Directed by: Peter Jackson || Produced by: Peter Jackson, Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner, Fran Walsh
Screenplay by: Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro || Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch Ken Scott, Luke Evans
Music by: Howard Shore || Cinematography by: Andrew Lesnie || Edited by: [Insert Preferred editor here] || Country: United States, New Zealand || Language: English
Running Time: 252 minutes
The fan-edit is not exactly a new thing in film-culture, but with the rise of the internet, the digital revolution, and the distribution and democratization of powerful editing tools like Final Cut 7 and Adobe Premiere Pro, fan remixes and alterations of mainstream movies have become as prolific as George Lucas’ ridiculed Star Wars (1977, 1980, 1983) “Special Editions.” Particularly with poorly received or big cinematic disappointments like the Star Wars prequels (1999, 2002, 2005, e.g. The Phantom Edit), fans have taken narrative pacing and storytelling matters into their hands; we, the cinematically inclined masses, have decided to take measures that megalomaniacal directors or greedy studio executives were unwilling to take.
One of the most widely contemplated and expected fan-edits of recent years was Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy (2012, 2013, 2014), a trilogy that really should’ve had only one 3-3.5 hour, or at most two 2-hour installments. What we got in theatres was 474-minute (169 minutes for An Unexpected Journey, 161 minutes for The Desolation of Smaug, and 144 minutes for The Battle of the Five Armies) bloated cash-cow that Warner Bros. milked till the last drop. While the “trilogy” had its moments here and there and was a colorful, mildly entertaining fantasy adventure, all things considered, it had a lot of problems. For one, the CGI was very disappointing, minus a few outstanding effects here and there (e.g. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug), many of the characters were forgettable, much of the action was cartoony and silly in contrast to the gritty warfare of The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)…..and oh yeah, the movies were way too fucking long!
To say that The Hobbit’s three installments were stuffed with filler would be putting it mildly. The fact that all three of the installments were over two hours long, and that this whole adaptation was taken from a 300-page childrens’ novel was absurd.
Thankfully, numerous fans have corrected many of these huge filmmaking missteps by cutting out most, if not all, of the series’ filler, excising “universe-building” material that wasn’t even in the original book (e.g. Gandalf’s side-quest, characters like Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel, Christopher Lee’s Saruman, etc.), and rearranging flashbacks and exposition to tighten up pacing and narrative coherency. There are numerous fan-edits to choose from, but the highest quality one I’ve watched and the easiest to procure is this one by Maple Films’ Dustin Lee. It’s a hefty 9.62 GB file, but it’s 1080P Blu-Ray quality throughout and features solid color correction and effective editing that makes for a much, much stronger cinematic Hobbit experience.
The main features of the edit are as follows:
- The entire trilogy has been reduced from nearly eight hours to only four.
- The prologue has been completely excised, as have most of the repetitive flashbacks.
- Gandalf’s Dorguldur subplot and most any mentions of Sauron or “The Necromancer” are gone.
- Azog and Bolg’s screentime is severely reduced. They are a recurring presence throughout the movie, but most of their monologues and action scenes are gone save for the Battle of the Five Armies segment.
- The Eagles rescue is cut out; the company race out of Moria and the story transitions to Beorn’s hideout.
- Legalos now has a minor cameo appearance in a couple brief scenes, but otherwise is a non-factor. Tauriel isn’t even in the movie at all.
- Most of the Laketown politics have been removed, as has much of Alfrid Lickspittle’s character, thank God.
- The Smaug sequence with Bilbo is preserved intact, but the following battle against the dwarves is reduced to a couple minutes, and most of the entire Erebor lair-scene isn’t muddied with crosscutting to scenes in Laketown.
All the aforementioned changes make this movie much more of an actual “Hobbit’s tale” as JRR Tolkein originally wrote it. There are still plenty of artistic liberties taken, and for my part I would’ve gone farther in a few places (e.g. kept the “Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire” sequence and removed the altogether uninteresting Beorn character), but overall this edit is a massive improvement over the bloated theatrical releases.
Admittedly, some undesirable aspects of the trilogy couldn’t be edited out, like the over-reliance on CGI-antagonists and Thorin’s (Richard Armitage) annoying, mopey “Dragon-sickness,” but given the material presented to us in the Blu-Ray releases, this is a fine cinematic envisioning of Tolkein’s Hobbit story. People who enjoyed or were on the fence about the theatrical cuts should absolutely check this version (or similar fan-edits) out, while others who still balk at the thought of a 4-hour film-adaptation of a children’s fantasy novel probably won’t be converted. At the end of the day, The Hobbit movie ain’t no Lord of the Rings film trilogy, but at least in this format this fan-edited adaptation acknowledges that aspect of its source material.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: In this newer, much more appropriate format, Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins shines as the lovable, adorkable, and resilient character we all know and love from the book. This movie is finally his story, at long last.
— However… even at little over half its original length, four hours of a Hobbit film still feel like this story needed to be re-envisioned from the drawing board up. The digitally created enemies will never look as real as those prosthetic makeup effects and Uruk-Hai suits from LOTR.
? Good thing that Ring will never come back to haunt them.