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The Hobbit – At what point in the story will the movie split?

I gave Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' another read recently, paying much attention to where in the story might be the best place to split it into two movies. It's not as easy a task as I thought.

Many times I’m what you call a fair weather reader. What that means — at least the way I define it — is that I oftentimes will be finally driven to read a fine work of literature once hearing word it’s being used as source material for a movie. This happened when The Lord of the Rings was announced many years ago, and I tore through all four books in record time, first starting with The Hobbit, before the first film made it to theaters. After watching and being mesmerized by the incredible trilogy on both page and screen, I found I wanted to do something I’d not wanted to do with a book every before: to read it all again.

Last month I had my opportunity to start the series over again, as my son really wanted me to read him The Hobbit. Weeks later, we’ve finally finished it up. In the process, though, I made a point of trying to figure out one thing: where in the book will the first movie end and the second begin?

In case you haven’t been paying attention to what’s going on with The Hobbit movie, it’s being split into two separate films, even though the source material is one book and of fewer pages than any of the Lord of the Rings books. The first movie is set to be released this December 14th, subtitled “An Unexpected Journey”; the second movie will some next year about the same time, subtitled “There and Back Again.”

My first reaction to that bit of news was that this was a blatantly abusive money grab, the interested parties grasping at every possible opportunity to make fisfulls of cash off the francise. This being their last opportunity to do so — and since the first trilogy was so well received — that’s not an unreasonable conclusion to make. (Though there’s still The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales out there as source material, they’re not licenses the studio has rights to.) However, after a little digging around, it seems there’s more to this split than just making money, or so the directors say.

I say “directors” because, at the start, Guillermo del Toro was set to the direct the films and later bailed, though both he and current director Peter Jackson have both stated the same thing: The Hobbit needs to be told in two films. At first the plan was to use the second movie merely as a “bridge film” into the the first Lord of the Rings story — The Fellowship of the Ring — but del Toro later decided against that, stating he believed The Hobbit was a dense enough story to take up two movies on its own.

As I read The Hobbit with my son, I paid careful attention to where in the book I felt a clean break could be made for two films to exist. Of course, my first instinct was to try to line the break up with about halfway through the book. So, my first guess was at the point where Bilbo and the dwarves meet with Beorn. In reading this moment in the book, it makes for what could possibly be an excellent moment for a recap to what occurred in the previous movie. If you’re familiar with the book, it’s here where Galdalf tells the tale of the journey from The Shire up through the rescue with the eagles, to Beorn. He tells this story to Beorn — a character who not once appears in the ’70s cartoon — as he blows elaborate smoke rings about the interior of Beorn’s abode. I could picture the directors using this point of the story as a place to recap to the viewers what had happened in the previous movie, as smoke rings danced about the room and formed the opening sequence. But … I now think this is more suited for what we’d expect out of a more elaborate cartoon version of the book and not something we’d see from Peter Jackson and company.

All that said, I’m not entirely convinced Beorn’s carrock and house aren’t a decent place to split the movie. However, I’ve read quite a few things that lead me to believing there are better places to split this story. For instance, del Toro has stated that he originally picked a stage in the book where Bilbo’s relationship with the dwarves took a significant turn, for the split to the second movie. This point in the book could be up to quite a bit of interpretation. Is it when Bilbo took charge and rescued the dwarves from the spiders? Is it when Bilbo pushed on through his fear and confronted Smaug? Is it when Thorin turned against Bilbo’s reasoning and instead decided to go to war?

There are also several forum posts that state a good point that I hadn’t considered before: Will viewers of the first movie feel cheated if they’re not rewarded with the introduction of Smaug? Should we at least see Bilbo confront Smaug before the credits roll?

The other bit that seems to support the idea of at least Smaug’s introduction is the idea that the second movie may still serve as a bridge into Fellowship of the Ring, adding in many details of the story that the books never really get into. For example, the second movie may get into aspects of where Galdalf took off to, with the battle against the Necromancer (Dol Guldur) with the council. It may get into what happened within those years between the end of The Hobbit — as far as what happened in the book — and what we know already of what happened between then and Fellowship of the Ring, such as Aragorn’s watch over the Shire.

