Book-to-film adaptions continue to be a highly contested topic among critics, scholars and everyday viewers alike. Generally, the more beloved a series is, the more scrutiny it faces among its most fervent fans. Perhaps the best example of a overly-zealous fan base is that of The Lord of the Rings. Considered by many to be the genre-defining epic of high-fantasy; the Lord of the Rings books continue to influence literature and art to this date. When the film adaption was first announced its producers faced considerable backlash, yet despite the massive pushback by some of its more ardent fans, the films were a huge success, both financially and critically. After the success of The Lord of the Rings, it made perfect sense for Peter Jackson to take the helm and direct The Hobbit, however, the result was a major flop when placed in comparison to the first three films. Unlike The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit’s shortcomings didn’t come from what was left out of the film(s), rather from excessive, unnecessary additions.
I have read The Hobbit numerous times and seen all three films in the Hobbit trilogy, which is why I decided to seek out an alternate edit of the movie. Peter Jackson is an amazing visual storyteller and I knew that there was a good film hiding somewhere in that convoluted mess of a trilogy. I don’t necessarily think The Hobbit is THAT bad, nor am I judging it primarily on its length, however, there is most definitely elements in the film which don’t belong or are grossly exaggerated. Several examples of this include the inclusion of Legolas, who was never mentioned once in the core text of The Hobbit, the happenings of Gandalf which were pulled from the books appendices and placed in the movie, and most controversially the exaggeration and stupefaction of Radagast the Wizard, who was mentioned only in passing in the book.
I searched the internet and found quite a few fan edits and eventually decided on Fiona van Dahl’s cut, which removes about 6 hours from the entire extended trilogy – coming in at a bite-sized 2.5 hours. It’s been quite a while since I watched The Hobbit trilogy, therefore I didn’t approach this viewing with a directly comparative aspect. Instead, I judged it on its ability to stay true to the original Hobbit story and its general watchability as a standalone film.
The fan edit has a noticeably rushed pace, and as I watched it I began to notice that scenes which required a sense of suspense fell flat, almost as if the story was being spoon fed rather than enjoyably consumed. I do not believe that this was Dahl’s intention with the cut, however, the fact that these films are so lengthy creates several logistical problems when attempting to trim them down. Musical scores are often composed to be specific lengths to add drama and suspense, integral voice-overs may be spliced with otherwise unnecessary footage and there is also the added hassle of dealing with three separate beginning and endings. In addition to these more readily apparent issues, there is also minor issues with visual transitions and sound effects. These inconsistencies are noticeable, however, they do not affect the watchability of the movie in any serious manner – largely in part due to Jackson’s attention to detail and focus, which immerse you in the story regardless of the less than stellar editing found within the cut.
Overall, I actually found this fan edit to be a more enjoyable experience than watching the three films separately. The pace was much closer to the original story and the removal of superfluous, humorous elements gave the edit more of an artistic, cinematic experience. Regardless of the technical inconsistencies, the fact that this movie can still retain its watchability after having six hours cut goes to show that Peter Jackson could have made a much more concise, enjoyable movie if he had only chosen to stick to the script.