Why I think that making the Hobbit a trilogy is justified

One of the most common complaints about the Hobbit trilogy is the fact, that it is… a trilogy. Mainly since the book itself is only about 300 pages long, depending on your edition. Which is why many of the film’s critics have accused Peter Jackson of spreading too little material out so they could make more money. While it’s true, that The Hobbit book in itself does not have the scope or the length of The Lord of the Rings, that does not necessarily mean, that a movie version should be short just because the book was so. Especially, if one is to consider, that the two books are quite different in many ways.
So let’s take some time and look at why making the Hobbit a trilogy was justified and how Peter Jackson actually did the story a favour by giving it more space to breathe.

X pages = Y minutes?

The Hobbit is about 300 pages long, The Lord of the Rings is well over 1000. Naturally, that would mean, that there’s over 3 times as much going on in The Lord of the Rings, right? Well, not necessarily. The length of a novel can be quite deceiving, since the style it is written in can make a whole lot of difference as to how many things actually happen in a certain amount of pages. So you really can’t compare the amount of plot in two different novels by only looking at page numbers.
Some author’s take 200 pages for a battle, others only need 4.
Some novels spend whole chapters on character development and world building only, while others mainly focus on the events of the novel.

Yet it might very well be, that the same amount of stuff happens in both cases, right? So it’s not very wise to just assume, that X pages of a book will always add up to Y minutes of a film, and that’s an unshakeable formula. It is most certainly not.

You also have to look at what happens in those pages. And if you do, you’ll find, that the Hobbit is a much more event-driven book, while the Lord of the Rings spends much more time on character development and world building; not to mention the scenery porn. In the Hobbit, Tolkien does not dwell long on characters or back stories, he tells a very fast-paced tale. Often even extremely important events are only told of in a single sentence. Here’s all there is said of Fili and Kili’s death:

Of the twelve companions of Thorin, ten remained. Fili and Kili had fallen defending him
with shield and body, for he was their mother’s elder brother.

That’s it. A single sentence, and even that is only told after the deed, not during the actual events. Boromir’s death scene in the book is given a lot more focus in comparison. I could also mention the fact, that in the book, we pretty much miss the whole Battle of Five Armies deal, since Bilbo gets knocked out, but that would really translate terribly to the screen.

It is also true, that the Hobbit is only around 300 pages, those 300 pages are jam-packed with events. Bilbo does not spend much time at Bag End before joining the dwarves, and when he does, one thing after another just keeps on coming his way. ‘Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire’ indeed; Tolkien takes him on quite a wild ride, but none of those events have actually much space – or time – to really breathe. The story rarely takes a moment to slow down and focus more on the characters or the world it is set in. One could make the argument, that the book is mostly only about the events of the story, while it’s characters mostly take the backseat.

Plus all that is not factoring in typography, which can make a whole world of difference to how many pages a book ends up being. I’ve got 300 page books that are, in truth, longer novels then some of my 500 page books because of that. Heck, even the same book in different editions can be 450 pages, in another version it’s up to 750. Yet it is the same novel, word by word. All that’s changed are things like the size of the letters, the spacing of the lines, the size and format of the pages, etc.
For example, the novel ‘A Dance with Dragons’ in the hardcover edition (here in Hungary) is 888 pages long, while the paperback is 1184 pages. That’s 296 pages of difference, almost the length of the entire Hobbit book. And yet, it’s word by word the same, and – obviously – the same things happen in both version. That alone renders this type of analysis completely moot. One has to conclude, that comparing two books by length is shady enough, but comparing them by the number of pages is outright foolish.

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Also keep in mind, that merely comparing the Hobbit and LOTR books by the number of their pages does not even take the fact into consideration, that much of the appendices of The Lord of the Rings are expanded upon in the Hobbit movies. So technically, while those parts are printed as part of the LOTR trilogy, they tell of events more relevant to The Hobbit.

Another thing to mention is that the Lord of the Rings movies left out or changed quite a lot from the books, and even so, they still ended up with almost 12 hours of running time. So if they covered everything, they would have been a lot longer, than just 12 hours. Another thing people seem to ignore, when they base the length of the movies on the length of the books.

Adjusting the tone

If you, like me, read the Lord of the Rings before reading the Hobbit, you might have had a weird experience with the latter. Reason for that being is that the Hobbit is written in a very different way, than it’s sequel. Clearly, LOTR is a more mature novel, that was meant for adults as opposed to The Hobbit, where the target audience was younger kids. And it shows.

