Exclusive: Hobbit stars explain why film HAD to be long

It will pay off in the next two instalments, cast promise.

‘Lord Of The Rings’ director Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth - ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ - was warmly received by critics and massively successful with fans. It passed the billion dollar mark at the box office last month.

One recurring gripe in the reviews however was that at almost three hours in length, ‘Unexpected Journey’ was ‘too long’ for one third of a  book (it came it at 169 minutes).

While on promotional duties for the DVD and Blu-ray release (out on 8 April), cast members Andy Serkis, Richard Armitage and James Nesbitt responded to the comments from reviewers and also gave some insight into why the series was split into three parts.

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Twice as many characters as ‘Lord Of The Rings’

Andy Serkis, who reprised his role as Gollum and was also on second unit directing duties, said that the sheer number of characters (including 13 Dwarves) meant Jackson had no choice but to ramp up the running time.

“The fact of the matter is you’ve got to get to go know lots of different characters,” he said. “It’s a set-up film. Clearly there’s a lot of exposition, getting to know who’s who in this world, what the reason for their journey is. The back-story is very important. I think watching it on DVD, [the audience] won’t find it too long in the slightest. They won’t want it to stop.”

It’s the first part of a trilogy

Armitage, who played gold-loving anti-hero Thorin, agreed, saying that scenes such as the Dwarves’ extended arrival into Bilbo’s house at the beginning would pay off in the final film, ‘The Hobbit: There And Back Again’.

He said: “I think that Pete’s telling a long story and you need to learn about all of those dwarves and all of those characters. This is why the story has expanded into three movies, because when it comes to the Battle of Five Armies [in ‘Part 3’], you’re going to be glad that he took time in Bag End to get to know those characters.”

Serkis said that the unanimously praised 13-minute-long ‘Riddles in the Dark’ sequence, which sees Bilbo and Gollum verbally joust under the Misty Mountains, would’ve have been cut in half if the trilogy was a duo.

“When they first did the cut when it was two films,” he said, “they realised they had to cut out so much character detail, even the Gollum ‘Riddles in the Dark’ passage would’ve been cut in half. So people don’t realise the implications of that and the desire and the need to make it three films was so you could have detail. It was an artistic decision.”

48 frames per second

The much-discussed decision to shoot in 48 frames per second, as opposed to the standard 24 frames per second, also contributed to the length of the film, speculated Armitage.

“I think once you film something in that quality and in that frame rate, it’s very difficult to put that in a [DVD] ‘Director’s Cut’. You want to see that in a movie house. That’s what it’s made for. An ‘Extended Edition’ is less satisfying for Pete [Jackson].”

“There’s a slightly higher ticket price because of the higher frame rate, so you get a little more film for your money!”

Tolkien left gaps that needed filling

Author JRR Tolkien’s decision to leave many ‘Hobbit’ sub-plots unexplored, such as the assault on the Necromancer’s hideout in Dol Guldur, is another reason why ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy will end up almost as long as ‘The Lord Of The Rings’, according to Armitage.

“I understand why people see this big book [‘The Lord Of The Rings’] and this little book [‘The Hobbit’]. Tolkien wrote this book and this framework, and there are parts that he explored and parts that he didn’t. These parts that Pete explored. They’re still in the same world: you have three times as many characters, so why not see what they’re getting up to?”

It’s a family film

Finally, ‘Cold Feet’ star James Nesbitt, who played Bofur, argued that the only people who complained about the length were grown-ups.

“If you talk to kids and say was it too long, they’ll say unanimously that they wanted more. Peter cares more about the children than the critics.”

‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ is available on DVD and Blu-ray from 8 April in the UK.