The 6 Stupidest Things The Hobbit Movies Wasted Money On
For the longest time, Lord of the Rings fans had to settle for a series of disjointed cartoons and text adventure games to get their Tolkien rocks off. Some of them were so desperate that they even read The Silmarillion. It's no wonder that the franchise ended up in the hands of Peter Jackson, then known for crazy-ass horror films and puppet porn. That those movies turned out pretty good is a balrog-sized improbability.
Not a decade later came the highly anticipated Hobbit films ... and now we're back to the disjointed cartoons of our childhood. The only difference is that these cartoons cost nearly a billion goddamned dollars to make, as the newest financial documents for the films have revealed. Looking at the trailer for the new movie, one question springs to mind: Where the hell did that money go? Here's a handy breakdown for you:
They Spent $2 Million per Book Page
Fun fact: shooting only two pages of The Hobbit cost the same as the entire budget for the movie Boyhood. You know, the one that was shot over 11 years, whereas the Hobbit trilogy only feels like it's 11 years long.
We're only slightly exaggerating. Now that we know that the last Hobbit film clocks in at a sensible and reserved (for Jackson) 2 hours and 24 minutes, we can calculate that the entire trilogy lasts just under eight hours. And since the movies adapt a 300-page book plus Tolkien's 124-page appendices, that means we're looking at roughly 53 pages per hour -- as opposed to the 122 pages an hour for the Lord of the Rings trilogy's 1,137 pages. With us so far? That's OK, someone made a nice graph:
Who would have guessed that Tolkien fans are nerds?
Basically, The Hobbit is spending more than twice as much time and money per page than the better-received original trilogy. If those greedy dwarves knew that, they'd lose their shit. Going by these adjusted-for-inflation numbers, the $740 million budget split three ways is $246 million a film, which covers around 143 pages of book. That's around $2 million a page, or enough to fund the original Mad Max twice over. Meanwhile, Lord of the Rings cost a total of $358 million (remember, post-inflation) for all three movies, or "only" around 300 grand per page.
And this was despite having to cover craft services for John Rhys-Davies.
So what the hell is our point? Just that had The Lord of the Rings been made under the same crazy math as The Hobbit, they would have made nine fucking movies. But let's not give them any ideas for the inevitable remakes.
The Marketing Is Insane, and Insanely Expensive
Movie marketing is the elusive wildcard for determining the budget for any blockbuster. While it's unclear if it was already added to budget report, the printing and advertising for the first film is estimated to have cost around $155 million dollars, which is four times as much as LOTR's marketing cost -- hell, it's more than the entire production budget for Return of the King, and they had to hire a bunch of talking trees for that one (those guys are pretty expensive).
All of this for a series that basically sells itself. Seriously, they could run 30-second TV spots of Peter Jackson dicking everyone's mothers and it would still make billions worldwide. And yet ...
Then Peter Jackson comes in, and starts dicking the food.
The Hobbit Slam: a Denny's breakfast item aptly named after the size and velocity with which it enters the toilet the next day. For the most part, this unholy union appears to be the only Hobbit marketing tie-in that isn't just a front for getting motherfuckers to New Zealand (a country that's just one movie shy of changing its symbol for money to the New Line logo). Bars and tours and airports have been adorned in giant Smeagols and Gandalfs. There are even two Hobbit-themed airline safety videos that look like they cost more than Fellowship of the Ring. They even got freaking Frodo to appear in them.
If there isn't at least one Elijah Wood on your flight to New Zealand, demand your money back.
They Spent Way Too Much Money Crafting Unique Characters (Whom No One Can Tell Apart)
Here's a crazy tidbit you can share on your next blind date: each of the dwarves in these films were given six wigs and beards, craftily made from yak hair and maintained by a crew of 37 makeup and prosthetic artists. They also carried a boggling 547 different weapon props during the shoot, which were shipped to every location they went. These fictional dwarves own more pieces of clothing than we ever will. Of course, this is just what goes into making unique and memorable characters like, uh ...
See if you can spot which one is adopted.
Well, there's Nori, who looks like a hemp bracelet starfish:
"Tastes like, too. Ladies."
And ol' dumb face Ori:
"You'd make this face too if you had to sport this facial hair."
And ... hm ...
Fr ... Frasier?
One of those grey dudes is Dori. And ... wait a minute ...