Which wasn’t a problem with the books, since Tolkien’s writing only matured with time. But because The Lord of the Rings movies were made before The Hobbit, that presented a problem. Going from light hearted to a darker tone often works, but going from dark and mature to light hearted and childish almost never does.

Just imagine, what the generation, who grew up with PJ’s LOTR movies would have said, when animals suddenly started talking in the Hobbit, or if 12 out of 14 main characters were handled like they were in the books. Don’t even get me started on the elves going from these surreal, timeless and wise creatures to flamboyant, singing teenagers and dwarves being fumbling, incompetent idiots. Do I even need to mention singing Orcs? So there was a clear need to adjust the tone to fit with the previous trilogy, in order to make The Hobbit feel like it’s part of the same world. All that, without compromising the more light hearted nature of the books. A task that clearly needs time.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking – there was no need to adjust the tone, it’s a different movie, it can be vastly different! Well, yes, it is a different movie, not directly connected to the LOTR movies, but here’s the thing. If you use the same actors, the same costumes, the same sets, the same score, then it is meant to be in the same continuity. Meaning, that while the 2 trilogies are not directly connected, as one makes sense even without seeing the other, they are still meant to exists within the same world. It would have been really hard to buy into that, if they didn’t change the tone of The Hobbit to match it’s predecessor.

It’s worth noting, that at one point in time, Tolkien himself intended to redeem the differing tone between his novels by rewriting the Hobbit. However, he dropped the project, because he thought, that the new version would not have been The Hobbit anymore. Which is true, from a certain point of view, but I think that the original author retconning his own story is vastly different, than a movie adaptation making alterations. In one case, the original book is gone, is removed from canon, in the other, it’s still there. Quite the difference. Point is, Tolkien himself realized, that The Hobbit did not fit in many ways with his later works.

So they really had to adjust the tone. And that involves putting in the time, which in turn would make the story longer, as that’s just how the LOTR trilogy’s style was. Even looking at the books, the LOTR book’s style is a lot slower than The Hobbit’s.

Developing the characters

If you read the book, you must have noticed, that aside from Bilbo, none of the characters are fleshed out much. Thorin and Gandalf do get some attributes assigned to them, but even they fall short of how they are portrayed in the films. As for the other members of the company… Well, Bombur is fat, Balin is old, Fili and Kili are young. That’s about the jist of it. In all seriousness, if you cut out most of the dwarves from the novel, you wouldn’t lose anything. The lack of development is not exclusive to Thorin’s company either. The Mirkwood elves, Thranduil, Bard, the people of Laketown, pretty much anyone who isn’t Bilbo is just not expanded upon.

Yes, we get it – Bilbo is the main character. But that doesn’t mean, it has to be a one man show. Matter of fact, it shouldn’t be a one man show. For one, your story just won’t feel legitimate and real, if there’s only one character, who feels like an actual, believable person. Second, your audience won’t care that much, if they need to follow a bunch of people they know next to nothing about. Third, not knowing anything about the characters also cheapens Bilbo as a character. Why?

Because the book is mostly about Bilbo proving himself to the dwarves. But all that means nothing, if you don’t make us see, why Bilbo would want to prove himself to these people. It’s not very impressive, if Bilbo proves himself to a bunch of guys we know nothing about, and who were portrayed to be rude, incompetent and just all around ungrateful and greedy. However, it means a lot more, if he proves himself to people we already know and yes, even respect and maybe love.

If the dwarves are incompetent and helpless, and Bilbo saves them, that does not mean much. That’s like me proving that I’m a nicer fellow than Hitler. Not exactly something to write home about, is it? But if he proves himself to people, who are brave, smart, loyal and capable in their own right, now that’s a different story, that makes Bilbo look a lot better, and it makes his efforts not only understandable, but also more meaningful. Yet it only works, if the dwarves are developed well. Or at least well enough to tell them apart.

There’s a lot of characters in the book. Especially for a novel that’s only 300 pages long. And while the book does not develop almost any of them, the movie does. It takes it’s time to not only show the events of the source material, but to also introduce it’s characters properly. It makes us understand them, care for them, and that takes time. But in the end it’s worth it, because that way, they will feel like actual, complex and believable characters, not just set pieces to move the plot along. And considering how many of them there are, it sure explains where a lot of that extra running time in the movies came from.

