The Stretching of ‘The Hobbit’ Trilogy: By the Numbers

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Photo: Warner Bros.

One of the biggest complaints with Peter Jackson‘s adaptation of The Hobbit has been the unnecessary stretching of a simple, rather brief book into a bloated, three-movie series. I totally agree with that sentiment, making for a punishing 474 minutes of film to watch. But is the book actually stretched or do we just feel like it is? Well, Walt Hickey from the “Data Lab” over at FiveThirtyEight.com has taken a look at the numbers of running times and page counts of a wide swath of films adapted from popular novels to answer the question.

Their conclusion? The Hobbit series is the most stretched film adaptation of a novel. With a total 474 minute running time (approximately 542 minutes for the extended editions) to its measly 293 page count, The Hobbit is unprecedented in how stretched the film is. The most recent film, The Battle of the Five Armies, which covers approximately 72 pages of the novel, is 144 minutes long, allotting 2 minutes per page. That is an insane amount of time.

At a glance, this is what The Hobbit trilogy looks like:

  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – 169 minutes / 182 minutes extended
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – 161 minutes / 186 minutes extended
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – 144 minutes / 174 minutes extended (rumored)

My favorite bit they bring up is how one sentence in the book…

Bilbo … saw that across the valley the stone-giants were out, and were hurling rocks at one another for a game, and catching them, and tossing them down into the darkness where they smashed along the trees far below, or splintered into little bits with a bang … they could hear the giants guffawing and shouting all over the mountainsides.

…is stretched to two and a half minutes of film. One sentence should not equal two and a half minutes of film. There is a general rule of thumb when it comes to screenplays: one page = one minute of film. That is why most screenplays are 90-120 pages. When you are adapting a novel, changes and cuts have to be made to fit the film medium, but when you are spending nearly two minutes per page on a story, you are losing momentum of your story.

In their case study, they determined The Bourne Ultimatum was the most efficient film adaptation, with a sprawling 752 page book condensed to a 115 minute film (0.15 minutes per page). Of course, by the time Ultimatum rolled around the franchise was anything but an adaptation of Robert Ludlum‘s books, but I think Ultimatum is a terrific action movie I will gladly watch over and over again, especially before watching The Hobbit. The film is tight, exciting, and never lets up its pace.

What exactly did Jackson & Co. start with? If you’ll remember, Guillermo del Toro was originally set to direct The Hobbit movies, back when it was planned as only two features (which I think is still unnecessary). It wasn’t until after del Toro left and deep into production that Jackson decided, “You know what? This needs to be three movies! Serkis, put on the leotard!” (not a direct quote). So, with upwards of at least 542 minutes, if we look at the three films in their extended form, are we to assume the screenplay is 542 pages long? Does Jackson not know how to stop filming filler? Does he know how to edit a movie? Is he just so powerful now that no one will tell him “no”?

The full table of films they analyzed, which includes Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptation as well, can be seen below:

hickey-hobbit-table

If you want to see FiveThirtyEight’s full analysis of their novel adaptation breakdown, you can do so here. I highly recommend it.