‘Lord of the Rings’ Star Critiques ‘The Hobbit’ Films’ Reliance on CGI

Published 12 months ago by

Viggo Mortensen Aragorn Lord of the Rings Star Critiques The Hobbit Films Reliance on CGI

Thirteen years ago, former gore auteur and monster enthusiast Peter Jackson brought The Lord of the Rings to the mainstream with his celebrated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s landmark fantasy novels. Even today, the films are looked at as something of a miracle; no one guessed that a trilogy of pictures about Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, dark lords, swords, and occasional sorcery might end up being hugely successful on both critical and commercial levels, or that they might wind up nearly taking a clean sweep of the Academy Awards in 2004.

Fast forward to 2012, and Jackson’s three-film screen version of The Hobbit, Tolkien’s first novel, have met with comparatively less rapturous applause and increasingly shrinking box office rewards. Maybe their chillier reception is a symptom of just how much the Lord of the Rings movies achieved in the aughts; then again, maybe Jackson’s passion for Middle-Earth has waned in the intervening decade between the release of The Return of the King and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a movie he didn’t even plan on directing to begin with.

Whatever the case may be, fans and critics aren’t the only ones who see a difference between the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films: Viggo Mortensen, Aragorn himself, thinks Jackson’s new set of Tolkien pictures are too overwhelmed by their special effects. Mortensen is currently doing the rounds at Cannes, where he took the opportunity to sit down for an interview with the The Telegraph to discuss his latest film, The Two Faces of January. During their chat, the topic of Lord of the Rings came up, which led into a frank and unflattering discussion of The Hobbit, as well as Jackson’s proclivities toward CGI.

Put in short, Viggo isn’t too impressed with The Hobbit‘s overindulgence of computerized effects work. Here’s the full quote from Mortensen:

Also, Peter was always a geek in terms of technology but, once he had the means to do it, and the evolution of the technology really took off, he never looked back. In the first movie, yes, there’s Rivendell, and Mordor, but there’s sort of an organic quality to it, actors acting with each other, and real landscapes; it’s grittier. The second movie already started ballooning, for my taste, and then by the third one, there were a lot of special effects. It was grandiose, and all that, but whatever was subtle, in the first movie, gradually got lost in the second and third. Now with The Hobbit, one and two, it’s like that to the power of 10.

Jackson fans are probably sharpening their Barrow-blades for Viggo already. But the once and future king of Gondor isn’t repudiating Jackson’s style as much as he’s quietly critiquing it; his comment is phrased gently and stated with class. For Viggo, this is a matter of taste and preference. Given his post-Rings role choices (which include a trio of more character-heavy dramas from Canadian director David Cronenberg, with A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and A Dangerous Method), it’s easy to see where he’s coming from.

the hobbit smaug1 Lord of the Rings Star Critiques The Hobbit Films Reliance on CGI

Does he have a point, though? There is a lot of CGI in both Hobbit films, and in places where Jackson would have used practical effects over a decade ago, but the key to Viggo’s remark might be his opening line. Jackson has indeed always been obsessed with technology and with FX, from his early days directing bad taste B-horror classics like Dead Alive and, well, Bad Taste, to his last pre-Rings effort, The Frighteners; the man loves his toys and it shows, though perhaps not always for the better. But as Viggo acknowledges, that emphasis on FX is apparent in his scrappier, DIY productions to the films that he’s known for making today.

So the Jackson we know today isn’t really all that different from the Jackson who built a cult following out of New Zealand nearly thirty years ago. The only real change is that he has money and clout now, which means greater access to state of the art tools to create his effects. Even if the results don’t always pan out, nobody can really say that the Jackson of 2014 is a fundamentally different filmmaker than the Jackson of 1987, no matter how much CGI he decides to use in his later-day projects.

Viggo’s comment probably won’t make him very popular among the Jackson faithful – it looks like he’s biting the hand that fed him, even if he isn’t – but given how much more PJ has come to rely on CG effects with The Hobbit films versus the Rings films, perhaps it’s not totally unwarranted, either.


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies hits theaters on December 17th, 2014.

Source: The Telegraph

Follow Andy Crump on Twitter @agracru
Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. I loved The Lord of the Rings and I really really like the 1st 2 Hobbit movies but I agree with Viggo.