Exploring motivations

Another thing you might have noticed, while reading the book, is that we’re usually not given an explanation as to why people do the things they do. Or if we do, that explanation is rather thin and questionable. We’re not told, why Gandalf decides to set up this whole quest; we’re not told, why Thorin decides to do all of it now; we’re not told, why our favorite wizard chooses Bilbo, and so forth.
Often, even when we get an explanation, it just feels… questionable or not very convincing, at least compared to the movies.

Even the explanation to why Bilbo decides to go on the quest is a bit strange. For one, he doesn’t really decide as much as Gandalf just forces him to, both mentally and physically. Which, to a small kid, might be reason enough to go, but looking at it like an adult, that’s a bit thin for motivation, to say the least. We all know, hobbits are very polite and gentle, but even so, if some random dude you barely heard of did the things to you, that Gandalf does to Bilbo, in the way he does in the book, you would most likely tell him to go f*ck himself. Even if you’re the most polite person alive. Gandalf doesn’t really try to reason with Bilbo about this whole thing like he does in the movie, so it’s a lot less believable, when he in the end goes on the journey.

Also, the reason we’re given in the movie is something much more relatable to us. Bilbo fears, that he might pass up the opportunity of a lifetime, something he deep inside feels, could fundamentally change his life. I think every single one of us knows that feeling. Committing to something big, something risky, something that looks like a crazy idea at first, but that we know we want… That makes Bilbo look a lot more human, than the book version does, where he is just slightly angry that the dwarves don’t think him capable.

On top of that, Bilbo is part Took, so that’s, where his interest in adventures comes from. Yet I don’t feel like that alone would be reason enough for him to go. Or to stick around, for that matter. In the movies, we actually have a few scenes dedicated to show, how Bilbo goes from being totally against the idea to actually committing to it. It’s a far-better showing of how he progresses to change his mind. On top of that, we get to see why he sticks around. It’s not just because he wants to prove himself to the company, it’s because he has a kind and gentle heart, and the thought of the dwarves having their homes taken from them speaks to his soul. He wants to help, it’s not just out of spite, to prove that he can do it, he actually cares for his companions.

Speaking of companions, we also get a much more sympathetic and complex motivation for the dwarves as well. In the books, it’s basically a treasure hunt for them, so their motivation is greed. In the movies, there’s much more to it than that. Sure, there is greed involved as well, but there’s also pride, revenge, the chance to win back their homeland, to finally belong somewhere again, to reclaim what was taken from them so long ago…. Not only does that make the dwarves a lot more likeable, but it also helps to further their character development.

This is especially true for Thorin. For him, the quest is extremely personal in many ways. One, he wants revenge on Smaug, for obvious reasons. In his eyes, that worm was the beginning of pretty much all their troubles and he wants to even the score. Two, pride and responsibility. Let’s not forget Thorin at this point is pretty much a fallen king in exile. He can’t really be king as he was meant to be, as long that insult to the honor of the dwarves, and especially, his honor in particular, still breathes. After all, Smaug has forced him to be left without a home and to – despite being a king – take work wherever he could find it, like some low commoner. Considering how much pride Thorin has, that’s a hard pill to swallow.

He also wants the best for his people, and while, as Balin said, he has done honorably by them, he still feels like he hasn’t done enough, like he failed. Especially, since he feels like he actually inherited that quest from his father and his grandfather. He just has to do it. For them, for his people and for himself as well. Only then can the dwarves regain their pride and he his honor. There’s no choice, not for him. Meanwhile, in the book, all that is just… not there.

The same thing extends to Gandalf as well. We’re never told, what his personal interest in the quest is. We’re never told, why he decided to mess with Bilbo, out of all the hobbits of the Shire. I guess you could chalk that up to Bilbo’s mother, but even that is not said in the book, and even if it was, it would be a thin explanation in itself. So there’s basically nothing. He just goes around doing all these things, and we do not know why. Seemingly only because he can.

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Thranduil? The King? Why he throws a bunch of innocent, tired and beaten dwarves into prison, you ask? No valid motivation for that is given either. They were trespassing, yes, but Thorin in the book clearly explains all that to him, and yet, he ignores it. In the movie, there’s – again – a lot more detailed, complex and much more interesting reason why the dwarves end up as prisoners.

One of my biggest problems with the book is, that it kind of uses “fairy tale logic” to explain things, even motivations. You know, stuff that you once found logical, when you were really small. However, if you look at them as an adult, they seem more than a bit questionable. Grimm’s Tales are guilty of this as well. And yes, I do realize, that’s not by accident either, but still, in the end, a story just needs to give logical motivations to make it’s characters function.

