The box office success and aesthetic superiority of An Unexpected Journey suggests The Hobbit trilogy was worth the price.
Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is often hailed as the greatest fantasy franchise of all time. To date, the trilogy has grossed almost $3bn from an estimated total budget of just $281m, making it one of the most successful franchises ever. When The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released to mixed reviews last December, working (along with its two sequels) on a $561m budget, many wondered if Peter Jackson had become the one whose love of gold had become too fierce.
The first Hobbit instalment is the best film Peter Jackson has ever made, arguably – its aesthetic superiority is unquestionable
But is it really such a high price to pay for three films of likely outstanding quality? Major blockbusters aren’t cheap; the last two Pirates of the Caribbean films cost a combined $550m, and they were shit. The Hobbit’s first instalment is arguably the best film Peter Jackson has ever made, and it’s remarkably inexpensive when all things are considered. With its lavish visuals, innovative high frame-rate and well employed CGI, its aesthetic superiority is unquestionable.
But the appeal of An Unexpected Journey isn’t merely skin deep. One of the issues with The Lord of the Rings films was the hurried pacing that came with forcing three large texts into three relatively short films. Characters like Legolas and Gimli were memorable, but lacked any real substance; there was little time for back-stories and ultimately the narrative suffered as a result. Considering that The Hobbit was a children’s book, the measured pacing and comedic tone that Jackson adopted couldn’t be more at home than in An Unexpected Journey. The viewer is allowed time to breathe in the world, the narrative and vitally, the characters.
Without a doubt, a lot of the additional financing is to be spent on the jump to high frame-rate and 3D technologies, the latter of which will be subsidised through ticket prices. The remaining $150m or so could have gone to any number of additions that Jackson felt missing from his first venture into Middle-earth (like a half-decent caterer). But is it really worth it? If Jackson was able to string arguably the most successful fantasy franchise in history together with just $281m (yes, I realise how ridiculous that sounds), why not do it again?
Whatever that money was spent on, it’s all there on the screen. From the grandiose landscapes to the exquisite details of every costume, Middle-earth is brought to life with no detail forgotten. Of course, Jackson could have returned to the style he used in his previous trilogy; he could have asked 300 men to chase 14 midgets and a tall man through a cave, and I don’t doubt for a second that Jackson would have done it perfectly. But to take something that has proven so successful, and to try to take it to new heights, is surely something worth commending, especially when it’s done for roughly $70m less than Spider-Man 3.
Does the cost even matter? Profits for the first Hobbit instalment have already covered the costs of the whole trilogy
Moreover, does the cost even matter? So long as he’s making a decent profit, not a damn person is going to question exactly how much money Peter Jackson decides to spend in the process. Despite the many criticisms, the first instalment of Jackson’s new trilogy has already grossed well over $1bn, easily covering the costs of the whole trilogy with just its first entry. Even with a few negative reviews and some apathetic fans, can anyone really foresee the remaining films performing any less than brilliantly at the box office? Either way you look at it, it’s going to be a financial success.
And isn’t that the way it should be? For $200m, we get films like Avatar, Man of Steel and Battleship, films that have about as much societal value as a jar of pesto. And still, these films make more money than we can imagine, despite never even being popular. If someone can take that money and produce anything as enjoyable, spectacular and memorable as An Unexpected Journey, then they certainly have my consent.
All images: Warner Bros