    I remember reading an interview with Peter jackson a while back and he was asked if he would still use models for The Hobbit films like he did with TLotR and the short answer was no. He pretty much said that now that he has the budget to use CGI he would use it and has no plans of looking back.
    To be honest that was kind of heartbreaking.

    It’s been said a million times now but with the over-use of CGI Middle Earth and those who inhabit it no longer feel real.
    The easiest and most notable example to point out is The Orcs.
    Now that they are almost exclusively CGI they aren’t scary. There’s no emotion to them and they have no personality.

    Like I said, I really like The Hobbit films. They are now in my Christmas time rotation but with TLotR but as much as it hurts to say they aren’t on the same level as the first 3 movies.

  2. I thought both Hobbit films used too much CGI, but I also commend them for Smaug in the latest movie. At no point did I think, hey that’s a really good CGI dragon. They simply brought him to life. It was breathtaking actually. No one leaves that movie and goes “dude, did you see the graphics they used for the dragon?!” As far as I’m concerned its a real, fire breathing dragon Peter Jackson filmed. So yes, they used too much CGI, but at the same time, man those artists did an AMAZING job. Double edged sword I guess.

    • He did look incredible, especially in 3d, but my only complaint about him…he talked too much. Sometimes, less is more.

    • That is not even a dragon it’s wyvern peter jackson doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing

  3. Jackson is very much like Lucas. He is driving the technology of film forward. He also created a film industry in New Zealand.

    • All true. I realize there are also plenty who are more than satisfied with everything they have gotten from both directors. What is also true, however, is that there are those of us out here who feel quality and progress don’t have to be seen as being mutually exclusive, and that they could (and should) have made much better movies while “driving the technology forward”.

  4. Thank you Viggo Mortensen for speaking the absolute TRUTH about these movies. I hated the CGI in a lot of bits, and the unrealistic tone of it, people who compared LOTR and The Hobbit are NOT off base, they`re disappointed their hype (like mine) was not paid off properly.

    • Actually, the hype has paid off, to the tune of almost 2 billion dollars so far. Some of us can be disappointed with the excessive CGI, myself included, but there is no denying that these movies have been just as successful as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

      • Sure, the hype of the studios financial investment paid off, but the cinematic and creative hype burned like a bug under a magnifying glass the moment AUJ was released.

        Something not given much mention is that these Hobbit movies have cost more than double that of the Lord of The Rings trilogy (adjusted for inflation). I’m really glad we got that CG rabbit sleigh.

        • I know the excessive CGI is a pet peeve, for myself included, but again, the films have been more liked than disliked by critics and fans, so let’s not overdo it. They may not be award winning, but they are popular.

  5. I will jump on the “Peter Jackson is the new George Lucas” bandwagon when, AND ONLY WHEN, he goes back and starts adding more CGI to the original trilogy and refuses to let you buy anything but his new BS version.

    THEN I will agree.

    • No other movie maker in the history of movie makers will ever be that insane, so your statement really isn’t fair. You might as well say that you won’t jump on the bandwagon until he grows a goiter.

    • I don’t know about history: maybe he changed his mind. But i have a dvd boxset with starwars 4, 5 and 6 as in their original release: with the old anakin at the end.

  6. This is the classic problem of what happens to creatives ‘unbound’ by budgetary restraints. The Hobbit is not the first film to be ruined by money (I think about what the Matrix could have been at least once a week). It’s hard to know what the solution is (arbitrary budgets? – but I keep telling ppl that nothing makes a person more creative and clever than the lack of resources.

  7. Everyone here hates The Hobbit because he used CGI. Do you think Smaug could have been make otherwise? Or the trolls? Or the wargs? Did you guys wanted rubber or plastic mechanical statues? A movie with dragons, trolls and wargs MUST have CGI, it is impossible to make creature like that and make them look realistic and alive creatures without using the best special effects. The Lord Of The Rings knew that, in fact the nazgul’s beast and the balrog were cgi, not animatronic statues. And if they used it, like you people suggest, everyone would have hated them because it would looks unrealistic. If the special effects are perfectly done and make the characters looks realistic, then where is the problem? If Viggo Mortensen really think that movie with lot of special effects have no soul then it shouldn’t have the lord of the rings trilogy too. Because the lord of the rings trilogy realise on special effects as much as The Hobbit. With the progress of the special effects, the audience demands the best. So with the progress of special effects it is only fair that Peter Jackson demands the best technology. And the Hobbit have pretty much make-up and live action actors too, there are orcs and goblins in costumes and make-up. Peter Jackson explains why Azog and Bolg are not in make up but in CGI: because they are over 7 feet tall while their actors are not so big. Also CGI was necessary to make the orcs looks more inhumans.

