Not a Nasty, Dirty, Wet Hole
Nor a Dry, Bare, Sandy Hole
A Hobbit-Hole, and That Means Comfort
a kindly review of There and Back Again: David Killstein’s fan edit of The Hobbit
by David Clemmer
In a hole in the ground, there lived a movie trilogy. It was a cumbersome, maladroit, swollen trilogy that blundered through its source and supplemental material like a warped creature that will starve to death unless it is fed giant leafy mountains of hundred-dollar bills. Like, it sucked ass and stuff.
One day, as the trilogy sat bloating on its front porch, it was approached and good morninged by a wizard named David Killstein, thereafter taken for a journey that would change the trilogy forever. It packed its stupid bags and put on its stupid coat and trudged its stupid feet down the path—not knowing whether it went toward its betterment, or its peril.
I’m going to write a thing that hundreds, if not literal trillions of human beings have written before. Here is the thing: when The Hobbit was first announced, I was thra-hilled. The Lord of the Rings trilogy had made history, and the very simple and ultra-filmable Hobbit would be able to stretch to a comfortable two or three hours to include the things the wonderful 1977 Rankin/Bass Hobbit couldn’t. Even if it matched the ’77 Hobbit‘s ninety-minute runtime, it stood to reason that it would almost certainly be a hit.
But then, yeah, the thing happened, and…well, you were there; you saw it. Fuck. I mean, just… fuck, man, how can you make a near-perfect trilogy on a relatively lower budget than most big films, return to the same world with all the money and resources you could ask for, and suck that much ass?
Upon watching Desolation of Smaug, my first thought was, One of these days there’s going to be numerous fan-edits that puts all three movies together and it will be exactly okay. This means I am some kind of prophet, because David Killstein is far from the first to do just that. In fact this review started out as a review for The Tolkien Edition: a four-hour version of the trilogy by a lesser wizard named tolkieneditor, but in researching and watching the first two thirds of that one, I discovered Killstein’s tumblr page and decided to stick it out.
A brief note on The Tolkien Edition: it was, of course, better than Jackson’s blorpy trilogy that we all paid our hard-earned monies to see. The biggest detractor was that the Battle of Five Armies footage was from a shitty leaked copy, but there were also moments where it felt like tolkieneditor’s focus was entirely on excision instead of taking pacing into account. Four hours is still a long movie, and tolkieneditor made some wise choices, but I still found myself feeling lost, angry, and blorpy.
David Killstein boasts the unrearched-by-this-reviewer title of ‘professional film editor.’ Verisimilitude or no, There and Back Again certainly feels like the product of someone with chops doing the best they could have done. Not only is the annoying shitty shit chopped out, and the scenes restructured in places to make more sense, but the film is cut to follow the swells and recessions of tension. In short (hahaha, in a movie about hobbits and dwarves I said ‘short,’ oh my god it’s like my accidental Ant-Man puns, ahahahaha kill me), There and Back Again is mercifully shorter but also works well in its new filmic structure. This isn’t a pet project; it’s an entirely new film.
Okay, the good shit. Let me give you a list of what isn’t in this movie:
- Azog the Defiler (the white orc)
- Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly)
- Any orcs at all before the final battle
- Dol Guldur / Necromancer stuff
- Radagast the Brown
- Ian Holm
- Elijah Wood
Below, I’m going to break the film down into its thirds, wherein I’ll comment on a couple of these removed elements. For the most part, though, I was glad to see these things go. Tauriel most of all; not a single thing in the Blorpy Jackson cut was more shoehorned than she.
An Unexpected Clusterfuck
I forgot to pay attention to the runtime, which is an amazing achievement, but I’m pretty sure Unexpected Clusterfuck scenes made up a greater portion than each of its successors. It can be argued that this first third has some of the more important parts of the story: the setup and the goading of Mr. Baggins to join the quest, the finding of the Ring in Gollum’s cave, the earnest tenacity of the dwarves and their mission to take back their homeland. Even in the book, most of what follows these elements is pure pseudo-episodic adventure until they get to Erebor. (That’s the Lonely Mountain, jocks.)
Getting through the original cut of the fucking dinner party was like trying to make a penis do what you want it to, except that instead of a penis you have an old banana. Granted, there’s a prolific smattering of setup to get through, and, as aforementioned, a big plot point is Bilbo’s acceptance of the quest. Killstein whittles this scene down to the quickest it could be without subtracting the charm of the dwarves and the light comedy of Bilbo’s discomfort. Id est, the ‘That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates’ song remains in this edit. But unlike the bananadick version, you don’t want to start eating your upholstery halfway through.
Killstein also employs some restructuring techniques that leaves blanks-in-filling to your imagination and deduction. This is a great thing. First big example is when Bilbo wakes up the morning after the dinner party, decides to go, runs out of the Shire shouting, ‘I’m going on an adventure!’…and the next thing you see is Bilbo on the pony riding with the dwarves. How fucking refreshing is that? No scene where Bilbo runs up holding the contract in hand and blathering about how, Oh hey guys, yeah, I decided to come along [which is implied by me being here] and here’s the contract [which necessitates no further establishment] and so do you have a pony for me [even though we all know you do]?
This happens at many welcome and comfortable moments.
But there are finite moments where the editing is a little too in favor of expurgation. Let’s move onto the second bit.
