The final chapter of Peter Jackson’s J.R.R. Tolkien saga hits theaters today. As a movie, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is fine. If nothing else, it’s a greatest-hits collection of everything you’ve loved about Jackson’s Middle-earth epics—dragons! battles! sorcery and stuff!—in one series-ending package. It’s also the last piece you’ll need to complete that neat row of DVDs or Blu-rays on your entertainment center. You just have to wait a few more months for it to get out of theaters.
A lot of smack gets talked about Hollywood’s penchant for breaking books into multiple films in pursuit of the almighty box office dollar. But while previous book-splitting infractions—Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games—have resulted in a series’ final novel being cut in two, Jackson took what is essentially the first (and shortest, if you don’t count the “appendices“) book of a series, The Hobbit, and turned it into three features totaling 7.9 hours released over three years. It was a bit ambitious, if not egregious, and probably a bigger commitment than anyone should have to make seeing their favorite book come to the big screen.
But what if Jackson’s Tolkien saga isn’t made for the big screen at all?
Sure, Jackson’s films look great as big, high-frame-rate 3-D spectacles, but the first two Hobbit films, at least until the end of The Desolation of Smaug, mostly felt like a likeable group of chaps taking a jaunt through the countryside. Fine, but kind of boring. (As WIRED’s Laura Hudson noted last year when discussing the penultimate film’s “crisis creep” problem, “This isn’t a story about saving the world. It’s about a bunch of dwarves on a side-quest for some loot.”) You took a similar journey to the multiplex each year to see them, like a duty-bound dwarf, but you knew you were going to get three hours of Beginning or Middle—never the Epic Conclusion.
But next year is when the saga truly ends, when you can plop down in front of the TV during the holidays and watch all three movies. In order. The way they were meant to be seen. Then follow that with the Lord of the Rings movies. It’s taken 13 years, six trips to the theater, and more than 17 hours (1,032 minutes), but the series is finally complete. Soon it will sit next to your new Batman discs, ready for the next binge-watching weekend or drinking-game-ready marathon. Huzzah!
Look, do I know that Peter Jackson just made six massive movies so you could be a completist about your media collection? No. And he probably didn’t. Considering how much he futzed with framerates and such, he definitely is here for the cinematic experience of the thing. But, after deciding The Hobbit needed three movies, he did say “much of the story … will remain untold if we do not take this chance” to split two films into three. He wanted to ensure the entirety of Tolkien’s universe had a movie counterpart, and left nothing to chance.
He also knew going in that he could take as much time as he wanted. People weren’t going to be able to see his masterpieces only in triple-features at willing cinemas; they could watch on DVD or tune in to one of those marathons on Encore if they wanted to take in his films. Also, he’s a nerd for this stuff—he probably wants to be able to watch as long a version of Tolkien’s tale in his living room too. (One day, at least. Maybe not right now. Right now he needs to chill.) He also came of age as s director in the VHS/DVD/Blu-ray generation. Surely he knows that being a fan means collecting all your favorite movies and binge-watching big trilogies for sport.
That’s OK. Because, frankly, walking out of The Battle of the Five Armies the emotion I felt most was relief. I no longer had to wait in anticipation for another Tolkien adaptation from Jackson, didn’t have to breathlessly watch another new trailer and wonder about what he was working on in his Weta Hobbit hole. I knew. We’ll all know. The campaign is complete. You can love his Middle-earth sagas or hate them, or just think they’re bloated, but Peter Jackson has succeeded in making the most complete film adaptation of Tolkien’s universe he could.
And, one day, when you look around the room at your friends or family and say, “Guys, anyone want to see if we can get through both the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies this weekend?” you just might thank him.