Signs Pointing to a Runaway Success ...
Have you seen any ads for "The Hobbit" lately? You're not alone, as the advertising budget for this film likely comes in around $75 million. You can buy plenty of SportsCenter promotional tie-ins with that sort of coin. And truly, the biggest hurdle that any new release faces is market awareness. After ten hours of "Lord of the Rings" and countless DVD releases, can we assume that audiences are quite aware of "The Hobbit"? Yes. Yes we can. Pile on top of that the salient fact that every single media market is being inundated with adverts and you've got yourself a recipe for box office dominance.
We've been down this road before, and we know audiences tend to love comfort food. How else can one explain the $2.5 billion the "Star Wars" prequels made? Interestingly enough, the biggest film of the newer "Star Wars" trilogy was the first effort, "The Phantom Menace". As such, if audiences come away less than impressed, we can expect them to punish the next two "Hobbit" films. But we're at least six months away from that sort of cultural sea change, and "The Hobbit" can rest safely on the laurels which "The Lord of the Rings" hath wrought.
How much do movie-going audiences want to see this? Very much, mucho much, a bushel of much. It stands as the number one film on the IMDB.com MovieMeter, making it the most searched film on the Internet since last weekend. Plus, it's been rumored and speculated about for at least five years, drawing fanatics and casual fans alike to the "Hobbit" campfire.
Yes indeed, awareness, historical track record, and anticipation are all any studio could ask for. But What About...
I am not one of these folks who shouts "Critics don't matter!" from the rooftops, mostly because I'm a critic, but also because I don't frequent rooftops. Still, this particular title should be relatively impervious to the long knives of my critical brethren. It's all about emotional equity, and the "Lord of the Rings" franchise has it, earning nearly four billion in box office receipts back in 2001-2003. Everyone I've talked to about "The Hobbit" is pretty much of the "yeah, let's do this!" persuasion. That will carry the day, or at least the next few months.
That Running Time
The film is all of two hours and forty minutes, a punishing length to succeed on. But it's also (fairly easily) the shortest Tolkien film Peter Jackson has ever made. If anything, this crowd expects a lengthy endeavor, and to deny them their big "event movie" would risk incurring serious backlash. Nope, running time won't be an issue for audiences, though there will likely be one less showing per screen based on this length. Luckily, that's what midnight screenings are for!
The Tech Problem
Much ado was made about Peter Jackson's decision to film and present "The Hobbit" in 48 frames per second (or double the current standard). What effect will this have on "The Hobbit". Here's where it gets tricky, because it will certainly have (technical term coming) some effect. There's nothing the media and the Internet love more than a good "Film X makes me woozy!" story, and "The Hobbit" is going to have its fair share of those accounts come Monday. Truth be told, the effect is disconcerting, akin to watching a film in 1.5 speed, so the complaints won't be completely without merit. I'd say there's around a ten percent chance 48fps costs "The Hobbit" a bit at the box office as anecdotal tales of nausea spread, a shame because it's clear Peter Jackson worked tirelessly (only to potentially undermine his ambitious creative vision).
We almost forgot the most critical part of this exercise! In what manner will the "Hobbit" need to succeed in order to be considered a triumph? Will this be measured by Academy Awards? Potentially, though "The Hobbit" has very little hope outside of the technical categories. Still, the franchise already owns seventeen Academy Awards, so a complete shut-out would tarnish its reputation slightly.
Box office? That's a far better indicator to the studio, who are probably targeting a number around "Marvel's The Avengers" $1.5 billion worldwide haul, though they'd take $1.3 million if you offered it to them right now. Anything under a billion dollars will likely be considered poor, though still profitable, as the franchise has set a benchmark set around $1.1 billion (adjusted for inflation).
It's going to be massive, it's going to be a success, it's going to be a repeat winner at the box office, and it's going to get a few technical nominations (Visual Effects for one). That's a level of achievement around zero films reach per year, so clearly this must be heralded as a worthy pop culture achievement. It's taken eight years, and untold toil, but Peter Jackson and his Hobbit pals are back to take a bow. The only question at this point is exactly how long their standing ovation will last.