The Hobbit an Unexpected Journey: The Lord of the Rings Prequel Falls into the Franchise Trap

Shine your swords and hide your rings, because The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is about to make landfall! The film, directed by Peter Jackson, is the first installment in a new epic trilogy adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy to the silver screen, this one spanning the events of the titular prequel novel. First impressions of the film are promising, and the world is counting down to its Dec. 14 release.

I don’t have any predictions for how well it will do at the box office. What I do know is that The Hobbit is the latest in a disturbing trend in cinematic franchising. Virtually every film of moderate success released in the last few years has been snatched up for seconds: Transformers, Ice Age, Madagascar, Taken, the rebooted Star Trek continuity, and the planned resurrection of the Star Wars saga, to say nothing of the Charybdian monstrosity that is Marvel’s multi-directional movie mega-franchise.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing inherently dubious about sequels. Some stories are simply too expansive to be told in a single sitting, and the combined experience can be greater than the sum of its parts; Peter Jackson and Christopher Nolan are two directors who understand this and take advantage of it to great effect.

The problem lies in the fact that the film industry at large tends to treat sequels less as creative works and more as opportunities for financial return. Producers direct a great deal of capital and effort into the first film, but then seek to maximize their profit margins by wringing out every last penny from the concept while cutting back on subsequent investments, banking on the first film’s popularity to carry the series as a whole. The end result is a slapdash construct which is to its predecessor as a tapeworm is to a beloved family dog.

The current trend of cinematic franchising bodes ill for the future of Hollywood. As franchises grow, they siphon more money and talent from the collective pool, leaving fewer resources for genuinely new and interesting projects, and who suffers for it? We the public do. We are the ones left with rehashed plot devices and tired tropes. It’s time to speak out against the creative stagnation. It’s time to force Hollywood to reinvigorate and reinvent itself with fresh ideas, to explore new horizons, to boldly go where no cinematographer has gone before.

Or, we can keep gorging ourselves on the same tasteless pablum of yesteryear. I hear Honey Boo Boo has her own show these days.

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William Kang

William Kang earned a B.A. in Physics from UC Berkeley, and a M.Eng. in Systems Engineering from Cornell University. Do not ask him about either of these things.

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