    • Hyperbolic generalizations don’t validate an argument as a rule, and they didn’t here either.

      “EVERYONE here HATES the Hobbit BECAUSE he USED CGI.”

      Literally almost half that statement is categorically false. Read the thread: there are plenty of people who defend PJ’s Middle Earth jointz quite passionately, yourself included. So obviously not everyone hates it.

      There are also plenty of reasons to dislike it above and beyond the OVERUSE of CGI. I personally hate it because I consider it a bloated mess that barely resembles the supposed source material, in either tone or content.

      One thing I am tired of is the internet generation being so ridiculously extremist in their viewpoints. Once, long ago, before Al Gore destroyed the planet by inventing the internet, there was this magical thing called “a middle ground”. Most people realize a LOT of these types of movies are being made BECAUSE of the advancements in CG SFX. But there’s a limit. AFAIC, the “old fashioned” costume and make-up orcs and Uruk-Hai looked more real and imposing than the digital to the point of looking completely fake CGI orcs and goblins in the Hobbit. The “they are over 7 foot tall” argument is also ridiculous, especially when you take into consideration all the visual tricks and forced perspectives he pulled off with no small amount of success in the LotR trilogy.

      “The audience demands the best”. Ahh, there’s the problem. Not all audiences are demanding the same things to be the best. You obviously didn’t care about plot and writing, or any sort of respect or adherence to the source material… you wanted PJ to pummel your sense with the best CGI his and your money could buy… and that’s exactly what you got. Congratulations. Those of us with some small hope that he might actually make a Hobbit movie, instead of a PETER JACKSON, THE MAN WHO BROUGHT YOU THE EPIC :LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY… BRINGS YOU HIS MOSTLY CGI-ANIMATED VISION of the hobbit? We left disappointed, and we won’t get another chance to see this classic story brought to the screen any better in our lifetimes, almost certainly; and that is a complete shame.

      But thanks. We knew PJ sold out… we just really didn’t know who was selling out to, till now.

      Finally, Viggo DID bring up the abundance of CGI in the LotR trilogy. He mentioned how it was there but he didn’t feel it overpowered the first picture, but then the use of it started increasing more and more until the final movie it almost got to the point where it was gratuitous… and, frankly, I completely agree with him. In Fellowship he was able to make a lot of narrative changes that actually made sense from a movie-making perspective (in fairness, Tolkien does linger in and around The Shire for a l-o-n-g time), but the final 2 chapters he kept adding in more and more (and more) “original” CGI action set-pieces that had nothing to do with the books or Tolkien’s epic (you know… the story most people actually came to see rendered on the big screen) and everything to do with PJ and his posse’s story, and most of them felt out-of-place, many jarringly so.

  8. Don’t care, Viggo. They were still great movies. Hope they milk the LOTR/Hobbit dry. Wouldn’t mind more good middle-earth films.

  9. I agree with Viggo as well; like others have pointed out, the orcs in the LOTR trilogy are reason enough to not overuse CGI.

    My overall opinion about the Hobbit films is that they’re sup-par when compared to the LOTR. The cgi is probably a major factor, yes, but there’s something off about the writing in The Hobbit too…

    I was kind of disappointed with An Unexpected Journey (however, I had high hopes for it). It was nice seeing the original characters from LOTR again, though.

    I thought that Desolation of Smaug was an improvement; however, it was really only because of Smaug. The special effects on him were outstanding (yes, that’s where the cgi was put to GREAT use).

    My hopes aren’t set high for the third film. I’m still going to go see it, so it really doesn’t matter lol.

    • Ugh… mentally replace the word “hopes” with “expectations”. Sorry about that guys; I guess i’m tired.

  10. Another thing that I wanted to add… I’ve seen the LOTR movies countless times, and to me if feels like that Gandalf didn’t find out about Sauron returning until the Fellowship of the Ring (after finding out about Bilbo’s “mysterious” ring).

