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Critics might have liked The Hobbit even less if it were shorter

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins.
(Warner Bros.)

Wednesday's release of Peter Jackson's third and final installment of The Hobbit trilogy marks the end of an era that began with the release of The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001. Thirteen years, 6 movies, and literally billions of dollars later, this is likely our last cinematic trip to Middle Earth.

While LOTR garnered positive reviews, many critics were tougher on The Hobbit films, skeptical of Jackson's decision to make the latter more like the former. "The problem with The Hobbit isn't that it fails to be Lord of the Rings; it's that it tries so unbelievably hard to be when it isn't, not in its style, characters, or scale," wrote Laura Hudson at Wired, in a review of the first film.

A.A. Dowd at The A.V. Club also questioned Jackson's decision "to pad, stretch, strain, bloat, expand, and exhaust in his final effort to get three long epics out of one quick read." Surely, argued Hudson, doing so went against the spirit of the books, which taught us that "being small was sometimes the very thing that made you great."

Those angry at Jackson for trifurcating the Hobbit figured that Jackson and the studios behind his films knew they were sitting on a cash cow, and wanted to get all they could for it.

But there might be a case to make in favor of Jackson's decision to give us three Hobbit movies, as the following chart, from the economics blog Centives, shows.

Long movies

Here's what you're looking at. Centives looked at the books that have been made into movies over the last six years. The blog then took each movie's running time, and divided that by the number of pages in the book version, which told them how many minutes of film there were each page. Centives then took these numbers and plotted them against each film's Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes.

The upshot?

The more time spent per page of book, the better the critics rated it. … The films that scored at least 90% on Rotten Tomatoes spent, on average, 0.4 minutes of screen time for every page of the book. ... The films that scored 20% or less only had 0.2 minutes of film for every page of the book.

Still, you'll notice that neither of the first two Hobbit movies did particularly well with critics for being so slavishly faithful. There seems to be a happy medium that the films missed. The same goes for Baz Luhrmann's ultra-lavish adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

But think about this. For all of those critics who hate the Hobbit trilogy because it's so long — imagine how much more they'd hate it if it were even shorter!

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