Who the fuck is that guy? Did that guy make it into the film? That's a crazy studio janitor who wandered into the shot, isn't he? We're not sure. Is there some kind of chart we can consult?
Of course there is. There are lots of charts. For all its attention to detail and money spent on props and makeup, we ended up getting ten identical drunk uncle personalities with bovine hair all over their faces.
The Hated 3D High Frame Rate Costs a Fortune
Imagine that a toy company was making a jack-in-the-box that cost three times as much as other jack-in-the-boxes to make, and stores had to pay $10,000 for the equipment needed to display the toy. Also, it punches you directly in the eyes whenever it pops out. That's the best way we can describe The Hobbit's fancy 48 frames per second technology, a.k.a. that thing where you can pay a few extra bucks to make the movie look like a Mexican telenovela in an HD screen.
"You know, aside from the Denny's."
We're not sure why 48 fps didn't catch on, but the fact that it's expensive and everyone hates it might have something to do. So naturally, The Hobbit is super balls-out all about it: shooting 3D at 48 fps accounted for a huge part of an already bloated budget about circus barrel men and brooding failure longhairs.
Look, we're all for technical milestones in CGI, or even in 3D if the movie works. However, for a series of visually-crammed movies that take longer than a flight across the U.S. to watch, drilling more frames into each second is less "family fun" and more "dystopian prison experiment."
The CGI. Dear Lord, the CGI.
Now that we've gone ahead and dumped millions into reminding everyone how New Zealand-y the film is going to be, time to actually show us some genuine Kiwi-made sets and landscapes. Maybe some cliffside waterfalls, or some beautiful fields, or maybe a leaf-entwined and luscious green ...
We feel you, Watson. We feel you.
... screen. Lots and lots of green screen.
Enough green screen that some kid is doing hooker lines of cocaine because his dad is in the chroma paint industry. Just miles ...
... and miles of green, as far as the eye can't see (because it was digitally erased).
"Did we really need five guys for this shot of me reading on the toilet?"
So much green. And we mean that in every way we can, because somehow this film spent millions on construction materials, 6,750 domestic crew flights, and 93,000 hotel nights, so they could go all the way to film New Zealand's finest warehouse. Hey, remember when the original Lord of the Rings used this amazing forced perspective technique to make Gandalf impossibly huge?
It helps that Elijah Wood stopped growing around Flipper.
The new films did the same thing. Only instead of a really cool cinematic trick, they used crime scene tarp and actor tears.
"We just tell ourselves he's telepathically chatting with Patrick Stewart."
No, we're not kidding; Ian McKellen literally cried on the set of The Hobbit because of how frustrating it was to act against a green nothingness. But hey ... at least all that green was worth the final effect, right?
They Spent Buttloads Making It Look Fake
We love fantasy films because they take real people and stick them in beautiful, artistic, and dreamlike environments filled with crazy creatures like goblins, fuckable elves, and contact jugglers. Sometimes all three. The Lord of the Rings did that by giving us artistic model landscapes, epic real world environments, physical stunts, and digital creatures. Remember how Rivendell looked in those movies?
Don't even pretend you didn't have this as your desktop wallpaper at one point.
That was done with a miniature, but the CGI touches made it look somewhere between a real place and walking into a painting. Couldn't they use the same model in The Hobbit? Sure, if they hadn't thrown it out. So instead, they spent a cock-ton more money giving us this crisper, more detailed CGI render:
They even calculated where the sun would be in any given shot by time of day! And that's exactly why it sucks. Everything that should look dreamy and artistic now looks calculated and ultra-real, while the things that should look real look like this instead:
This and King Kong are just prep work for Peter Jackson's $500 million Donkey Kong adaptation.
Or remember when orcs were scary, emotionally distinct characters, and not just God of War cutscenes?
It's like if Kratos banged Zelda and left the baby to be raised by badly CG'ed wolves.
We know it sounds counterintuitive to say that such a large story needs a limited budget, but as Viggo Mortensen recently pointed out, the original films got more compromised as they gained financial power. And now Jackson gets the entire economy of New Zealand to toy with. That much CGI, marketing, and new technology ... obviously he would use it from a desire to do good, but through him, it wields a power too great and terrible to imagine.
Tell Dave why The Hobbit is the best film ever on his Twitter.
For more Middle Earth fun, check out 7 Movies That Put Insane Detail into Stuff You Never Noticed and 6 Lord of the Rings Characters Who Totally Dropped the Ball.