    From the Hobbit’s perspective, Gandalf apparently found out about the return of Sauron YEARS earlier. To me it feels like a plot hole because Jackson is just trying to throw some extra stuff into his prequels to connect to the sequels, but if someone who knows more can clear this up for me, that’d be great.

  11. Another thing that I wanted to add… I’ve seen the LOTR movies countless times, and to me it feels like that Gandalf didn’t find out about the return of Sauron until the Fellowship of the Ring (after finding out about Bilbo and the ring).

    From the Hobbit’s perspective, Gandalf apparently found out about the return of Sauron YEARS earlier. To me it feels like a plot hole because Jackson is just trying to throw some extra stuff into The Hobbit to connect to the LOTR, but if someone who knows more can clear this up for me, that’d be great.

  12. Christopher Tolkein said it best when he described Jackson’s LOTR efforts as being “Action Movies For the 18-25 year-old audience”.

    • Christopher who made a mess of his fathers work to publish it

  13. BRAVO VIGGO!!!!!!

    I have been saying this forever already. Just because you can make Legolas stand on the heads of dwarves flowing down the river while fighting Orcs, doesn’t mean you do it. WAY TO MUCH CGI and far to dragged out. It was never a 3 movie book.

    • Couldn’t agree more. CGI has its place, for some backdrops and characters like Gollum; but it should only be used when it is not possible to shoot the scene any other way. As Viggo points out, you could see the CGI creeping in over the course of the LOTR films but because it was not overdone the films were all great.

      However, the Hobbit films smack of laziness. I think Pete Jackson lost his edge following the huge success of LOTR and instead of focusing on quality he decided instead to shoot everything in the simplest way possible, in a wam and cosy studio rather than heading out on location. He is not hungry any more so he settles for anything. Maybe that’s success for you.

      The scenes in the Hobbit movies often look phoney and he chose CGI over costunes for the Orcs/goblins and the end result is threatless bad guys and physics defying, floaty action sequences. The best action sequence, in my opinion, is the finale of Fellowship of the RIng, a well choreographed sequence, gritty and exciting. That’s what the films needed throughout, not generic CGI bad guys battling generic CGI good guys. When will directors learn no one engages when they are watching a video game masquerading as movie? We’re not impressed that you can replicate huge battlefields full of the enemy in a computer. None of it convinces.

      Incredibly the CGI in the Hobbit movies is also pretty poor. Even the cinders coming out from a chimmney in the Unexpected Journey (in Hobbiton) are CGI. Is it really that hard to light a real fire? Many of the backdrops in the Hobbit movies are clearly green screen and Ian Mckellen actually said he despairs acting in front of a green screen stating ‘this is not why I became an actor.’

      Desolation of Smaug had the msot dreadful CGI sequence with dwarves surfing on molten, flying through the air on chains and even creating a huge molten dwarf in an appaling action scence. This sequence was unfathomable in the extreme and one of the worst things commited to film. The barrel scene could’ve been great fun but instead it was all CGI. Stuntmen must be wondering what happened to their role in movies, as this sequence was made for them. I don’t mind that jackosn added fights to this scene just that he used avatars and CGI to do it.

      But I want to like these films so I always get something out of them and, once I lower my expectations (after seeing them on the big screen), I tend to enjoy them more on DVD. I’m still looking forward to the BOTFA, although the CGI makes me wince. Those backdrops and action scenes really do look terrible! But I hope for the best!

  14. There were so very many things wrong with the Hobbit series of movies. The overuse of CGI and the poor CGI (whats with the golden ice rink?) is only part of it.

    I am going to reread the books and wipe that s*** out of my mind. And then rewatch the LOTR series with did CGI well. (Not too mention casting, perspective, story,humour, etc)

  15. I completely agree with Viggo. The special effects from the Hobbit have completely taken the magic away from middle earth. There were special effects in the lord of the rings however the entire movie wasn’t based on just visual effects. The hobbit is a movie that is based on just special effects! It loses the magic, the acting/ good old props and makeup from the lord of the rings trilogy. Man I miss cinema from the past. Now there is no substance/ story, it’s just based on pretty effects. I understand why special effects are use and they look great, but using an obvious blue screen/ stage for every shot instead of onsite scenes from the wilderness just takes the reality of middle earth away. Thankyou for making the lord of the rings- (the best movies ever) but I just can’t appreciate the hobbit films at all, well not nearly as much!