Deadline reported late Thursday that “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” earned $10.7M for the day in U.S. theaters, bringing its domestic earnings to $190.2M and its worldwide take close to $550M.
Not bad considering the controversies surrounding the latest Tolkien adaptation.
While moviegoers have given the film a general thumbs-up (see above box office as well as a Rottentomatoes score of 81% liked) critics and industry insiders have been less kind, with their chief complaints being a bloated script and an off-putting viewing experience in IMAX 3D.
Early on producer/director Peter Jackson announced his intention to adapt Tolkien’s 1937 children’s book “The Hobbit” as not one but two live action films. Each half would be expanded with material culled from the author’s many ancillary works. In July 2012, Jackson announced that there was enough material—and, he believed, a strong narrative opportunity—to release “The Hobbit” as a trilogy.
Eyebrows raised. Heads spun. Fans and industry pundits alike sputtered questions that would not begin to receive answers until the first installment arrived.
How does one adapt a short kids’ book into nine hours of film? Particularly when the titanic “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was trimmed to roughly that length for its initial theatrical runs. And, by the way, how does one hack a single story into three distinct parts?
For starters “The Hobbit” is not burdened by the expository heft of “The Lord of the Rings”. It is a light book, with much of the action occurring off-stage. But since it was penned by Professor J.R.R. Tolkien—never accused of writing too short—it so happens that most everything left to the margins was fully imagined, committed to paper, and exhaustively published in other volumes with geeks like Peter Jackson and his armies (easily five armies) of fans in mind.
Regarding the three-part format: “The Lord of the Rings” itself, written as a single volume, was broken up not by its author but by its publishers. Whether blame (or credit) for that decision falls on post-war paper shortages, greedy book mongers, or some savvy editor who believed that readers in 1954 might sidestep the 1000-page shadow of Tolkien’s magnum opus in favor of, say, William Golding’s 248-page “Lord of the Flies” or Richard Matheson’s 160-page “I am Legend”, the fact remains that commerce-driven choices were partly responsible for the trilogy that millions of readers treasure to this day.
Never mind that it probably makes more sense to divide any book into its three component acts than to extract its “essence” for one film or, Eru forbid, lop it arbitrarily in half for two. This has to be about the money.
Also clearly about the money: Jackson’s lockjawed determination to shoot his Hobbit films at 48 frames per second—a format that is screening only in IMAX 3D presentations. Which in terms of relative ticket sales almost nobody is actually seeing.
Among those who have seen it, many feel it looks substantially different than the conventional 24 frames per second. Some feel it looks weird. Disturbing even. Non-cinematic. Like old BBC video. How can anyone watch a film this way? Clearly, the End Times are nigh.
Good thing nobody ever pushed for films in color. Or, you know, a standard 24 frames as opposed to the much-varied 12 to 26 frames that predated that. Oh. Wait. That was for silent films.
Good thing nobody ever pushed for sound.
* * *
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is now showing in a theater near you..
Part two, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” wings onto Kansas City screens December 13, 2013.