After reading the entire book a second time — and it being fresh in my head again — I’m torn of where I believe a decent place for a split would occur. White I believe Beorn’s home or the conclusion of the spider escape would make for an even split of the existing printed material, I can see where at least an introduction of Smaug would be a nice conclusion to reward and entice viewers into a second movie. If that’s where things split, the major point of the second movie being the The Battle of Five Armies, then we can look forward to one hell of an epic Five Armies battle sequence. However, the lead-up to and follow-up from that sequence could be utterly boring and drawn out, making it one hell of a snooze fest. If the Dol Guldur battle is added to the second movie, it’s quite possible that could make things very exciting, though it’d likely consist of 90% or more made up, non J.R.R.-envisioned material.

There’s also the possibility that the first movie will actually contain the entire first book’s story, if you interpret what del Toro and Jackson have said on this topic differently. At one point del Toro has said that he wanted to tell the same story — or at least part of the story — from a different viewpoint. It’s difficult to know exactly what he meant by that, though I can’t imagine he meant, “let’s tell the same exact story all over again, except let’s just do the second movie all about what Galdalf saw and did throughout the story.” While most of that material would be cool to see on-screen, I’m not sure it’d make for a very compelling second movie, especially when most people familiar with The Hobbit story had already seen what they’d paid to see in the first movie.

After chewing on all the forum posts and the hints from the directors of these two films, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best place to break the films would likely come after Bilbo rescues his dwarven companions from the spiders. It not only leaves for a tense and epic sequence to end things off, but it spells out what I’d consider a turning point in his relationship with Thorin and company. It was in that moment that Bilbo showed much more courage than he had previously, and he’d rescued the dwarves from a fate not caused by his own carelessness (unlike with what happened with the troll trio). It’s also just about halfway through the book, and leaves for one heck of a great second movie, without having to pad it with material that had never been written about before.

What’re your thoughts on the two-movie split? What moment in the book do you feel makes for the best split for a second movie? Vote away …

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Categories: Features, General, News, Polls

13 Responses to “The Hobbit – At what point in the story will the movie split?”

March 5, 2012 at 11:43 AM

This is interesting, but just to let you know, they’re not going to be split at all. The first film is ‘The Hobbit’, the book, no more no less. But the second film is what happens between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as referenced by Tolkien in the two novels as well as in the many appendices. So, it’ll likely feature Aragorn and Gandalf’s hunt for Gollum, Bilbo’s dealings with the ring, the return of strength in the east, etc. :)

March 5, 2012 at 11:53 AM

I wasn’t able to find that fully confirmed anywhere, though at first thought that sounds like a terrible idea. They can’t use material from still The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, so are they making up 90% of it? Ugh.

March 5, 2012 at 12:38 PM

Viggo Mortensen has confirmed that he has not been asked to join the project, so Aragorn will not be in it. Furthermore, we know that Laketown is in the second film only, and thus Smaug is also only in the second film. The titles suggest the first film (An Unexpected Journey) is about the journey ‘there’. The second film (There and Back Again) suggests it is about what happens ‘there’ (ie within the context of the mountain and lake), and the return.

The extra material being layered in is at least the following:
1) Historical flashbacks: the antagonism between dwarves and goblins (hence why Azog the Goblin King is a character in the film, despite being killed decades before the events of The Hobbit); The origins of the Kingdom under the Mountain (the latest production video ended with a clip of a dwarf with a mining helmet on – it had candles on either side. The dwarf in question is not one of the company, so it is likely that this is for a flashback sequence of the founding of the Kingdom of Erebor, perhaps the discovery of the Arkenstone ‘heart of the mountain’); also Gandalf finding Thrain in Dol Goldur, from whom he gets the map of the Lonely Mountain and the key to the secret door.

2) The White Council’s attack on Dol Goldur, including the meetings to decide what to do beforehand, perhaps at Isengard, and the assault on Sauron’s Mirkwood stronghold itself.

Once you’ve layered these things in, you then have two separate narratives to be explored over the two movies, both requiring historical flashback exposition to situate them. That is more than enough to fill two movies.

