Peter Jackson, Ian McKellen Defend Making 'The Hobbit' a Trilogy

"Anyone who thinks Peter Jackson would fall for market forces around him rather than artistic integrity doesn’t know the guy or the body of his work," Sir Ian McKellen said.
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How did Peter Jackson turn one small book into another massive film trilogy? Simple: all it took was some imagination and a bit of help from the author of The Hobbit himself.

The director has taken heat for turning what was intended to be a two-part prequel to his Lord of the Rings series into a three-part saga, especially given that the first Hobbit film clocks in at nearly three hours. Unlike the LOTR books, The Hobbit is a thin volume written for children, leading some to accuse him of stretching out narrative and milking the franchise. Instead, Jackson contends that the brevity of the book actually helped make it possible.

"The book is written in a very brisk pace, so pretty major events in the story are covered in only two or three pages," Jackson told reporters on Wednesday. "So once you start to develop the scenes and plus you wanted to do a little bit more character development, plus the fact that we could also adapt the appendices of Return of the King, which is 100-odd pages of material that sort of takes place around the time of The Hobbit, so we wanted to expand the story of The Hobbit a little bit more, as did Tolkien himself. So all those factors combined gave us the material to do it."

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The appendices, which were tacked on to the final book of the Lord of the Rings series, fill in many blanks that were left in The Hobbit, which co-screenwriter Philippa Boyens pointed out.

"If we hadn’t done The Lord of the Rings, we wouldn’t have done this. But we did," she said. "We know where Gandalf was. So as soon as we knew we were going to that part of the tale, what happens in those years, because we know what happens because Tolkien kept writing, you start to draw in and make a mythology."

Series newcomer Richard Armitage, who plays the lead dwarf Thorin, chalked it up to the entire saga's deep subtext.

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"It does warrant three films. These films are underlaid and textured and layered with incredible detail," he asserted. "And the dwarf characters, for example, in Tolkien’s book they’re very thinly sketched, actually a bit of an amorphous group, whereas every single dwarf you will get to know throughout the course of this journey. They are all very developed parts. You will care for and get to know them, and see how they function in the world. And I love that also, because these films, The Hobbit isn’t a separate universe. It’s entirely as you saw in the first films, the broader themes are built into the texture of it, and this allows each character to have their moments and play their parts in those themes, that’s certainly three films. Condensing it into two films seems almost impossible."

And lest anyone suspect a commercial motive, Gandalf himself set the record straight.

"Anyone who thinks Peter Jackson would fall for market forces around him rather than artistic integrity doesn’t know the guy or the body of his work," Sir Ian McKellen declared. "If we just made one movie, The Hobbit, the fact is that all the fans, the eight-, nine- and 10-year-old boys, they would watch it 1,000 times. Now, they’ve got three films they can watch 1,000 times."