Since seeing The Hobbit a few weeks ago, one thought has been going around and around my head: “Why did we need to spend five minutes watching Sylvester McCoy resuscitating a hedgehog?”
Not that there's anything wrong with Sylvester McCoy resuscitating a hedgehog. It made me laugh, other cinemagoers made “Awww” noises, and I'm sure it perked up the kids who had fallen asleep during the dwarves' rambling discussions at Bag End. But it didn't really progress the plot, did it? A charming scene, yes. But did it work as part of The Hobbit ? No.
The annoying thing was that the hedgehog scene wasn't alone. There were many moments during the film where I found myself wondering why we were watching what we were watching, from the songs at Bag End to the meeting between Saruman, Gandalf and the Elves at Rivendell. It's not that these scenes were unwelcome – and I enjoyed them all – it's just that I would have preferred to have welcomed them on an Extended Edition DVD in a few months, rather than having to sit through them in the cinema. With its run time edging towards three hours, the one thing The Hobbit didn't need was more scenes.
This is, by the way, coming from someone who not only loves Tolkien's work but has also been a fan of Peter Jackson since watching Bad Taste in 1991. I love the way his twisted Kiwi mind works, and I respect the amazing, unenviable amount of effort he and his team have put into bringing Middle-earth to our screens. But even I have to admit that he makes mistakes, and his biggest is that as a filmmaker, he's incapable of killing his babies. Just as he couldn't cut that that hedgehog scene and save it for the DVD, he also couldn't resist putting in backstory for characters in King Kong who vanished halfway through the film, or overdoing the “Heaven” FX moments in The Lovely Bones until they outshone the characters. Sometimes a filmmaker has to know what to kill to make a story even better.
Not that “killing” scenes means nobody gets to see them, of course. We should have had two Hobbits : the one we saw at the cinema, which focused on the basic story with no frills, and the Extended Edition on DVD/Blu-ray. While Jackson has tentatively confirmed that he will be releasing an Extended Edition of The Hobbit with an extra 20-25 minutes of footage (lord only knows what else he can throw into the mix: presumably we'll see the dwarves plaiting their beards or the Elves baking some tasty lembas bread), he missed a trick by not trimming down the cinema release when it so desperately needed to be shorter.
Here's an example. We know that the Necromancer will play a role in the later Hobbit films, and it's understandable that he does. He may not be in the book, but he is the reason Gandalf goes off and leaves the dwarves, so it's good to have that explained on screen. Yet did we really need the cinema version of The Hobbit to show us Gandalf and Saruman discussing him in great length? Did we need all those (admittedly gorgeous) shots of Galadriel eyeing Gandalf knowingly as she stood silhouetted against a Rivendell sunset? In fact, did we need Galadriel at all? As lovely as it was to see her again, she seemed shoehorned into The Hobbit to prove that there are, indeed, boobs in Middle-earth, and that her dress should be nominated for an Oscar for all its exquisite folds. But so many of the Rivendell scenes could have happily waited for an extended DVD version without harming proceedings. And so could many others. A good trim of the flabby Bag End section, for instance, might have helped the film run at a better pace.
I don't like feeling negative about The Hobbit , particularly as I'm such a huge fan of the Rings films. And I still think that it can work as a trilogy. However, there's no reason why each film has to be such a monster. The simple story of a bunch of adventurers on a quest to win back some treasure is going to get lost time and again, buried under the weight of so many superfluous moments. Tolkien subtitled his book “There And Back Again”, not “There And Back Again With Lots Of Detours And Hedgehog-Fiddling Thrown In To Pad It Out”. Let's hope the next two films remember this.