Jackson has also said somewhere that they considered, but decided against, showing Aragorn setting a watch on the Shire. However, it might actually be possible for them to use the ‘old Bilbo narrating’ device to cut to new dramatic content around the events in Hobbiton in the Fellowship of the Ring. In the context of the scenes in the trailer, showing Frodo heading off to wait for Gandalf as Bilbo waves him off from the steps of Bagend, it might well be possible to cut to Gandalf in his cart, but before he meets Frodo on the road, talking with Aragorn or other rangers about setting a watch on the Shire. Bilbo might also reenter Bagend after seeing Frodo off to a few visiting dwarves, who are visiting with things for the Birthday party, as in the book. In this scene, they might give him news of strange tidings from the North, and the visit to the Lonely Mountain by Sauron’s emissaries, as detailed at the Council of Elrond in the book.

So if one thinks laterally about it, there IS definitely room for the Hobbit to show content that dovetails with and supplements the opening (and rather rushed) scenes from the fellowship of the ring. I also think this is something Jackson, and certainly Fran Walsh, will be interested in doing, as they are perfectionists.

March 5, 2012 at 12:49 PM

Not to be critical, but the second one will lead into The Fellowship of the Ring but both the first and second movies will follow the adventures of Bilbo and Gandalf. Besides didn’t you watch the trailer for the first movie closely? Here follow this link:
I don’t think that the second or first movies will really have Aragorn in it at all because this is still 60 years before the Fellowship of the Ring and Aragorn is like 10 years old he was born in T.A. 2931 and Bilbo’s adventure is 10 years later. Besides Gimli obviously won’t be in it because Thorin and Company deemed Gimli to be too young, Gimli disagreed with Thorin otherwise. Besides it’s not until T.A. 3009 that Aragorn goes on a renewed search for Gollum. Besides why then would they show it in the second part of The Hobbit movie and have not shown that in the Fellowship of the Ring movie and split the Fellowship movie into two parts? That would have only made sense for all three books instead of making the trilogy into three individual films. Besides when Peter Jackson first took this to Miramax films company his intention was to make the FOTR and TT into one film and then make ROTK as the second film. Besides that I think would have made plenty of sense. Even if he cut small amounts of material for a theatrical version and then added more scenes for an extended edition later.

March 5, 2012 at 1:03 PM

Worth noting the John Rhys-Davies, who played Gimli in the LOTR Trilogy, ‘visited’ the Hobbit set in mid 2011, during the scenes being filmed in Hobbiton no less. I wonder if this was coincidence or intentional. I’d bet that Jackson et al will have him make an appearance in the FOTR-era sections of the Hobbit, where Old Bilbo narrates.

March 5, 2012 at 12:57 PM

Quite apart from Jackson et al confirming that there will in fact be a split (three years ago they were wondering whether to split the book or have one film about the Hobbit and another a ‘bridge’ to LOTR, but they eventually decided on a split), with the Hobbit fleshed out from the LOTR Appendices, it is worth pointing out that a collection of loosely connected events do not necessarily make a compelling narrative. The idea of a ‘bridge’ film would always have been rubbish.

They appear to be doing something much more effective by telling the Hobbit with extra flesh on the bones from the Appendices, and cleverly using the device of Old Bilbo narrating from the time just before his Birthday party (ie the beginning of FOTR) to allow Jackson to revisit the beginning of FOTR and flesh out the set-up, which they were forced to gallop through in the Fellowship of the Ring back in 2001. I figure they’ll use this to illustrate the sense of foreboding lurking at the fringes of the Shire at the beginning of the FOTR, to provide a constrast to the ‘golden’ peace of the Shire they day the dwarves knock on Bilbos door to begin his unexpected journey. Remember, the directors have talked of how this ‘loss of innocence’ reflects Tolkien’s experience of WWI, and the loss of the golden peace of pre-war edwardian society.