Continuity

One of the main things, that really bulks up the movie’s running time is the fact, that Peter Jackson decided to also show us the things, that weren’t directly in the book, but happened during the same time, most notably the white council, the story of Dol Guldur, everything Gandalf has been up to after leaving the company, and all the little things leading up to The Battle of the Five Armies. So basically, setting up a better continuity with Tolkien’s other works than the book ever tried to do.

So it’s not that the movies just went rambling on about nothing, but that they took advantage of Tolkien’s already existing legendarium. Which the book obviously could not do, since during the time Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, he just did not have most of the things mapped out yet. Legolas’s character was not even thought of at that time, for example, yet, by all means, during the events of the story, he should have been present, he is the king’s son, after all. Leaving him out, just because the author did not make him up yet would have been ridiculous. When you’ve already added him, you might as well do something with him, or else people will just scream that him being there was a cheap cameo, that he contributed nothing to the story. Did you know, that in the book, Thranduil does not even have a name? Nor does he have any legitimate reason to throw the dwarves into prison? Or participate in the battle?

The Necromancer? He wasn’t Sauron, just a random dark wizard, a mere excuse to remove Gandalf from the story, as him being present would have made things all too easy for the company, him being a powerful wizard and all. However, later Tolkien went back and laid out a very well detailed, epic backstory to all of this. The movie could not just ignore this, and why should it? Who in their right mind would think, that going with the novel version would be a better way to go, when there’s an already established, much more interesting version out there, which was even written by Tolkien himself? A version, that’s not only much more captivating and detailed, but which also makes more sense, both in and out of universe? In the movie version, there’s an actual, reasonable explanation as to why Gandalf leaves the company, where he goes, why that’s important, and how that connects to the overall story of The Hobbit. In the book none of that is present.

The One Ring did not exist at this point either. The magic ring Bilbo finds at Gollum’s was just that – a magic ring, no massive backstory, no string attached. However, just because Tolkien did not write his later – and in my opinion, best – works yet at the time, does not mean the movies should – or could – ignore them all. So there was a rather significant time spent in these films to make them fit with the timeline and events Tolkien himself later went on to write.

There’s also another huge, and I mean HUGE, big lipped alligator moment, that nobody seems to take into consideration, when discussing the topic of The Hobbit being a trilogy. Which is.. The battle of the five armies. Which, in the book, literally comes out of nowhere. Listen to me! A battle, a huge battle involving not two, not three, not four, but five, FIVE armies, just happens to break out, without any real foreshadowing or setup!

I’m convinced to this very day, that the whole battle part of the novel only happened, because Tolkien’s kids just didn’t want to go to bed yet, so he decided not to end the story after the death of Smaug. That would certainly explain why it’s so out of the blue and unexpected.

And it really is. In the book, basically almost everyone we met during the story comes back to have this huge, sudden battle. You have the goblins you have the Wargs, you have the elves, you have the men of Laketown, you have the eagles, the dwarves, even Beorn, you name it. But there’s just no lead-up to it, and the motivations for most of the parties to participate in all out war is rather questionable at best.

The Dwarves arriving does make sense, as the news of the death of Smaug would spread quickly, and they would seek to make sure that news was true, and if it was, to secure the mountain and it’s treasures.

Thranduil the King shows up, because he suddenly wants part of the treasure. Because it’s treasure. Enough reason I guess. The man of Laketown also want a piece of the loot. In their case, it’s even justified. Beorn also comes, but why? Because he hates Orcs? Well, that sure didn’t stop him from leaving them be until just now, for the most part at least.

As for the goblins, they mostly just come because they’re goblins. The evil folk, who wants to take over the north because they can, and because Smaug is now dead. We do get a single line about the death of the Great Goblin being the catalyst in all of this, but it seems a bit out of character for goblins to care for a fallen comrade, so the movie version seems a lot more believable. You know, Azog having a personal vendetta against Thorin and the line of Durin in general, for much more ‘Orkish’ reasons, plus him working for Sauron, who has a plan long in the making.

