Were there actually some kind of card a person could carry to identify themselves as a nerd, mine would be laminated. On my night stand you’ll currently find a copy of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot and a hardback of Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. On my DVD shelves you’ll find far more sci-fi and horror movies than anything else. My hard drives are packed to capacity with games. I go to LAN parties. The only posters hanging in my home office are Tyler Stout prints for The Monster Squad and Inglourious Basterds and a poster my wife made for a movie I tried/failed to make when I was teenager. I actually regret that I’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons. Regret!
Point is, if anyone is supposed to be excited about the prospect of Peter Jackson directing The Hobbit and its untitled sequel, it’s someone like me. But I’m not. In fact, I kind of hope that the deal never gets off of the negotiating table it is currently sitting on.
That’s because I think each entry in a film franchise should be handled by a different filmmaker. Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is an exception because all three films were conceived out of one unified vision from the beginning. They were produced in tandem with one another and the final yield feels more like a nine-hour-long film that was divided into three parts for marketing convenience. Sure, I have no doubt that Jackson could deliver two more films with the same level of consistent quality that spans LotR, but that’s a boring, safe bet. I’d rather see him move onto new projects that he actually wants to direct, not stay on projects he tried to hire other people to direct.
Almost all film franchises suffer from having one director stay on for more than two films. I suspect it has something to do with a director’s clout on a film increasing hand-in-hand with their staying power on the franchise. Even if they don’t receive an actual producing credit, they might as well have, because each subsequent film feels like their previous film has just gobbled itself and doubled in size. Look at the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. On the first film, Gore Verbinski had something to prove. He wanted to take something as basic as a ride at a theme park and turn it into a robust action-adventure blockbuster. And he did just that. Then Dead Man’s Chest came along and he had to turn all of the action and spectacle of the film up to 11. The result was a bit of a bloated runtime, but the overall film was pretty solid. But the third film, At World’s End? It’s like Verbinski was John Doe from Se7en and Pirates of the Caribbean was the fat man and he kept feeding the engorged behemoth more and more of its own self until it died from the lack of nutrition.
I fear the same thing is happening to Harry Potter, too. For me the most rewarding film in that series is Alfonso Curaon’s Prisoner of Azkaban. There’s such a wild, appreciable shift in style on display there that it really was the point for me that defined the Potter franchise as something very special. The producers had realized that hiring Christopher Columbus to make all of the films would dig the franchise into a place of unambitious comfort, so they brought in fresh blood for parts three, four and five. Then they got comfortable. They hired back five’s David Yates for part six as well. And then they brought him back twice more for the final two films, giving him a stylistic monopoly on four of the eight films.
Sure, the trailer for Yates’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is well cut and the movies look like they’re going to send the franchise out on one hell of a high note, but the trailers for Order of the Phoenix and Half Blood Prince were each fantastic as well. The films, however, both confused the story’s core elements of conflicted friendships for emo brooding and ended up excising the most thrilling moments from their respective books. They’re not bad films; they just don’t inspire the franchise to new heights the way a new director would. Splitting Deathly Hallows into two parts certainly allows for considerably more breathing room, which should mean that nothing important from the books will end up on the cutting room floor, but I’m still only cautiously excited for the films due entirely to Yates’ continued involvement.
There’s just something great about the wildcard, about a director coming into a proven blockbuster franchise and having to stay on their toes as “the new guy.” Even if they don’t deliver the best entry of their series, they almost always deliver a unique product. After Guillermo del Toro officially left The Hobbit, the first name to be rumored for the director’s chair was District 9’s Neill Blomkamp. There’s nothing about his work to date that would make me think he’s a good pick for elves and dwarves and wizards, but that’s why the prospect of the rumor was so enticing. I didn’t actually want Blomkamp to direct simply because I’d want someone who has only worked on his own original scripts to keep working on his own original scripts, but had the papers been signed I would have been incredibly excited to see what a Blomkamp Hobbit would look like.
I know exactly what a Peter Jackson Hobbit would look like. And that’s the problem. I don’t want to see five films all telling relatively the same story from the same filmmaker. I want fresh blood for The Hobbit. I don’t want a director who is so far into his comfort zone that he becomes blind to mistakes he’s making. I don’t want another Spider-Man 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Back to the Future III, or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. My nerdiness cannot abide another disappointment on that scale.