A Jewel Within Clay: The Tolkien Edit

I’m a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. Despite a couple of flaws – in particular, repeated defamation of secondary characters in The Two Towers – overall they did a brilliant job of conveying the plot, feeling, setting and tone of the book, aided by brilliant cinematography, scenery and music. The Fellowship of the Ring absolutely wowed me when it came out and the trilogy remains some of my all time favourite films.

The Hobbit, on the other hand, is a different matter. Despite some brilliant scenes, overall the films felt slow, overly padded and bloated: perhaps not surprising, given that a c. 300 page children’s book was being drawn out across three three hour long films. It’s not that all the new bits were bad: the attack on Dol Guldur, for example, was an excellent depiction of an event mentioned extremely briefly in the books. It’s just that there were too many of them, they detracted from the core plot and, particularly in the third film, the endless fight scenes overwhelmed all that remained of genuine character development, tension or charm.

Imagine my delight, therefore, when I discovered The Tolkien Edit: a version created by a fan which recuts all three films into a single four-hour production, less than half the length of the original. In doing so, it not only ruthlessly strips away anything not contained within the original book, but also massively trims the fight scenes and removes other padding, to create a tighter, faster-paced (though still generously loving in its treatment) viewing.

In particular, things that are removed include:

– The entirety of the sub-plot involving Dol Guldur, Radagast and the Necromancer

– All appearances of Azog west of the Misty Mountains

– Legolas and Tauriel, with all of their accompanying superfluous CGI battle scenes

– The unrealistic fight against Smaug within the Lonely Mountain, which in the original simply served to diminish the dragon’s power and terror.

– Most of the flashbacks

– Huge chunks of the fight scenes throughout, but particularly in the Battle of the Five Armies (though this remains, as one would expect, a major event).

Of course, some good things are lost. I personally enjoyed the rendition of ‘Chip the glasses and crack the plates’, but I recognise that I am an inveterate fan. Similarly, the opening scene of the original, in which Smaug attacks Edoras, is clearly a superb piece of cinema – but then, one gets to see Smaug in action later at Laketown, and it’s unclear that the opening adds much more. This, after all, is what a good editor does: not simply removing the dross, but also removing the gold that is unshapely, misplaced or simply detracting from the perfection of the whole.

The final result is a truly brilliant film: with the attention restored to Bilbo and the dwarfs, the character growth, tension and humour shines through strongly, the moments of tension keep one on the edge of one’s seat and the dramatic high points are genuine spectacles, rather than tedious slogs. The soundtrack and setting of the original remain to underpin the whole, making it a truly worthy companion to The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

It turns out Peter Jackson did create a jewel of Hobbit film after all – he just concealed it within a shapeless piece of clay.

The Tolkien Edit can be found here.

I would strongly encourage, for ethical reasons, that anyone downloading this who has not bought the original, also buys the original (even if they then immediately dispose of it), which can be obtained from the link below. It’s worth noting that every second of the edit was directed by Jackson, and without the investment to produce the original, the edit could not exist.