We also do not learn how Bolg connects to the Great Goblin, so it’s a bit unclear where he stands in their hierarchy. In the movies, on the other hand, we do know, where Bolg stands in the grand scheme of things. But aside from being pissed at the dwarves, the book goblins don’t have much personal motivation, like Azog, nor do they follow a much grander plan, like Sauron’s Orcs in the movies. They’re just faceless, nameless, random evil dudes looking for trouble. Even Bolg, the most prominent Orc is like that. His sole achievement in the book is being the son of Azog as well as getting mauled by Beorn. The movie version of Bolg has a lot more going for him in comparison.

Not to mention, what little build up there is to the battle, it all happens way too fast, and therefore feels very, very rushed. It really would have served the story better, if the road leading up to the battle would have been given more space and time to breath.

Yes, I get it, one of the books biggest messages is about greed, and that is shown here. And that’s a good lesson for very little kids. But my problem comes due to the previously already mentioned fairy tale stuff. As an adult, having that moral is just not enough reason to have a lack of continuity, or motivations or building up to larger events. As an adult, you either already know, that greed is bad, or you’re never gonna learn. Those are your options. At this point in your life, there’s not much more a story can tell you about that, but you sure do question a lot of things about how this or that came to be or why people do the things they do. Those are your focus points. That’s what you want to learn more about, that’s all that makes or breaks a tale for you.

This is where the movies really shine. They took their time, to set up the battle, throughout the three movies, you can see the pieces moving into position, until everything is ready and the battle actually starts. It’s not out of the blue, it doesn’t just happen. You can see, from multiple points of view why the battle ends up happening. You can see the preparations from the Orcs, you are shown the reasons for the battle, which are all developed in great detail. Everyone has a personal reason to be involved. And all the participants don’t just happen to arrive in time, there’s a reason why.
Beorn for example, is told by Radagast to come quickly, he even gets a “taxi”, thanks to him. And he has a personal reason to be involved, just like Thranduil and the elves do. Heck, even the Orcs have much more complex – and personal – motivations to be involved, and it all adds up in the end. Sure, it needs a whole lot more time than the book version, but if you actually invest all that time to set up events, motivations and characters, than that is time well spent.

All that and more has been included and explained in the movies using the outlet Tolkien himself left us. So considering, that the book itself does not shed any significant light on any of the above mentioned points, while the movies actually bothered to make all that part of a greater whole, it’s not that strange, that we ended up with three of them.

Point of view

Most of The Hobbit is written from Bilbo’s point of view only. Which means we don’t get to see much of the events where our hobbit is not present, nor do we get to see how other characters witnessed the events of the novel. Which, again, is fine in the case of a book, but film is just a very different kind of media. So it stands to reason, that the movies would also let us see the events through the eyes of other characters besides Bilbo. Which, again, means a longer running time for the films.

In the movies, we pretty much get to see everything Bilbo did in the book, and more, but thanks to the movie offering multiple viewpoints, we also get to see, how other characters witnessed the same events, as well as plot points, that weren’t showed in the book, but did happen at the same timeframe, events that Bilbo was not there to bear witness to.

We get to see, where Gandalf went, when he left the company, we get to see, what Azog and the Necromancer were doing behind the scenes, we get to see, how and why Bard’s interaction with the dwarves evolves, and we get to see the inner workings of both Mirkwood and Laketown. That, and the whole Dol Guldur storyline, starting from Radagast’s discovery to the point of Sauron’s supposed banishment. Not to mention showing how the dwarves perceive Bilbo, as opposed to just showing how Bilbo sees them. That’s a lot of stuff to cover, that you would just miss, if you only followed Bilbo’s point of view around.

Adding these things was not only a good decision, because it adds more variety to the movie – after all, showing everything through a single character in a story like this would translate terribly to the screen , but also because it helps the world building as well as the understanding of how and why the events Bilbo is there to witness unfold. Not to mention, if you have a complex story, it always helps to show events from multiple characters point of view, especially, if those characters have very different viewpoints.

For example, in the Mirkwood storyline, our main three elves, Thranduil, Legolas and Tauriel all represent three very different views of the events happening around them. And since none of them actually interacts with Bilbo, all that would have been lost, if the movie did not bother to sometimes step away from our favorite hobbit and show, what these three elves were doing and thinking. Not to mention, fleshing them out more and making them actual characters helps the Mirkwood part of the story feel more real, instead of just another backdrop and excuse for Bilbo to save the dwarves. It also adds to the bigger picture, as the movies used the time spent on these characters to tie the elves to the battle of the five armies in a much more natural way, then the book did. We also get to see Legolas’s journey as a character, so we have a better understanding of how he could actually end up with a dwarf as his best friend half a century later. Also, it’s just a lot more interesting to watch scenes with well developed, complex characters, than it is to simply see Bilbo run through events, where the characters are merely empty vessels to move the plot along.