March 5, 2012 at 12:06 PM

If you work through the scene sequence from the book, and take into account that the film will layer in the White Council story arc from the appendices, there is only ONE place the story could be broken: at the company’s imprisonment by the elves in Mirkwood.
My hunch is that the film will break with, in different contexts: the White Council fighting a cliffhanger in Dol Guldur (facing off against his guard there), but BEFORE they confront Sauron himself (hence why Benedict Cumberbatch is not in the cast of the first film); and with the dwarves having all been thrown in jail, with Bilbo left to wander the halls, trapped in Mirkwood. This break would make sense, as it leaves a cliffhanger battle to pick up to open the second film for Gandalf, so he can see off Sauron before heading on to the Lonely Mountain himself, arriving just before the Battle of the Five Armies. This break would also allow a sense of ‘time having passed’ for the imprisoned company, so the second film could begin with Bilbo being shown to now know his way around – thieving etc from under the elves’ noses. The scene could then be set for an escape.
Alternative break points make no sense. A break will need a sense of cliffhanger – hopelessness for the dwarves; a battle for Galdalf. There will have been a climactic battle with the spiders (much as the FOTR had the Uruk-Hai battle along the shore of the river); and the second movie could then begin with a crowd-pleasing thriller scene of the dwarves escape in one location, while Gandalf et al fight fierce battle in Dol Guldur.
It is also the only break point that makes sense due to the obvious alternatives: Riddles in the Dark would simply be too early: from the book alone (ie excluding scenes from Dol Guldur) the first film would only contain hobbiton; trolls; rivendell; goblin town; riddles. The second would contain battle with Wargs; Beorn; Mirkwood; spiders; elvish imprisonment; barrels; laketown; search for the door; Smaug; death of Smaug; parlay; battle of five armies; return. Thus after ‘riddles’ makes no sense. Similarly, the death of Smaug (as once suggested by Del Toro) is too late in the story.
While idle on a train this week, I wrote down a list of all the key scenes of the hobbit, including a few necessary and sufficient conjectural scenes for the Dol Guldur story arc. If one breaks the story at imprisonment by the elves, the scene split is 36 for the first movie, and 37 for the second. In other words, it is virtually right in the middle, as well as making the most sense for the dramatic narrative.
So this is my prediction: the films will split as the dwarves are sent to the dungeons, and Bilbo is left to wonder what will happen now. I suspect the lingering closing shot will be a panning shot back to the river bubbling out from under the elf palace, a hint at the hope for escape. Or perhaps with Bilbo discovering Thorin, with just the expression on the face of an otherwise dejected Thorin when he discovers Bilbo is outside his cell. In Dol Guldur, Gandalf et al will have themselves been cornered in a cliffhanger by Sauron’s guard, likely to be some fantastic monsters we haven’t seen yet. This means that, having got through the first scenes of the second film, where the company make a daring and no doubt thrillingly choreographed escape from the Wood Elves, and Galdalf et al overcome and drive out Sauron in Dol Guldur, the film can reorient its focus to the Lonely Mountain, and the new villain: Smaug. From the first sight of the Long Lake from the Barrel journey, which will be after about 20-25 minutes of the opening scenes tying up the cliffhangers (necessary in any series of movies) from the previous movie, the foreboding and tension and threat of Smaug will play centre stage.
Furthermore, I don’t think the capture of the Company by the Wood-elves after the battle with the spiders would be a dragging ending to the first film, as it doesn’t necessitate much exposition. Quite the opposite – the scene is written in the book as one where they simply throw their hands up and don’t even bother to fight. It would be a wind-down scene after an exhilarating victory. It is a natural break in the story, because the second film could begin with Bilbo wandering the halls of the Elvenking being much more familiar with the palace, and the break between the films could suggest that he had been there for weeks, and now knows his way around, and has familiarised himself with the palace. This is the only part of the book where there is time passing with little plot development, but which is still essential to the narrative. It would be best achieved through suggesting it through the film break.
As for Dol Guldur, I expect the first film will include a) flashbacks to when Galdalf found King Thrain in Dol Guldur, and got from him the map to give to Thorin, b) meeting of the white council at a (still uncorrupted) Isengard, where Gandalf and Saruman’s early good relationship is shown c) evidence of the early stages of Saruman’s corruption by Sauron via the Palantir d) an attack on Dol Guldur by the White Council, leading to a confrontation with some form of Guard to finish the first film. This could be a fierce battle at Dol Guldur, and would win with the battle being won, but without them having yet confronted the Necromancer himself. So the first film could end with not so much cliffhangers, but at least some strands tied up and audience satisfaction given, but with enough obvious drama unresolved to bring the audience back, and create anticipation.
Remember that, in the book, as the Company arrive in Laketown, Tolkien notes that Gandalf, at this point, had heard news of the problems with the passage through Mirkwood, and having tied up his business in the South, was setting out to find the Company. This fits exactly with an opening Overture to the Lonely Mountain/ Smaug focus of the second film – an overture that could be a thrilling escape sequence for the Company, and a dramatic closure where Sauron is driven out of Mirkwood. I think hard-action/ pyrotechnics at Dol Guldur would intercut very well with a more subdued, even whispered, escape from the Elvenking.
The barrel scene is really not much of a dramatic section. It is thirteen dwarves in barrels, and an invisible hobbit floating down a river virtually unmolested. I suggest that this section, while iconic in the books, will be used to sell the landscapes of Middleearth, with sweeping vistas and pans of rivers, and the opening to the lake. It will be used to set the scene of the Lake and the distant Lonely Mountain, and perhaps use the opportunity to hear the Barrelmen talk of Laketown and the Lonely Mountain, to build up the sense of foreboding. It will be a lull, an opportunity to reconfigure the narrative, and reorient the focus away from the ‘Journey’ of ‘An Unexpected Journey’, and to the ‘There’ of ‘There and Back Again’.
