According to recent reports, The Hobbit trilogy has already cost over half a billion dollars in filming costs. That’s double the purported $281 million Jackson spent on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. People are aghast, almost angry at what he’s spent thus far to make three films. Jackson has nothing to sweat about though; the first movie, An Unexpected Journey, brought in over one billion dollars at the box office. With two more movies to follow, he can expect about another two billion dollars heading his way. That’s more than enough to refill his pockets after spending a measly $561 million.
How Much is Too Much?
Compared to other recent movie threesomes, $561 million isn’t all that high of a number. The Spiderman trilogy cost almost $500 million, while the middle two Pirates of the Caribbean films (Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End) cost about $525 million. Fans were supposed to appreciate the extra cash Jackson doled out for the high quality filming. Not only did he film the movie in 3D, but he also doubled the frames per second from the standard 24, to 48. This was an attempt to increase the quality of the images by making them clearer, and giving the audience a more life-like picture. The “movement” effect between frames would appear smoother with a decrease of time between them. Jackson didn’t have to come up with all the money for these extras himself, however. New Zealand tax payers “donated” $98 million for the film after Jackson threatened to take filming to a different location: Australia or eastern Europe.
An Unexpected Journey received mixed reviews from viewers. The extra high definition didn’t go over as well as Jackson had anticipated. Many audience members left the theater feeling disappointed. They claimed it looked more like day-time television or at best, DVD quality. Desolation of Smaug was then released in regular 24 frames per second for about 80% of the screenings across the United States. Clearly the HFR, high frame rate of 48 frames per second, did not leave the impression that Jackson intended.
Aside from the visual let-down, fans also claimed the movie was drawn out too much. Many chastised Jackson for stretching the story out over three, three hour movies just to make more money. The Deathly Hallows needed to be broken to two movies; much of the 784 page story would have been lost otherwise. The same can be anticipated of Mockingjay, though it will be a bit of a feat to stretch 400 pages over four hours. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit is only about 300 pages, with the illustrated editions increasing the page count to around 380. If 784 pages can be fantastically split into just four and half hours, we can only assume spreading 300 pages thinly out over nine hours will be difficult to accomplish.
In order to make the story full enough to last three movies, Jackson needed to step – leap – far away from Tolkien’s original plot. He added much to the story…much that would have been just as well left out. Take Legolas, for example. As a lady, I was pleased to watch Legolas prancing about in LOTR. I was equally thrilled to see Orlando Bloom again in Pirates of the Caribbean (losing the blonde hair and pointy ears took nothing away from his allure). I was, however, disappointed to see that to tempt us ladies into the theater, Jackson brought Legolas into The Desolation of Smaug. For those of us who have read the book, we know that Legolas was no part of the original tale. It seems foolish to add him just for a big picture, and we can clearly see he was only added as a way to ensure a larger audience. The story would have been better if it stuck closer to the book and was more succinct.
While everyone is in uproar at the fact that Jackson has spent over half a million dollars before the second of three films was even released, we have to remember that filming is basically complete. Taking into account a few additional scenes likely to be filmed for the “Special Features” disc for DVD, each film will have only averaged about $200 million. The films are being spread over three years not because they are unfinished, but to space things out and guarantee a Holiday Blockbuster at the box office for each release. Others also argue that while all three LOTR films cost $281 million when filmed together, they were also basically completed by the time FOTR hit theaters and that figure was released. The success of that first movie encouraged Jackson to go back and film additional scenes for TTT and ROTK before their theater debut. The money spent on filming was not added to the original figure, so the actual cost of the LOTR trilogy was probably more like $350 – $400 million.