Inevitable Edits: Waiting for the Hobbit Superfilm

Yesterday I came across Peter Sciretta’s story on /Film about The Hobbit: The Complete Journey, a fan edited trailer by Joel Walden that combines material from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014):

Reflecting on the trailer, Sciretta writes:

Since the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I’ve been saying that once Peter Jackson‘s Lord of the Rings prequel trilogy is released some fan will edit together an awesome epic three hour movie using all the footage. Well with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies gearing up for release, we are already beginning to see what this might look like.1

I think it’s safe to say that many fans have anticipated a recombinant version of all three Hobbit films since it was first announced that J. R. R. Tolkien’s relatively brief novel would be produced as three separate (and expanded) films. A cursory search on Twitter for the terms “Hobbit” and “fan edit” yields several statements from fans who not only want to see a 3-in-1 Hobbit fan edit, they expect it. Here is a sample:

Warners: Sell me a copy of Hobbit that yanks about 45 minutes from the movie, before I download some fan-edit that just does it for you.

— Bobby (@BobbyRobertsPDX) February 5, 2013

I haven’t even seen The Hobbit yet, and I’m already looking forward to the fan edit… 😐 Screw you internet!

— Michael Heilemann (@Heilemann) December 14, 2012

I find these expressions fascinating because they demonstrate one of the potential social effects of fan editing popularization: that the novelty of fan edits is waning and contemporary audiences increasingly accept these unsanctioned revisions as part of their film viewership. Moreover, they expect fan edits to be made.

Public awareness of fan editing has been building since 2000 with the wide and controversial reception of The Phantom Edit, and in the ensuing years we have seen the formation of two vital fan editing forums and the release of hundreds of fan edits that creatively and critically revise films and television texts. In varying degrees of accuracy, journalists have reported on fan edits while scholars have written essays that mention fan edits in context with other fan works or as examples in ongoing debates about intellectual property and media piracy. For better or for worse, all of these publications have contributed to a greater cultural awareness of fan editing.

Outside of the online fan editor communities, knowledge of fan edits is typically driven by word-of-mouth, social media, and occasional profiles on pop culture news blogs. Through these channels the concept of re-editing the three Hobbit films into one presentation continues to spread, illustrating how fan editing is gaining wider cultural acceptance. Some years ago, public response to such a project would have been met with surprise; the idea that someone could recut a Hollywood film on their home computer seemed outrageous to many and was branded as artistically blasphemous by others. Today, the promise of a condensed Hobbit fan edit, and especially one that could approximate Tolkien’s original novel by removing all the unfounded subplots and diversions added by the filmmakers, is not met with skepticism but a clamor of expectation. The public response is no longer a question of “if” or “how” but a persistent “when?”

Mutable Movies and the Horizon of Expectation

The potential for fans to re-edit feature films is not lost on filmmakers like Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens. During an audio commentary for the extended edition DVD of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), Jackson and Boyens casually acknowledge fan editing while they chat about the idea of making a chronological version of their film:

PETER JACKSON: I mean, well, people could do that with their… I shouldn’t suggest this, [but] you could do this with the sort of editing software on home computers these days. It’s something that any fan could do.

PHILIPPA BOYENS: Maybe they could do it for us and then we wouldn’t need to do it ourselves.

For its time, The Phantom Edit shook Star Wars fandom not only because it provided fans with an alternative and admittedly stronger version of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), it also surprised many viewers who would never have thought that such a feat was possible. Fan edits, as well as their sanctioned revisionist counterparts like extended editions and director’s cuts, encourage wider audiences to accept the inherent mutability of cinema and to anticipate potentially unlimited permutations.

I expect there will be several fan edits that rejoin the fragmented Hobbit narrative, some meant to reconstruct Tolkien’s original tale and others more experimental in their approach. While we wait for the inevitable Hobbit superfilm, it’s important to note that some fans have already produced edits of the extant films:

Hobbit: There and Back Again, Part I (menbailee, 2013)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — Arkenstone Edition (Kerr, 2013)

The Hobbit: Fire of the Dragon (ranger613, 2014)

The Hobbit: Into the Fire (ranger613, 2014)

Hobbit: The Expected Cut of An Unexpected Journey (Lord Elrond St. Hubbins, 2014)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Superfluous Narrative (Lord Elrond St. Hubbins, 2014)

  1. Sciretta, Peter. 2014. “The Hobbit: The Complete Journey Trailer: One Epic Trailer Binds the Trilogy. /Film, December 8.