‘The Hobbit’: Why ‘The Battle of Five Armies’ Was a Trainwreck

There are plenty of franchise sequels and debuts to look forward to in the next year. We have Star Wars in December, Deadpool in February, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in March, and Captain America: Civil War two months after that. To understand what it is exactly that makes these movies tick though, it’s worth it to look back on the ones that didn’t work. More specifically, we’re going to have a talk about Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. We generally know why it fell flat, with the core issuing being that it was a 300-page book dragged out over three films. That being so, things go far deeper than just the limited source material.

In a featurette covering the final installment in the trilogy (above), The Battle of Five Armies, we get a shockingly honest look at the unmitigated trainwreck the film was behind the scenes. Interviews with Peter Jackson, Andy Serkis, and various crew members paint a picture of a project that couldn’t have gone more wrong. One creative director described the process for making the trilogy as “laying the tracks directly in front of the train,” while Jackson went so far as to admit, “I spent so much of The Hobbit feeling like I was not on top of it, [thanks to] the fact that I didn’t have much prep, and that I was making it up as I went along.”

It paints a picture of a project in absolute disarray and sheds a whole lot of light on the extent to which Jackson’s trilogy was doomed from the beginning. Originally, Guillermo del Toro was slated to head up the trilogy, but ended up leaving for reasons that to this day are still unclear. Two years of preparation and designing effectively went out the window, with Jackson coming on late in the game to “start all over again from scratch.” This, of course, presented an enormous problem: The studio refused to move back the production date to account for the new director. This gave Jackson mere months to build a $561 million trilogy from the ground up.

Peter Jackson, Martin Freeman - The Hobbit
Source: MGM

All the while, Jackson was logging 21-hour days, sleeping for three hours, and then repeating the process for weeks at a time. There were days on-set where even the actors weren’t sure what was in store for their given scene, pages of the script had yet to be completed, and set pieces/costumes were finished within hours of being needed. For much of The Battle of Five Armies, the movie was operating without even storyboards to act as a guide for shooting, culminating in the disaster that was shooting the final battle. As one assistant director put it, “the actual battle itself was a mystery to us. We didn’t know what we were doing.”

That carried over to the director too. The reason everyone on set was so profoundly lost? “Simply because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” Jackson admits in the featurette (right around the 5:00 mark). Throughout the talking head interviews, we see people who look downright beaten, working on a production they were simply not given enough to time to complete. MGM’s refusal to allow Jackson and co. more time following del Toro’s departure set them up to fail, and it’s easy to see that based on the final product.

All told, none of the Hobbit films were terrible per se. And while they were certainly more in the “underwhelming” category than anything, it’s helpful to peek behind the scenes just to see why things happened the way they did. Peter Jackson didn’t deliver a hastily thrown-together trilogy because he wanted to; he did it because those were the cards he was dealt. The lesson here: Next time you’re disappointed by a big-name blockbuster, try to remember that the people in charge aren’t always given the tools to succeed. In the case of The Hobbit, those tools were locked in a box filled with scorpions and shot into the sun.

Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest

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