It’s no secret that The Hobbit films haven’t been as universally praised as director Peter Jackson’s trilogy of Lord of the Rings films, with many pointing to The Hobbit’s propensity for CG over practical effects (and discarding of miniatures altogether) as distracting and, at times, downright ugly. Though Jackson got his start with gore-filled, practical effects-based horror comedies like Bad Taste and Dead Alive, his recent work has leaned heavily on visual effects. However, Jackson’s affinity for CG sequences didn’t simply begin with The Hobbit or even King Kong, but with the Lord of the Rings trilogy itself. Rewatching the films, one can see a growing amount of CGI-enhanced sequences as the series moves on, with Return of the King concluding in the epic VFX-heavy battle of Minas Tirith.
Though some are fans of what Jackson has been doing with cutting-edge technology, others are disappointed in the shift. A principal castmember from The Lord of the Rings counts himself in the latter group, as Viggo Mortensen recently spoke extensively about what he sees as Jackson sacrificing subtlety for CGI, specifically pointing to the later Lord of the Rings films and The Hobbit. Hit the jump to read on.
Speaking with The Guardian, Mortensen reflected on the hectic shooting schedule of The Lord of the Rings and discussed why he thinks The Fellowship of the Ring turned out the best of the three:
Mortensen thinks – rightly – that The Fellowship of the Ring turned out the best of the three, perhaps largely because it was shot in one go. “It was very confusing, we were going at such a pace, and they had so many units shooting, it was really insane. But it’s true that the first script was better organised,” he says. “Also, Peter was always a geek in terms of technology but, once he had the means to do it, and the evolution of the technology really took off, he never looked back. In the first movie, yes, there’s Rivendell, and Mordor, but there’s sort of an organic quality to it, actors acting with each other, and real landscapes; it’s grittier. The second movie already started ballooning, for my taste, and then by the third one, there were a lot of special effects. It was grandiose, and all that, but whatever was subtle, in the first movie, gradually got lost in the second and third. Now with The Hobbit, one and two, it’s like that to the power of 10.”
For those wondering just how the final two films became more VFX-focused if Jackson shot the entire trilogy at once, Mortensen reiterated what has been covered on the DVD commentaries: much of the last two films were reshot after Fellowship opened:
“Anybody who says they knew it was going to be the success it was, I don’t think it’s really true,” he says. “They didn’t have an inkling until they showed 20 minutes in Cannes, in May of 2001. They were in a lot of trouble, and Peter had spent a lot. Officially, he could say that he was finished in December 2000 – he’d shot all three films in the trilogy – but really the second and third ones were a mess. It was very sloppy – it just wasn’t done at all. It needed massive reshoots, which we did, year after year. But he would have never been given the extra money to do those if the first one hadn’t been a huge success. The second and third ones would have been straight to video.”
“I guess Peter became like Ridley Scott – this one-man industry now, with all these people depending on him,” Mortensen adds. “But you can make a choice, I think. I asked Ridley when I worked with him (on 1997’s GI Jane), ‘Why don’t you do another film like The Duellists [Scott’s 1977 debut, from a Joseph Conrad short story]?’ And Peter, I was sure he would do another intimately scaled film like Heavenly Creatures, maybe with this project about New Zealanders in the First World War he wanted to make. But then he did King Kong. And then he did The Lovely Bones – and I thought that would be his smaller movie. But the problem is, he did it on a $90 million budget. That should have been a $15 million movie. The special effects thing, the genie, was out of the bottle, and it has him. And he’s happy, I think…”
Indeed, as Mortensen points out, the issue seems to be that there’s no one telling Jackson to pull back, which accounts for the bloated and over-expensive features that he’s been making as of late. He’s still an incredibly talented filmmaker (the set pieces in The Desolation of Smaug are fantastic), so I’m personally hoping that he’ll take it down a notch or two once he finishes up with The Hobbit trilogy. For now, we’ve got one film to go as The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies opens in theaters this December.