When is the work you do too much? Is it possible to screw up whatever you’re doing by contributing beyond what is required? Most would say to go above and beyond expectations every time. Most likely it depends on the work, but these thoughts passed through my mind after seeing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last week.
Remember when movies were short and a viewer could get in and out without having to worry about bathroom breaks, the salvation of the sun or better yet, whether or not it’ll ever end? There have always been longer films (that’s what the intermission was for back in the day), but generally those films were epic in scope with the gravitas to slow things down and make the viewer feel the grandeur of the larger moments. Lawrence of Arabia comes to mind when it comes to quieter moments serving the larger moments, which ran 226 minutes. By film’s end the epic cinematography and nature of the story stuck with you.
You’d probably save time if you didn’t walk to the edge of sheer cliffs but went straight to the town, right?
Enter Peter Jackson, who came along and decided an action film jam packed with events only required a long run time to achieve the same sort of glorious epicness that’ll stay with you forever. The Lord of the Rings films got longer as he made more and more. By conventional movie standards, which generally run around 2 hours, the films were always long, made even longer with the special extended editions.
The Fellowship of the Ring
Runtime: 178 min (theatrical) | 208 min (special extended edition)
The Two Towers
Runtime: 179 min (theatrical) | 223 min (special extended edition)
Return of the King
Runtime: 201 min (theatrical) | 251 min (special extended edition)
These films are long partly because the books are so darn big, but at what point does the length inhibit the end product? There’s only so much an action sequence can deliver before it becomes monotonous and boring. A book of LotR‘s magnitude is typically read over weeks, which makes it unfair to assume that all the details should be converted to a two hour film. I’ve enjoyed all of these films, but I’ve always found myself getting fatigued with the story when things reached the second hour.
When The Hobbit was announced, I was elated for two reasons: one being we can see some dragon action, and two being that book is short enough to get Peter Jackson to cut back already. But did he? Of course not.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Runtime: 169 min (theatrical) | 182 min (Extended Edition)
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
Runtime: 161 min (theatrical) | 282 min (Extended Edition…probably)
At first glance it appears the running time is actually going down with The Hobbit, but there’s one detail that negates all that. Jackson originally slated The Hobbit as two films, but once the first cut of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey rolled in he realized he was either going to be required to offer each ticket with a full course meal…or shorten it so people didn’t starve on his account. I’m sure there isn’t a producer on the planet who would argue with three films over two, either. It’s also entirely possible he added at least an hour more to the scripts, but I’m beginning to wonder if his inability to cut back forced his hand into stretching this epic into three films.
I see the runtime coming…yep, here it comes…almost there…
Assuming one page of a screenplay equates to one minute screen time, that means Jackson had 330 pages written out for the first two films that have come out, if they are exact replicas from script to screen that is. Considering the third film will most likely run near 161 minutes there’s no way he planned for two films with two 250 page scripts on his hands. Something must have happened from script to screen that forced him to stretch this out to a trilogy. If that’s the case, how is he getting more time without any script to back it up? I’m thinking filler, and not when it comes to dialogue, character or plot; I’m talking unending action sequences that probably read like this in the script:
SMAUG chases dwarves through treasury.
And that ends up being a 20 minute unending sequence of repetitive action.
Let’s be honest: there are plenty of folks who’d love to have five hours per film, but come on. Nobody wants to escape from reality for such long periods of time. What it comes down to is Peter Jackson’s inability to edit himself down. That’s a problem. If you can’t edit yourself down, you’re not delivering the strongest possible work. It reminds me of a famous quote by Thoreau:
Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.
– Henry David Thoreau
Essentially, if you want to make the best work possible it should be as poignant and efficient as possible. I think this is something we can apply to any work, time permitting, to make the best work possible. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Jackson isn’t achieving the great heights his films could reach.