With the news that Peter Jackson had lobbied for and received permission to split The Hobbit into not two films, but three, the first thing I wondered was "How?" The Lord of the Rings books were 1178 pages. These fit very nicely into 3 too-long movies, with the blatant omission of only three major plot points, and the insertion of several others. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is 784 pages, and it fit exceptionally well into two relatively long movies, with only minor omissions.
In contrast, The Hobbit is 320 pages long. The average Peter Jackson movie is 137 minutes. Three 137 minute movies = 411 minutes of screen time. So what PJ is trying to tell us is that he has a minute's worth of footage for every single page of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic book. This will mean that The Hobbit as a film adaptation will either be the most complete, authenticate, accurate translation of a book onto film in the history of cinema, or a fanservice trainwreck that could derail along the tracks (The Golden Compass, anyone?). The studio backers have put their money on the first choice, as have the majority of the LOTR community who I follow on Twitter.
I am still unconvinced.
As an amateur screenwriter, I decided I would take as an exercise, the breaking of the book down into three films' worth of plot points, beats, and acts. For the purposes of this exercise, I'm using Blake Snyder's classic "Save the Cat" formula. Almost every movie ever made can be fit into this formula, and it's a very handy way of breaking down the major idea and scenes of any film. You can read more about from his website (http://www.blakesnyder.com/) or from his Save the Cat book -- something I keep on my Kindle, it's that good. (Check it out here: Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need)
So, if you've never read The Hobbit, please leave now. Otherwise the rest of this post is going to seem like the biggest damned spoiler you've ever read. The rest of you, come and see how I've broken this down, and ask yourself if you agree. I have some questions too that I want to ask you at the end. The biggest one of all, of course, is "Can he make this work?"
I'd like to know that, too.
Let's start at the best of all places. The beginning.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
This is Ian Holmes' and Elijah Woods' cameo scene. Old Bilbo explaining to Frodo that he did not tell him the whole story. It helps remind new viewers and non-fans that this work is a continuation (in a way) of that great movie they liked a few winters past.
In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit. Opening scene, much like what we saw in Fellowship. An example of Bilbo's quite unadventurous life.
Introduction to Gandalf, and Bilbo telling him "Good day," as a means of trying to get the persnickety rabble rouser off his doorstep.
The Catalyst is what changes. What event turns the hero's life in a new direction he could not have predicted. For Bilbo, it is the arrival of twelve dwarves upon his doorstep.
The party turns into a debate as to whether or not Bilbo will be a sufficient burglar for the company's needs. It is also Bilbo questioning his own beliefs and abilities as well.
Break Into Act 2
Bilbo awakes the next day, realizes he is already late and -- without stopping to think that he could leave the dwaves to their own business -- rushes to meet them. He has set his own feet upon the adventure.
The B story, as far as we know, is going to involve Gandalf and his involvement with the overthrowing of Dol Goldur, a fortress of Sauron's at the southern edge of Mirkwood. These events are mentioned very briefly in passing in The Hobbit, but they're in Tolkien's supplemental works, and it's widely known that they'll play a part in the movies.
Promise of Premise
This is where we get to see the fun and adventure that being a burglar on a great adventure can be. This scene can only be the three trolls, and the acquiring of Sting.
The Midpoint is either an utter high point, or an utter low point. For both The Hobbit, as it was in The Fellowship of the Ring, the midpoint is Rivendell, and it is a high point. Bilbo is now totally sold on this adventure. We have Elrond, the moon map, elves. Everything.
Bad Guys Close In
But that turns all to shit the farther east they head. The rainstorm in the Misty Mountains leads them to a cave, which turns out to lead to entrapment by goblins (my guess is that PJ will use goblins and orcs in these scenes, but I don't know. He may stick to just goblins here, as Tolkien did).
Gandalf slays the Great Goblin and they flee but...
All is Lost
They're lost in the caves, fleeing thousands of goblins. What can be worse? Bilbo gets knocked on the head, falls, and awakens to find himself utterly alone.
Dark Night of the Soul
A truly dark night of the soul. He finds something cold and hard on the ground, and then is approached by Gollum, a creature who challenges him to a game of riddles... Gollum's prize being Bilbo's juicy body for dinner if he wins.
Break into Act 3
Suddenly, Bilbo asks, "What do I have in my pocket?" and the game changes. EVERYTHING changes.
He escapes. He meets the dwarves, they all escape...
Only to be caught one more time by vengeful goblins and wargs, and almost cooked to death, before being saved by eagles.
A cliff hanger if ever there was one. Bilbo and company are deposited safe (!?) and sound atop the mountain eyrie of the Lord of the Eagles. They are on the east side of the Misty Mountains. They are all alive and unharmed. The adventure took a turn, but none the worse for wear, they are ready to continue their quest.
I think this can work as a movie. What is interesting here, is that with the opening, the party, the sudden leave from hobbiton, a scary night encounter with evil, a midpoint at rivendell, a very dangerous adventure underground, and the ending leaving the heroes looking out over a rocky horizon... it beats out almost exactly like Fellowship of the Ring. Will audiences recognize that? Maybe. I don't know.
At this point, I think I'm happy. The first movie will work, and will leave audiences wanting to know what comes next.
Let's go find out what that is. Find it in part two... Coming Soon!
There are entirely too many script notes here. How am I supposed to memorize all these lines?