In news that will not come as a shock to anyone who actually sat through all three films and 900 hours of The Hobbit, Peter Jackson now admits that he was “winging it” through much of the production, and that even the scripts for the movies weren’t finished to his “satisfaction.”

The video above, from the making-of materials for the films, features several members of The Hobbit production team admitting how rushed they were through the entire process. The most damning (and refreshingly honest) comments come from Jackson himself, who said:

When you're going onto a set, very complicated, and you’re winging it; no storyboards, no pre-viz, you’ve got these massively complicated scenes and you’re just making it up there and then on the spot... if I was a director that hadn’t had that 25 years of experience doing this in the past, it would have been almost impossible ...

I spent so much of The Hobbit feeling like I was not on top of it; the fact that I hadn’t much prep and I was making it up as I went along. Even from a script point of view, Philippa and Fran and I hadn’t really got the entire scripts written all the way through to our satisfaction. So that was a very high-pressure situation.

The franchise was supposed to be a two-part series directed by Guillermo del Toro, but late in pre-production he left the movies. When Peter Jackson replaced him, he threw away just about everything del Toro had done and redesigned the entire series from the ground up — but without taking another year and a half to do it. Instead, everything proceeded on the original production schedule, which meant Jackson spent the whole shoot working day to day, barely keeping his head above water. “I don’t even have time to think for half an hour if I’m on the set directing,” he says in the video above. “Because in that half an hour I’ve got 30 people coming up to me asking me questions. So I can help everyone else but I can’t help me. I don’t get the time I need to think.”

These comments don’t excuse the general crumminess of The Hobbits, but they do go a long way to explaining them. And they definitely cast the whole, blighted trilogy as a bit of a cautionary tale. The Lord of the Rings are among the most beloved movies of their time. They broke box office records and won Oscars. Many of the same people went on to make The Hobbit, which earned plenty of money but pleased very few fans, even of Jackson’s earlier Tolkien films. This interview suggests several reasons why, mostly their firm release dates and shaky planning. The only issue that’s not discussed is the decision to stretch the series from two movies to three, when probably one tight film would have sufficed.

I like Peter Jackson, and I appreciate his candor and ability to assess his own work’s weaknesses. That doesn’t change the fact that he put his name on all of The Hobbits, and released them in theaters, where people paid upwards of $40 to see them. It just reminds me of The Battle of the Five Armies, where the former hero Thorin gets seduced to the dark side by his greedy obsession with Smaug’s treasure. He eventually sees the error of his ways, but by that point, the damage had been done.

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