If you had the feeling that something just didn't feel quite right about Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy, you aren't alone. Despite grossing nearly $3 billion worldwide at the box office, the films didn't come close to receiving the critical acclaim of Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.
In a shockingly candid behind-the-scenes featurette on The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Blu-ray, Jackson and the crew of the films reveal why the film trilogy felt more than a little off. As it turns out, Jackson had almost no time to prep for the film, saying that he made most of it up as he went along without completed scripts or storyboards.
Why didn't Jackson have time to prep the film? When director Guillermo del Toro backed out of the project after more than a year of pre-production, Jackson dove in and didn't have time to retool the film into his vision for what The Hobbit should look like.
"Because Guillermo Del Toro had to leave and I jumped in and took over, we didn't wind the clock back a year and a half and give me a year and a half prep to design the movie, which was different to what he was doing," Jackson says. "It was impossible, and as a result of it being impossible I just started shooting the movie with most of it not prepped at all."
Jackson's "wing it" approach worked for most of the trilogy, as the exhausted director put in 21 hour days on set. Eventually, however, that strategy caught up with him.
"I was able to wing it right up to the point that I had to start shooting this very intricate battle," Jackson says in the featurette. "I couldn't wing that, really. I did need to know what the hell I was doing and have a plan."
Filming on the key battle seen in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies began in 2012 with no real direction, with Andy Serkis saying the crew was simply "banking" footage of elves and orcs fighting. Jackson eventually asked the Warner Bros. for permission to wrap production early and to revisit the battle scene later, allowing him to formulate his thoughts and come up with a plan for the trilogy's epic conclusion.
"What that delay, what any delay gives you, is it gives a director time to clear his head and have some quiet time to sit and wait for those bits of inspiration to come about the battle you've got coming up and start to really put something together," Jackson says.
The candid commentary from Jackson and others on the crew put the trilogy in a brand new light, making it easy to dream about what The Hobbit films may have looked like had Jackson been on board from the start. That Jackson was able to pull off such a herculean feat, filming three massive movies with no time to prepare, might just be more impressive than the billions of dollars the movies brought in.