The Lord of the Rings was, is and always will be viewed as a monumental achievement in cinema, one that will never likely even be replicated never mind bettered.
New Line Cinema took a massive gamble in giving the green light to three blockbuster movies shot simultaneously at a combined cost of over $280 million, especially when the books had long been deemed unfilmable and the fantasy genre itself had been struggling for decades. Almost $3 billion at the box office and seventeen Academy Awards later, though, including Best Picture and Best Director for closing chapter The Return of the King, the Middle-earth adaptations had blown any doubts so far out of the water that they’d hit the stratosphere as the trilogy cemented a place in history, and it’s now lauded as the apex of big budget filmmaking.
Unfortunately, however, lightning didn’t strike twice when it came to The Hobbit. Guillermo del Toro was originally set to direct the prequels, but after he dropped out shortly before production was due to begin, Peter Jackson was forced to step in as the only remotely qualified candidate capable of replacing him. Although, you get the distinct impression from watching the movies that his heart was never really in it.
The first three installments were distributed by New Line, which was then absorbed by Warner Bros. in 2008, and in a recent interview, Hobbit star Jed Brophy admitted that interference from the latter studio had a huge effect on the outcome of the finished product.
“I may be speaking out of turn here, and probably if those people ever find me I’ll get slammed, but I think that Warner Bros. kind of got in the way of Peter and The Hobbit. None of them are people that can actually look at a script and in their head imagine how you can actually get the best drama out of that. And if you get in the way of that process you’re actually stopping someone from actually getting a flow on, and that’s what I think happened, that’s what I could see happening is that there was not that same flow. Now, Peter would see stuff on Lord of the Rings and get this amazing idea about how he could shoot the next scene from stuff that was already happening on set, but if you’ve got people dictating what your day is going to be then that stops it.”
It didn’t help matters when the execs made the decision to stretch The Hobbit out to three movies after the vast majority of shooting was already complete, but the magic that defined The Lord of the Rings was sorely missing from Jackson’s return to Middle-earth, and while they remain serviceable and enjoyable enough, they pale in comparison to what came before.