Two trilogies living in the same universe. One is considered a masterpiece, while the other -- not so much. Why did The Hobbit find less success than The Lord of the Rings?
It's nearly impossible not to like The Lord of the Rings. It's a beautiful tale about a bunch of underdogs fighting a war that they don't seem capable of winning, sweeping across the sprawling landscape with epic battles and triumphant victories not only within Middle Earth, but within the characters as well. The Hobbit fights to emulate this in each episode of its trilogy, but really only managed to capture part of the magic. But why? Peter Jackson directed both trilogies; the screenplays were all written by him, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens; so, why did one work while the other didn't?
Film student Sean Hickey put together this engaging video essay for the DBS Film Society that compares the trilogies of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to determine why one was so successful while the other wasn't. (Here's a hint: in the epic battle between style and substance, substance always wins.)
The difference between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, as well as so many films like it, is a matter of maturity and restraint. What are we exposed to and how? How do the action sequences, love scenes, and expositional moments differ between the two? In LOTR, they're restrained -- Jackson gives you less so you want more in the end. However in The Hobbit, Jackson gives you pretty much whatever you want -- plenty of exposition, insane action, as well as plenty of CGI to pull the latter off. This makes it more difficult for you to make a truly deep connection with the characters or feel any real tension as they're put to the test (because you don't really care about them).
To put it simply: The Hobbit focused more on style, while LOTR focused more on substance. If you're making a film right now, this is an excellent lesson to learn. From the moment you start writing the script to the moment you finish editing, ask yourself which is more apparent in your project: style or substance. (The end goal is to manage both.)
Do you agree with the points made in Hickey's video essay? Let us know in the comments below.