The Desolation of Pacing
The transition from Clusterfuck scenes into Desolation scenes felt a little weird. Thorin and Co. are running with chasey music, and we don’t know why. Maybe they’re just really excited that they just saw Erebor on the horizon? Maybe they’re getting a little morning jog in? If this was the only version of the film I’d seen, I’d start feeling a little blorpy again.
Thankfully these moments are so slight and few and far between that they inspire mention, but no ire. Fan-editors don’t have raw footage and sound files to build with; they have a finished product, and sometimes there’s only so much they can do.
Okay, here’s another treat for your patience: Would you like to know how long the barrel-riding action scene is? Do you? Like, a minute. Maybe less. Killstein expertly removes the entire fight scene and gives us instead the tail-end of an escape from the Mirkwood elves. You can’t even tell there’s something missing. I clapped at my television like some idiot.
Speaking of Mirkwood, I kind of wish Killstein had left a little more of the delirium/spider parts in. Peter Jackson is really great at scary and crazy, and the original Mirkwood scenes were actually well-structured and terrifying. Though I understand the reasoning behind shortening the dwarves vs. spider fight scene so that Legolas didn’t have to surfboard into the fight and be a fucking fantasy-ninja, the tension didn’t have the chance to build as much. And then bam there are elves everywhere. Both this moment and when Smaug bursts out of Erebor to go attack Esgaroth (aka Lake-town, jocks) felt too rushed.
Regardless, the spiders were still terrifying and Smaug was still formidable and grandiose. Just maybe not as much as they should’ve been.
The Shitshow of Five Runny Tooters
You right now. I stand by my title choice.
I was there when the hope of men failed. Robbie, Jason, and I sat in the St. Johns Twin Cinema and felt the shadow take our hearts and loose us into unending pits of despair. Legolas being a shirtbird, Tauriel being Kate to Legolas’s Jack and Kili’s Sawyer, the soul-wearingly slow fight scene between Thorin and Azog, the dragon-sickness, Legolas transforming into a video game character. I don’t know about the TFGs, but I died that day. I am a husk of my former self.
The actual events of this part of the story are: Smaug attacks Esgaroth and dies, the Battle of Five Armies, Bilbo returns to the Shire. The immortal 1977 Hobbit takes ten or fifteen minutes to get through this stuff. Peter Jackson took literal centuries. David Killstein takes it back, and does something kind of wonderful.
I mean that kind of because there’s a snag, not because I’m writing like a millennial. I’ll get the snag out of the way: the absence of Azog. Azog belonged in no other part of the movie. He was scary and provided tension, but it was superfluous. Another of Jackson’s strengths is the structure of action scenes, even when the pacing is bananadick. Having a single antagonist on the other side of a battle is effective. Fictional battles have done this for a very long time, because story. Battles generally don’t end when the leader on one side dies, but movies do this to give protagonists a triumph to celebrate and the symbol of widespread victory. That’s why we got to see Gothmog get cut down in the extended cut of Return of the King: it gave us an emotional foothold for the characters themselves, instead of just watching the Army of the Dead mop up the Haradrim and Morgul orcs.
Fuck, you smelly jocks, do I have to spell everything out for you?
Also what you look like after your jocky, brutish wrestling matches, jock.
Anyway, having no Azog took away that heroic structure to the Bo5A. However…the wonderful thing David Killstein did was, actually, to take away the heroic structure to the Bo5A.
Sit down jocks, I’m talking to the cool kids right now. What was this battle about, guys? What did it mean? Was it to slay a common enemy? Was it to secure the freedom and peace of all Middle-earth?
Naw, dawgs. It was about money.
Pictured: Denethor, son of Ecthelion II
Everybody at this battle wants some cheddar, and that’s about as far as it goes. Esgaroth is the only collective deserving of a little cheddar, and the only ones there for non-greed purposes. They just want to rebuild their lives after the dwarves promised them a reward for letting them go and then released a dragon that destroyed their town. Reasonable. Everyone else? Skrill. That’s it. Maybe some honor, but it’s pretty clear in the story that money ≠ honor.
The cut of the actual Battle was a piece of mastery on Killstein’s part. You’ve seen those edits on YouTube where, like, The Shining is turned into a family feel-good comedy and Sleepless In Seattle is turned into a psycho thriller, right? All with the magic of editing? Killstein turns the Bo5A into an all-out tragedy, and it feels not one inch out of place. Thranduil stands over the corpses of his fallen elven subjects, Bard and his Lakemen are stuck having to fight a battle they don’t want to fight, the dwarves follow their king to ruin. The (thpoilerth!) deaths of Kili and Fili are shown in brief shots that are, somehow, more effective than the prolonged fight scenes that ended their lives in the Blorpy Cut. You get this sense of, well, senselessness about the whole Battle, and it is great.
And Legolas doesn’t run like Scrooge McDuck in the opening credits of Duck Tales over a collapsing bridge. Thank fuck.
Three hours pass. David Killstein’s title screen fades in. I have just watched The Hobbit and enjoyed it. Who am I?
Despite the few inherent flaws and the fewer too-severe excision choices, David Killstein has made The Hobbit into a good movie. Maybe not the movie it deserved to be, but we’ll never have that. So, before New Line orders Killstein to delete his tumblr, go be a pirate for a minute and download this. If you liked Lord of the Rings and hated the Hobbit trilogy, you owe yourself a treat.
You deserve to return to your books, your armchair, and to plant your trees. You deserve comfort.