Given how many extras, prosthetic hobbit feet, expensive suits of armor and custom-made weaponry were involved in the making of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it’s somewhat surprising to think that each individual installment was made for $94 million or less. All three films in the trilogy were shot back-to-back and released within a year of each other, and director Peter Jackson has brought that release pattern back for his latest J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation, The Hobbit, which has also been divided up into three parts.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was one of only four releases last year to top $1 billion at the box office, setting a high bar for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug to match when it reaches theaters this December. The second movie in the trilogy has the benefit of introducing Star Trek Into Darkness villain Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug the dragon, as well as featuring the return of Orlando Bloom as Legolas.

One way in which The Hobbit has already beaten The Lord of the Rings by quite a wide margin, however, is in its price tag. The Associated Press reports that, according to financial productions filed in New Zealand this week, the production costs of the Hobbit trilogy had already reached approximately $561 million by March 31st, 2013. This doesn’t count the additional two months of filming and pick-ups carried out after that date, but it means that the production of The Hobbit has already cost twice as much as that of The Lord of the Rings.

Some of that extra cost can be accounted for by inflation, but Jackson’s decision to shoot all three Hobbit films at 48 fps using 3D cameras was almost certainly a major contributing factor to the expense. The massive pile of gold in Smaug’s lair that was shown in the most recent trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is probably a pretty good visual representation of just how much this trilogy cost to make.

In terms of investment vs. reward, The Return of the King is the most successful of the Tolkien-based films so far, having grossed more than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at the box office and made back well over ten times its original production budget. Marketing costs, of course, are always an important (if shady) variable to take into account, but it’s safe to say that the Hobbit trilogy is going to have to work very hard in order to match The Lord of the Rings in terms of profitability.

If this is evidence of anything, it’s that the epicness of the story being told isn’t necessarily measured in dollars. Many Tolkien fans were surprised to learn that The Hobbit was going to be stretched out over three movies, considering the fact that the book the trilogy is based on is such a slim volume and Bilbo’s adventure isn’t quite as dramatic as Frodo’s quest to throw the One Ring into Mount Doom, defeat Lord Sauron and save Middle-earth from near-total destruction while major battles take place in the background.

The budget does sound impressively extravagant, but just think of all the Tolkien fans in the ’90s who probably never would have dreamed of seeing over half a billion dollars spent on bringing one of their favorite books to the big screen. Based on what we’ve seen of The Hobbit so far, do you think that Jackson’s making the most of his money?

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will be released on December 13th, 2013.

Source: Associated Press