Same for the Laketown storyline, really. We spend way too little time there compared to how important the events conspiring there are. We don’t really get to spend time with the people of Laketown to care enough for them, because they don’t really have the room or time to feel like actual people, who could exists outside the pages of the novel. In the movies, we do. We get to see the town in general, and even meet a few people in a tad bit more detail. Thanks to that, the town feels like an actual, existing town, as opposed to just another backdrop for the events to take place at. Not only that, but when Smaug attacks, and we see it all burn and people dying, it actually means something. It feels real, because the movie took it’s time to give us the opportunity to care to a level at least.

Another thing about Laketown – the development of Bard. In the book, he literally just pops up out of nowhere. Matter of fact, when I first read the book, I actually stopped at his intro and went back to see, if I missed a chapter or something, that’s how random and sudden Bard’s role in the book was.
The movies, on the other hand, put in some time and effort to properly introduce him, give him a storyline and fit him into the tale in a much more detailed and natural way. He does not just pop up and kills Smaug, he is introduced and there’s a build up to him slaying the dragon. We’re not just told by the narrator, that he’s the descendant of kings, that fact is waved into the story in a much, much more sophisticated way.
Also, we get to know him, so he gets to feel like an actual, 3 dimensional person. In the book, we don’t really know much about him as a character, other than him being of noble stock. In the movie, we see him do everything he does in the book, but we also get to see how he acts in different situations. We get to see why he could become a good leader, how he cares for the people. He is honest, thoughtful, caring, but can also be grim, tough and has all around a very realistic look on things. He is not blinded by the promise of gold, he thinks of the consequences to things, and so forth. Always ‘the people’s champion’, as Alfred put it.
On the other hand, in the book he only gets to lead because his lineage and the fact, that he knows how arrows work. Is it even up to debate, which one of these portrayals the better one is, from a mere storytelling point of view?

Call me crazy, but I also liked to see things once in a while from the antagonist’s point of view as well. It was nice to see, how and why the Orcs ended up chasing the company, it was nice to see, what and why Sauron was up to at Dol Guldur. Much with my previous two examples, it helps to tie things together, add pieces of the puzzle to the bigger picture, as well as to showcase a few more viewpoints for the overall story. That, and it’s just very interesting to witness the inner workings of the evil side of Middle-Earth. Not to mention, that Azog was pretty much the first Orc in these movies to have his own agenda, aside from serving Sauron. I found that very interesting, as that further helped him in being seen as more of an actual, living-breathing creature instead of just a plot device to add a few chase scenes here and there. Especially, as Orcs rarely have any personality or gravitas in either version.
Seeing more of Sauron and the Nine was great as well, and it actually explained, why they would call the unnamed sorcerer of Dol Guldur a necromancer in the first place.

A different media format

One of the things, that many people don’t seem to get, when it comes to movie adaptations, is that movies and books are just a very different kind of media format. That, of course, is not any different in the case of The Hobbit. For one thing, in the book, you’re told of events, while in the movies, you’re there to witness them firsthand. That alone is a rather large difference, that will effectively change the ways and methods you tell a story.

In a book, you usually have a narrator, who will tell you things. What happens, how a character feels, how the world the story is set in works. With a few exceptions here and there (for example, the prologue of the first movie), the movies do not have that toolset. So they have to find different ways to tell their story to the viewers, which is usually where the “show, don’t tell” rule comes into play. However, in most cases, that just takes longer, compared to a narrator merely telling you these things in a much more direct manner.

There are a lot of subtle, small character defining instances of this in the movies, especially for the dwarves. For example, when Bard first meets the dwarves, he points his arrow at Ori. Then, we see Dwalin jump in front of him, to defend him. Now, most would consider movie Dwalin to be a stern, no-nonsense war veteran, who does not have much love for the gentle folk, but this act clearly shows, how he’s much more than that, as he clearly has a natural protective instinct as well. He may not go around broadcasting it, but it’s there. It’s not in-your-face, it’s not given too much focus, but it clearly helps to paint a much more complex and shaded picture of this brave and loyal Dwarven warrior.

