Our analysis of the status of the Hobbit trilogy, and the intense problems its upcoming finale could face...
Third time's a charm, right? When it comes to the film industry, this age-old cliché has never quite rung true, with countless third instalments in hit franchises failing to impress their respective fanbases- see Spider-Man 3, X-Men: The Last Stand and Back to the Future III for evidence on that front. Indeed, the more I think about this matter, the more it seems that the Hobbit franchise in particular faces one of its biggest challenges yet in terms of living up to that much-vaunted assertion.
This trepidation does not derive from the recent initial theatrical trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (its second instalment), though- quite the opposite. That particular preview did a fantastic job of teasing iconic elements of the original Tolkien novel The Hobbit which would be adapted later this year, such as Spider-infested forests, Barrels out of Bond and most importantly Bilbo's encounter with the ferocious dragon Smaug. Indeed, it seems as if The Desolation of Smaug may turn out to be the greatest edition of Peter Jackson's journeys into the realms of Middle-Earth yet.
The problem, then? If The Desolation of Smaug does manage to top An Unexpected Journey in terms of its overall quality as an ambitious fantasy motion picture, then the gauntlet that There and Back Again must subsequently raise in Christmas 2014 will be all the more weighty and thus difficult to uphold. Something that doesn't help matters in this respect is that Desolation looks to cover up to Chapter Sixteen from the original text in its adaptation, leaving just three chapters more to render on-screen in their CGI-fuelled glory. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 managed to achieve a similar feat with its Battle of Hogwarts in 2011, and yet it seems fair to argue that fans of that series were far more invested and excited for the final war of that saga than many of us are for the Battle of Five Armies next year.
Perhaps part of the reasoning for the lack of major excitement for that Middle-Earth conflict coming to our cinemas is in fact the lack of knowledge of what exactly to expect. In the case of the novel The Hobbit, the titular protagonist finds himself knocked out by a boulder in the very early stages of the Battle of Five Armies, leaving Mr Baggins to miss the vast majority of the battle. Peter Jackson rightly wants to show us exactly what ocurred in the war, likely meaning that Bilbo will retain consciousness in this version, yet for now with none of the foreknowledge of what's to come that we held in Part 2, for now that remains less of an exciting prospect than the Warner Brothers production team might have hoped.
I'm not here to simply criticise and/or lament the decision by Jackson and Warner to broaden the narrative of The Hobbit and the various Lord of the Rings Appendices into three fully-fledged motion pictures, only to wonder if such a decision will have detrimental effects on the final instalment. For all we know, The Hobbit: There And Back Again may provide an incredibly satisfying finale to the series and indeed connect beautifully with Jackson's other acclaimed Middle-Earth trilogy. For now, though, it's not difficult to be left wondering whether third time's really a charm in this case, when the literal battle to overcome viewer scepticism come Christmas 2014 currently seems so daunting for the production team.