“The journey is what brings us happiness, not the destination.” – Peaceful Warrior
After the second Lord of the Rings film was released, people said that the trilogy had reached a high point. There was no way that Peter Jackson and crew could top the greatness that is The Two Towers.
And then, the next year, he did.
The final LOTR installment was one of the greatest films ever. It grossed over $1 billion and was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. It won all of them, including best picture, to tie it for the most any movie had ever been awarded. Its average score on IMDB is 8.9, which puts it into the top ten highest rated movies of all-time.
The film cemented Jackson’s name on the list of the best living directors. It also set him up for failure.
A movie can only be so good, after all. And when the last journey in Middle-Earth was a film for the ages—only two other films in the ten years since are rated in IMDB’s Top 30—people expect The Hobbit to raise the bar again.
But it won’t… and the reason why is that The Hobbit suffers from PMS. No, not that kind. I refer to Phantom Menace Syndrome.
Phantom Menace Syndrome takes its name from Episode I of the Star Wars franchise, which was released in 1999. The last Star Wars film had been released 17 years earlier, leaving enough time for the expectations of the new trilogy to be set high. So high, in fact, they were impossible to reach.
And so a Star Wars fan site’s podcast coined the term Phantom Menace Syndrome, meaning that even if The Phantom Menace was the greatest piece of cinema ever created. Even if the film was so awesome it would be able to laugh at how far The Godfather was in its rearview mirror. Even then it would not have met expectations.
The first installment in The Hobbit has advantages and disadvantages over Phantom Menace. Jackson has added the element of 3D (not that it cover up any story shortcomings), the same team helping him out, and expectations have been building for a shorter period.
On the other hand the source material of The Hobbit is drastically different than LOTR. Not only is The Hobbit book written on a much younger reading level, it is about one-fifth the length of LOTR. And yet, The Hobbit is still likely to be another eight to nine hour film in the same scope, with the same maturity level, and with the same life-changing lessons as LOTR.
Jackson, though, is not George Lucas. And when all was said and done the weak movie that was The Phantom Menace did not exactly help its failed attempt to live up to the greatness it was expected to be. Return of the King topped The Two Towers in almost every aspect, but much centered around the final battle scene. The one that outdid the battle in The Two Towers many said could not be outdone.
The scale of production for The Hobbit has been insanely huge by any measure, but more CGI orcs will not do the job this time. So as we embark on another journey with a hobbit and a ring, try to remember it is about the journey, not bigger battles. And let’s hope that Jackson realized that as well. I have a feeling he did. And even if the ratings are not so high, perhaps it is not his fault.