Another example of this would be when we’re shown, that the dwarves took wages whether or not Bilbo would join the company. It’s a relatively fast way to tell the audience, which dwarves doubt Bilbo the most and which ones trust in his ability, however, setting it up and then showing the conclusion still takes significantly longer, then say, a narrator just giving us this information right away. That’s just the nature of “show, don’t tell“.

Movies use these type of things all the time. However, as I already stated, this approach just takes more time then a narrator simply telling us the same thing, so there’s another thing to factor in, when we look at why The Hobbit ended up as a trilogy.

Ending/starting points

When you’re making a movie, the beginning and ending scenes are very important, as they have a large role in setting the tone of the film itself. So let’s look at what options making The Hobbit one, two or three movies offered us.

One movie

In this case, the starting and ending points are kind of self-explanatory. We start with Bilbo at Bag End, and we leave with him getting back home, sounds simple enough, right? One could not wish for a better start and ending. But it doesn’t work. Why? Because of everything else in between. Mainly, that cramming every single part into one movie would have been impossible, so you either leave out a huge part of the events of the novel, or you sacrifice important things like characterization, continuity and motivations. In other words, you make the movie as fast-paced and hurried as the very novel it’s being adapted from.

Not exactly promising, is it?

Two movies

By cutting the story into two pieces, we have the luxury of having more room for character development and world building, and we also reduced the events/film ratio to a much more digestible size. But is it enough? Well, let’s see. For film one, we got the introduction of hobbits, Bilbo, the dwarves, the quest, the Erebor backstory, the trolls, Rivendell, the giants, the goblins, Gollum, the Wargs and Eagles, Beorn, Mirkwood, Thranduil and the barrel scene. That’s about the jist of it for the first movie only. Still a lot of stuff to cover. Even more, if you intend to shows us the things that were not in the book, but happened behind the scenes. Better than stuffing one movie with all the plot points, but still a bit stretching it.

But let’s look at how the starting and ending points for movie one and two would have been in this scenario.

The ending of the first movie would have been around the part, where the company escapes Mirkwood. In PJ’s case, where they meet Bard. Now, how does that hold up as an ending? In my opinion, not that well. At this point, we put way too many events into the movie already, and leaving it on a note such as this would not help the matter. See, an epic movie like this needs something more, something emotional, something that’s a milestone in the story. Escaping from the elves or meeting Bard doesn’t really match either criteria.

Then, we have the start of the second movie. Bard meeting the dwarves, heading to Laketown. It’s not a bad start for a second movie, but it’s not that great either. Ideally, the second movie in an epic fantasy series should start with either a prologue or a flashback scene, something, that’s relevant to the events about to transpire. That, or something that has tension, but not too much tension. A scene, that directly connects how the first movie ended with the direction your second movie wants to go. Going to Laketown is a relatively slower paced part in the plot, so that’s not necessarily something to kick things off with.
Then there’s the matter of the ending. We will of course close with Bilbo going back home. A perfect ending, I would say. However, once more it is kind of flawed for all the things in between. We have to cover Bard, Laketown, finding the door, Smaug, and the battle of the five armies, plus the ending. Add in all the extra stuff behind the scenes, such as Sauron, the White Council and so forth, and again, you’re looking at a huge amount of plot to cover. What’s also problematic, is that you would have to cover Sauron, Smaug, and the Orc army all in one movie, which would feel like too much, rushed even. I feel it would also take away from the weight of Smaug’s scenes, if the battle of five armies would also happen in the same film.

Not to mention, separating it by length would really make the two movies unbalanced. In the first movie, we would run around a lot. A LOT. The plot would bounce from one place to another constantly. Then, we would have the second movie, that’s basically all Laketown /Dale. Dealing with not one, not two, but three major villains, while the first part had none. It just wouldn’t feel right.

Also, making in two movies would have the problem of not having a clear dividing point for the films. But I’ll get to that when we look at the three movies option.

Three movies

Having the luxury of telling the story in three parts, we have the time to properly include all events from the novel, show, what happened when Bilbo was not present, plus there is room for plenty of character development and backstory.

The three part structure also holds an emotional turning point for each film. The first one is mainly about Bilbo proving himself to the company, the second one is him being a true part of it, and the third one is about that fellowship falling apart again. You wouldn’t really have that, if you only had one or two movies.

Seems like the best fit in terms of length and storytelling opportunities. But how well does it hold up, when we look at the dividing points?

In the first movie we had to cover Bilbo, Gandalf, the dwarves, the trolls, Rivendell, the goblins, Gollum and the eagles. Plus, plenty of scenes with flashbacks, character time, the necromancer and the White Council. Not exactly a little amount of plot, but still digestible.

