The bad idea that was rumored last week has now been confirmed: Peter Jackson's movie adaptation of The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien's first story in the Middle Earth universe, will be split into three films. Yes, that's one book turned into three Peter Jackson-sized movies. Well, technically one book and 125 pages of appendices that Tolkien wrote post-Lord of the Rings, in an effort to beef up The Hobbit and make it less of a kiddie story. Still, 125 pages of additional notes don't exactly justify splitting one story up into three feature-length films. This feels like an instance of a director who has become a bit too powerful.
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Well, OK, it might simply be an example of studio greed, but for argument's sake, let's assume that this was more Jackson's decision than it was anyone at New Line's. That's certainly Jackson's implication in his full statement about the decision. He and his producers were watching a cut of the first movie and some of the second and they got to thinking, Hey, we should show more and do more. So, a third movie was born. And because of course no one at a studio is going to say no to Peter Jackson, especially when he says, "I want to give you more of this money-making thing," we've arrived here, with a new trilogy on our hands. Oh if only someone could or would say no to Peter Jackson. And to some other directors!
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It's a reasonably small group of directors who can work seemingly unquestioned, but it's ever-growing. These guys would be your George Lucases, your Steven Spielbergs, your James Camerons. But also guys like Peter Jackson and even David Fincher. All of these filmmakers have made some great work obviously, but those successes have afforded them the unwieldy ability to make films with impunity. And that often gets them in trouble. Fincher's Zodiac, for example, could have been a great movie had it been whittled down some. But instead Fincher used his final cut privileges to toss a 2-hour-and-40 minute boulder at us. Fincher has gone on to make good movies since then, though, so maybe he doesn't quite fit the bill for this particular complaint.
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George Lucas' company Lucasfilm financed the spectacularly dreadful Star Wars prequels that he foisted onto the world a decade ago, so we can't really accuse some appeasing studio exec of dropping the ball there. But shouldn't there have been someone involved in that massive production that might have said early on in the game, "Uh, George, this is all terrible"? (If you need some reminding of just how bad those movies were, please listen to these brilliant reviews.) But someone at Paramount deserves to get the boot over the shockingly bad Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a Lucas/Spielberg collabo that is perhaps the prime example of an over-indulged director (and producer). Similarly, Jackson's The Lovely Bones adaptation was a muddled, CGI-laden mess, likely because nobody wanted to say no and thus potentially ruffle the feathers of the golden goose. And we all know how that turned out.
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Jackson has brilliantly realized Middle Earth in the past, and what we've seen of The Hobbit so far is promising. But shouldn't someone in charge of these things maybe be questioning the logic of stretching a film into three parts mere months before the first installment premieres? Shouldn't there have been more of a conversation beyond, "OK, Peter. Sure thing, Peter"? It's certainly possible, and likely, that the talks were more complicated than that, but ultimately Peter Jackson was probably never going to get a no. Because he's Peter Jackson! All great and powerful and sovereign. Who knows. The expansion could pay off and we'll be eating crow in summertime 2014, but right now it feels like a mistake done for all the wrong reasons. The fact that he's Peter Jackson shouldn't mean he needs no editing or reining in. In fact, it might even mean he needs more.