For The Fellowship of the Ring‘s 20th anniversary this month, yes 20th, we sat down and rewatched The Hobbit Extended Edition and The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition. We didn’t binge it, goodness no, but we rewatched one film a night. Originally, this was going to be a Rewatch review, but while watching, one particular thought kept gnawing at my mind.
I have seen both the theatrical versions and the extended editions many times (I love these films, ok?). The theatrical versions always felt too long, excessive even, a slog. But, the extended editions? The ones that add even more content (some almost an hour)? They feel just right, they’re enjoyable, the time spent watching practically flies.
I’m not going to list the new and extended scenes, because it’s not about them specifically, it’s about their context. They aren’t really meant to be noticed, but their absence can be felt, and I think that is overall why the theatrical versions feel longer than the extended editions. Sure, a lot of films get away with deleted scenes, it’s still a popular bonus feature these days, but these scenes weren’t cut because they were poorly done, unfinished, or didn’t fit. They were cut simply because there was too much material for the average theatergoing audience. When you cut apart films this big, you’re going to be cutting scenes that the rest of the film relies on.
Something a character does 2 hours into the film seems very out of place, but only because about 5 minutes were cut from the first hour that would have informed their decision. Little things that don’t make sense can build up and become a distraction. If you make enough cuts like that, your 3-hour film becomes a 2-hour confusing slog that feels somehow longer than the original version. If you take the time to give that context, everything makes sense, and you’re just along for an enjoyable ride.
By the way, I don’t blame Peter Jackson for any of this. He had an excessive amount of material to adapt, but he also had to consider the attention span of the average theatergoer. I’m just thankful that he released the extended editions in the first place.
If you weren’t a fan of the theatrical versions of these films, grab the extended editions, sit back, and enjoy. You can stream The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition on HBO Max, but you’ll need to buy or rent The Hobbit Extended Edition from your platform of choice. Hopefully you’ll notice the same difference I did.