The one thing that seems to jar with this hypothesis is the apparent set-up for the hobbit of Bilbo narrating the whole film to Frodo. I’m worried that over two films, this ‘Princess Bride’ approach will distance the audience from the immediacy of the narrative, and deaden the opportunity for a dramatic end of the first movie, and action start to the second, ala The Two Towers.
Regardless, I’d argue that from a dramatic perspective it makes no sense to end with the Company arriving at Laketown. Adding the barrel escape on top of all the other action in the first movie would simply be too much, not to mention a fairly dull end to the movie (barrels floating down a river straddled by an invisible hobbit). It would also ensure a very slow start to the second movie, as it would just be the Company being pampered and politicked in Laketown. Not gripping.
But crucially, it would mean the introduction of the main character and landscape which is threaded through everything in the rest of the book – the Lonely Mountain itself – would be given no time or audience focus (by this point in a long movie, bums are numb and the audience is not ready for the introduction of yet another context, people, and cast of characters). I suggest that the Laketown/ Lonely mountain context will be given plenty of sweeping crane/ aerial shots to set the scene and geographic context, and these would be utterly wasted at the end of the first movie. The second movie must have these shots in it.
When constructing a movie series, and this is evident in LOTR, you do not resolve all problems to give full ‘closure’. The point is to create a hook that brings the audience back. The only place that makes sense a) dramatically and b) in terms of balancing the length and focus of two movies is imprisonment. You are quite right, this is of course just my opinion. However, I’d be interested to hear any plausible alternatives.
These are the various breaks I’ve seen proposed on the messageboards:
1) Riddles in the dark: too early.
2) entering Mirkwood. too early, as Galdalf has not yet left the Company, and thus cannot have approached Dol Guldur. It would mean putting all of Mirkwood and Dol Guldur into the second movie, which of course should be centred around laketown, the mountain, and with Smaug as the central antagonist.
3) Imprisonment: perfect, as there would have been a battle with the spiders to end on, and time also for Galdalf to pursue his own story arc at Dol Guldur.
4) arrival in laketown: as argued above, this would split the narrative in a lull. The second movie would have no grand entrance, and the first would end with not closure, but the introduction of a whole new range of characters and landscapes, which would be too much for the audience.
5) arrival at the lonely mountain: too late in the story for an even split in the films.
5) defeat of smaug: we know Smaug will not be in the first movie; furthermore, this would leave precious little for the second movie to cover.
It is clear that the only place the films can split is imprisonment. It works chronologically, it works in terms of balance between the two films, and it works dramatically. I would put money on it.
It is also worth noting that, in the book, Bilbo is asked to climb a tree shortly after the battle with the spiders, and immediately before they are captured by the wood elves. The scene has him looking out, feeling the wind on his face for the first time since they entered Mirkwood. The production video diaries show a shot of him doing just this. This will likely be in the first movie, very soon before the end. (and in the latest video, Jackson is standing on the Laketown set, which he says he can’t show us ‘until 2013’, suggesting it is not in the first film, to be released at the end of 2012).
However, as a point on which to break it is entirely arbitrary from a storytelling perspective. The movie will have to end on a ‘hook’ for the audience. Thus my argument is the break will come with imprisonment by the woodelves.
Given it is a relatively light book split over two films, I suspect Jackson will take time to flesh out characters and make the whole project more character-driven than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I certainly think the biggest sacrifice of the trilogy was the truncation of the journey from Hobbiton to Rivendell, which is one of the most delightful and absorbing sections of the whole work. Thus I think in this film, Jackson will have the Company taking their time to Rivendell, with plenty of stops for fires, pipeweed and exposition. The scene of the company resting by trees is thus likely a few days after leaving the shire, but before they have met the trolls. It is as they enter the Wild country. There will be a real emphasis in the first film on the change in the landscape from the quite, bucolic beauty and innocence of the Shire to the roughness of the Wild. The Last Homely House of Elrond will also be far more of a retreat, Eden and oasis when put in context by its wild surroundings.
As an aside, I’d argue that the problem with Jackson is that, while he is good at comedy schlock horror, classic kiwi tongue in cheek, he is not so good at truly skin crawling horror and visceral fascination. The original films were – for all their strengths – too glossy, too safe, too primary in colour. Del Toro would have brought more whimsy, eccentricity and thus more depth and granularity to the hobbit, a story that requires a particularly strange pallet if the essence of the story and context is to be rendered faithfully. I worry that Jackson’s will be a little to formulaic – LOTR and King Kong were all very similar in tone and dramatic and cinematic emphasis. I hope Del Toro was closely enough involved to steep the choreography, script, set and sequence design in his own peculiar brand of eccentric, unpredictable and slightly surreal cinematography. The hobbit is less meaty epic, and more about a constant alternation between and mutually reinforcing juxtaposition of the warm blanket of whimsy and wonder with the cold chill of the weird and horrific. Fantasy over epic. These big epic movies are now ten a penny. Jackson is guaranteed a large audience. They thus have both an incentive and the opportunity to emphasise the eccentricities of the story, rather than play it safe with another epic. The charm and popularity of the Hobbit is in the characters, especially the down-home sensibility of Bilbo. That should be the core throughout. To emphasise characters over ‘epicness’ would be a massive contribution to modern cinema, overburdened as it is with action-centric and effects-driven projects.

