Peter Jackson was on the receiving end of so much hate after the shambles of The Hobbit trilogy. For a lot of people, The Hobbit films were similar in execution to the infamous Star Wars prequel trilogy. While I don’t think his drop in directing skills was quite as dramatic as George Lucas’ Peter Jackson certainly appeared to suffer from similar ailments. I think the biggest issue Jackson had, however, was the large budget he received to create the three films.
The biggest complaints people had with The Hobbit films were (apart from the stretched out plotting) to do with the poor special effects, overuse of CGI and dodgy character writing. All of these areas can be negatively affected by budget. With a super large budget, you have no constraints. If you can think of something, you can have it in the film, no matter how big, crazy or ridiculous it may be. George Lucas once said: “The technology keeps moving forward, which makes it easier for the artists to tell their stories and paint the pictures they want”. A director with money to blow should be able to bring their visions to life, no matter how complicated and it could make for something spectacular in scope and vision.
I do feel, however, that a quote from Amazon head honcho Jeff Bezos sums things up well: “I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out”. A section of The Simpsons’ episode, Co-Dependent’s Day, which consists of a discussion between Randall Curtis, the creator of Cosmic Wars, and Bart and Lisa, offers a pretty good argument, as well:
With The Hobbit movies, it certainly seemed like Peter Jackson cared more about “digital eyelash rendering” than he did story and substance. There were plenty of good moments in The Hobbit trilogy and I am a fan of the second film (Smaug in particular), but even this was marred with plenty of dodgy CGI and poor character writing. It’s estimated that The Hobbit films were given budgets of $150 million plus, each. In comparison, the far superior, legendary Lord of the Rings films had budgets of around $95 million. There’s a clear difference in the amount of CGI and drop in quality between The Hobbit trilogy and The Lord of the Rings trilogy – something Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) knows in his interview with The Telegraph:
“Peter was always a geek in terms of technology but, once he had the means to do it, and the evolution of the technology really took off, he never looked back. In the first movie, yes, there’s Rivendell, and Mordor, but there’s sort of an organic quality to it, actors acting with each other, and real landscapes; it’s grittier. The second movie already started ballooning, for my taste, and then by the third one, there were a lot of special effects. It was grandiose, and all that, but whatever was subtle, in the first movie, gradually got lost in the second and third. Now with The Hobbit, one and two, it’s like that to the power of 10.
“I guess Peter became like Ridley Scott – this one-man industry now, with all these people depending on him… But you can make a choice, I think. I asked Ridley when I worked with him (on 1997’s GI Jane), ‘Why don’t you do another film like The Duellists ?’ And Peter, I was sure he would do another intimately scaled film like Heavenly Creatures, maybe with this project about New Zealanders in the First World War he wanted to make. But then he did King Kong. And then he did The Lovely Bones – and I thought that would be his smaller movie. But the problem is, he did it on a $90 million budget. That should have been a $15 million movie. The special effects thing, the genie, was out of the bottle, and it has him. And he’s happy, I think…”
Jackson was awarded too much freedom with CGI in The Hobbit and it effected his form. Sure, there were moments that looked spectacular, but these films lacked the subtlety and humanity of his earlier work. Why would you tell a good story if you could show thousands of Goblins running around ridiculously complex cave systems? Just because you can show something with CGI that you couldn’t before, it doesn’t mean that you should. It’s not effective, emotional film-making and can take you right out of the film, completely ending your suspension of disbelief. Even with a slightly smaller budget of just around $100 million, Mr. Jackson was able to create something you would emotionally invest in. You cared about Frodo and Sam, despite the fact they were walking a CGI skinny guy with no hair.
The slightly lesser budget of The Lord of the Rings trilogy forced Jackson to think more creatively in order to successfully bring his vision of Middle-Earth to life. Indeed, he has never been given as large a budget as he was for The Hobbit trilogy and he has never made a film as bad as those. Heavenly Creatures’ lowly budget of $5 million was loads compared to the likes of Braindead, Meet the Feebies and Bad Taste. I’d like to see Jackson go back towards his roots and direct something with a far lower budget. He was able to direct emotionally gripping, exciting films that told great stories but the high budget (coupled with the tight turnaround) of The Hobbit movies allowed him to ditch emotion for technology – something that Viggo Mortensen and I believe he is more than happy to do. Let’s hope Jackson’s next film is one that promotes emotion over technology.