about 19 years old. The Empire Strikes Back had a big cliffhanger ending and it was three years before the next one came out.” he says.
“We’re being pretty generous: one year.”
JRR Tolkien’s stories on film
Peter Jackson began his relationship with JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings stories when he adapted the novel for the silver screen in 1997.
The Fellowship of the Ring came to cinemas in 2001, The Two Towers and The Return of the King followed in 2002 and 2003.
Winning the creative team multiple Oscars, the trilogy was considered a triumph of cinematic achievement and broke all manner of box office records. Despite the critical and popular success, bringing The Hobbit to the big screen has been a long and arduous road. The release of the first Hobbit movie was not well received by either fans or critics.
It seems with The Desolation of Smaug, Jackson is back to his award-winning best in the relationship between himself and Tolkien.
On general release.