The first movie ends on an emotional turn point. It’s here, were Bilbo actually becomes a true member of the company, as opposed to being just an outsider along for the ride. So in that sense, it’a perfect ending for the starter of the trilogy. It also works because it follows the basic narrative structure of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution/revelation. Resolution being, after a climactic epic battle containing both action and character development, we arrive at the point, where Bilbo finally proves himself to Thorin and the others. Showing a bit of Smaug is also a nice touch, not only to build the hype, but also to remind us, that the hardest part of the journey is yet to come.

The second movie starts off with a flashback, which reveals how and why Bilbo came into the picture, and how the whole idea for the quest came into being. After that, we jump right back into the present of the story as we are greeted by a familiar face in Bilbo. There’s also an instant sense of danger and tension, because we still have the Orcs chasing the company. So it’s just the right amount for the start of the second movie.

After another epic battle sequence and significant character defining moments, the story ends on a huge cliffhanger. It ends on a very tense, dark, grim point, leaving us with the mental image of Smaug burning every living soul in Laketown. All that, with the knowledge that it was our heroes who are in part responsible for it. That’s a pretty damn good way to end the story. It’s heavy, it’s dark, and it sets the mood for the last film perfectly.

So the third movie has to cover the death of Smaug, the battle of the five armies, the reclaiming of Erebor and Bilbo’s journey home. Sounds relatively simple, but that’s actually deceivingly more than it sounds.

The third movie starts right where we left off. The terror of the dragon lays heavy on the atmosphere of the first shots of the film, just as it has on our own minds since we saw the ending of the second movie. A very intense scene follows, as we witness a seemingly hopeless battle between Smaug and a forsaken bowman. Of course, Bard triumphs against impossible odds, and the mountain is finally freed from the dragon’s reign. However, right after we see the company again, we only have to take a look at Thorin, to see that it’s far from over. That simple yet effective moment really sets the tone for the rest of the film, as the title of the movie appears on the screen.

As for the ending scene, well, it could not have been done better, as we leave an old Bilbo with the same scene we first met him over a decade ago. Which, of course, is the same ending we would have gotten in the two movie format as well, so the big difference here lies in the amount of plot to cover and the differing nature of the opening scenes.

In my opinion, the three part format works out the best in all aspects. It leaves each movie with just the right amount of plot to cover, it leaves the most room for scenes and characters to really shine and the starting/ending points work out perfectly for each of them.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

As I already mentioned earlier, while the book is relatively short, it’s just jam-packed with events. Like, extremely jam-packed. In the first 100 pages or so only, you’ve got the introduction of Bilbo and hobbits in general, Gandalf, all the dwarves of the company, a bunch of relevant and irrelevant backstory and exposition, the trolls, the elves of Rivendell, the giants, the goblins, Gollum and that’s just to start things off.

To put it bluntly, the book never dwells on any location, event or character for an extended period of time, it mostly rushes through them all, so the phrase “Out of the frying pan, into the fire” is a fitting description for the plot and style of the book.

So while the complete sum of events only adds up to 300 pages or so, it can’t be said, that the plot of The Hobbit is that simple. There’s actually a lot going on. A lot. All the time. Events and backdrops just keep on coming and changing, with almost no deeper development to give any of them the chance or the time to really shine. If you tried to cram all that stuff into a single or even two movies, the viewer would pretty much be crushed by the sheer amount of things constantly going on. The dwarves arrive at Bag End, we spend a little time there, they leave. They meet the trolls, short sequence, they leave. They arrive at Rivendell, they meet Elrond, very short sequence, they leave. See how rushed that would be? And that’s not accounting for all the things Bilbo is not there to witness, save for the slaying of Smaug. Now, factor in how much time is needed to do all these events justice without it all feeling like a rushed mess, and you pretty much got yourself a trilogy.

I mean really, let’s be honest for a minute, would you have preferred to spend two hours rushing from one place to another, following a bunch of characters you never really learn anything about?

Final verdict

Look, I’m not saying, that everyone has to adore these movies. I’m not saying it’s not okay to share a few reasonable complaints here and there. But to only focus on the negatives and simply dismiss all the hard work, effort and craftsmanship that was put into making these movies is just extremely unfair, especially on the grounds of it being a trilogy. So hopefully this entry has helped to shed some light on why making it three films wasn’t actually half bad an idea.

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