March 5, 2012 at 12:17 PM

(I should note the above screed is a combination of comments I’ve left on similar articles on the topic of the film split in the last two months, first at


March 5, 2012 at 10:46 PM

to reiterate what “predictivescript” says– Peter Jackson confirms in his Production Video #6 that you won’t see Laketown to 2013, so the break of the 2 films has to be before the dwarves visit Laketown. My guess is the break if right after Flies and Spiders or after the dwarves escape the wood elves in Mirkwood.

March 6, 2012 at 12:01 AM

regardless of where they break the story … I am just thrilled that all the parties from the LOTR movies are involved with these two.

March 7, 2012 at 6:25 AM

I think the first film will be one Narative And will take us up to the company being captured by the wood elves or just escaping from them This is because Of interviews with the cast which suggest that the wood elves will make an appearance in the first movie. The second movie would then focus on a split narrative between Bilbo/Smaug story line and a Gandalf/necromancer story line with the two perspectives meeting up at the end for a huge battle of five armies.

It would also be cool to see Dayton slinking back to Mordor and transforming into the eye

March 8, 2012 at 7:12 AM

I believe the split is before Smaug´s appearance… The info on imdb actor Benedict Cumberbatch (who plays Smaug) is that he will only appear in The Hobbit: There and Back Again (filming) and not The Hobbit: The Unexpected journey… And if it´s the case then I will be very disappointed there´s no Smaug in the first movie.

May 22, 2012 at 4:55 PM

It shouldn’t split at all. I like it as it is. Anyone else? ;D

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