The Hobbit Abridged: My 3.5-hour cut of all three Hobbit films, freely available under GPL

The Hobbit Abridged: My 3.5-hour cut of all three Hobbit films, freely available under GPL

The Hobbit

I created an “abridged” version of all three The Hobbit films. The full video and audio edits are available as a single file in the kdenlive format, freely available to use and modify.

In early 2015, while I was writing my PhD thesis, my thoughts were frequently diverted to creating whimsical lists of all the other things I’d rather be doing. After I submitted, I decided that one item I really did want to pursue was a single movie cut of the three The Hobbit films.

I spent a few hours a week over the course of the next few months hacking away at the films, finally producing what I call The Hobbit Abridged. I took a second look at my cut of the films this year and made a few more refining touches. From 8 hours and 20 minutes of footage, the final cut is 3 hours and 38 minutes, including credits. I’ve made all of the edits freely available as a single file in the kdenlive format.

You can find the project here on github.

Opening the project with kdenlive requires three image files, which are included in the git repository, and all three films: An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug (the extended edition), and The Battle of the Five Armies. (Those you’ll have to supply yourself.)

The Hobbit as a prequel

My aim with the Abridged cut is to create a succinct single film that serves what I believe to be the original intent of the three Hobbit films. To achieve this, I specifically aimed for the Abridged cut to:

  1. Serve as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings movies in terms of tone and themes,
  2. Retain as much of the fun and adventurous wonder of the book as possible,
  3. Remove over-extended plot points, orc encounters, and dialogue,
  4. Cull the most egregious offenses to physics and subpar CGI,
  5. No Radagast.

The goal therefore is not to replicate the original The Hobbit book. The tone is too different–darker, more serious–to recreate a book meant as an adventurous romp for children. The original cuts of The Hobbit films aim to strike the same dramatic pitch as The Lord of the Rings, a sweeping, operatic saga.

Unfortunately the trilogy feels bipolar in the execution–jumping between light-hearted, book-inspired adventures (the trolls quibbling over their dinner, the goblins breaking out into song) and dour tragedy (Pyrrhic battles, reflections on family and dwarfish legacy). As though Peter Jackson (or his movie studio overlords) desperately wanted to pack Thorin into an Aragorn-shaped box for the masses.

Thorin looking angstily into the distance
What does this classic children’s adventure story need? More aaaangst!

Interestingly enough, Tolkien himself recognized the tonal mismatch between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He even went so far as to begin rewriting The Hobbit to match the style of its sequels. He wrote three chapters and, as John D. Rateliff recounts in The History of the Hobbit,

According to Christopher Tolkien, when his father had reached this point in the recasting he loaned the material to a friend to get an outside opinion on it. We do not know this person’s identity, but apparently her response was something along the lines of ‘this is wonderful, but it’s not The Hobbit’. She must have been someone whose judgment Tolkien respected, for he abandoned the work and decided to let The Hobbit retain its own autonomy and voice rather than completely incorporate it into The Lord of the Rings as a lesser ‘prelude’ to the greater work.

The Hobbit trilogy appears to take much inspiration from another Tolkien work, “The Quest for Erebor” (or at least the part of that work that appears in the LotR appendices). This work discusses the events of The Hobbit from Gandalf’s point of view as told to Frodo while they were in Moria. For example, from here we get Gandalf’s motivation for naming Bilbo the burglar of the dwarves party (his scent would be unknown to the dragon Smaug), and we learn of Gandalf’s concern for how Sauron could use Smaug.

The protagonist of The Hobbit book is Bilbo, and Middle Earth is laid before us through his eyes, expanding with his experiences. Bilbo still serves the “everyman” role in The Hobbit movies; his cloistered life in The Shire leaves him as clueless about the wider realms of this fantasy world as the audience, presumably. (Although through The Lord of the Rings trilogy the audience has actually already ventured the depths of Moria, the pinnacles of Gondor, and the heart of Mount Doom.)

But he’s not the protagonist of these movies. This is Thorin’s quest. His legacy at stake, his antagonist on their heels, his inner demons to be overcome.

Martin Freeman really defines the hapless everyman in a robe trope
Another Arthur Dent, with a new robe and furrier feet.

This isn’t something I felt I could escape with clever editing. The framing of the Battle of the Five Armies makes it almost impossible to not set up Peter Jackson’s vision of the historic feud between Thorin’s family and Azog, for instance.

So we have a film of Bilbo “sharing in Thorin’s perils”. And as Bilbo “finds his courage” and proves his usefulness to the company of dwarves, Thorin’s respect for Bilbo grows. This element of the relationship between the dwarves and Bilbo follows the book somewhat. However I cut a bit of film-Thorin’s pointed disdain. After all, what fun is joining a group on an adventure if you feel constantly rejected?

Choosing what to cut

I cut both for time and content choice, always with the aim to maintain a coherent story. The big picture of what I wanted came together fairly quickly. Side plots and superfluous battles were easy to lop off, especially with the book as my guide. Even some more detailed length edits were ultimately straightforward. I suspect Peter Jackson filmed scenes such that slices could be easily excised. It occasionally felt that way, as though scenes were pre-perforated for my convenience as I digitally snipped and stitched.

Other scenes had to be completely pulled apart and remade. Looking at all the edits in kdenlive, they appear to grow denser as the film progresses. (The longest continuous scene is the riddle and chase sequence with Gollum, which I leave essentially untouched.) The glut of extra characters and side plots grows as the book source material thins out in the second and third films.

Edited Hobbit films
All the video and audio edits that make up the Abridged cut.

Some side characters I felt bad abandoning. Tauriel, apparently the Smurfette of the wood elves, survives only to be the target of a lewd comment from Kili and a failure at keeping the dwarves locked away.

I’m not against adding the character of Radagast to The Hobbit story. I always found it rather suspect that in the midst of Middle Earth-shattering turmoil in The Lord of the Rings, only two wizards ever enter the fray.


Sitting in my theater seat, the moment I saw those stupid CGI rabbits come hopping into view, I was done with the character.

Bad CGI, in general, plagued The Hobbit. It’s such a shame, too, when you consider the vast array of practical effects joined with subtle CGI that went into both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. While both LotR and The Hobbit suffer from egregious CGI moments, these occur with much greater frequency in the latter, proportional perhaps to the bloat in unnecessary battle scenes.

Below are a few scenes from the Abridged cut, along with some commentary on the changes made.

An Unexpected Party

My original goal was to get Bilbo out the door and on the road to adventure in 15 minutes. I didn’t quite succeed, but I did manage about 20 minutes. This involved shortening the dwarves arrival (shown here) and editing the conversation around the table introducing the quest. I also cut the “Blunt the Knives” song, though it is in the book. As merry as the song is, it doesn’t fit the later behavior of the dwarves (no more merry songs on this journey) and the scene suffers from too much egregious abuse of CGI.

Over Hill and Under Hill

I wanted to keep the stone giants, both because they are in the book and I like the way they’re rendered here. However, the scene drags on and is just too extreme–the company would surely perish if they really found themselves thrown about on a stone giant. (Here is the original scene.) Seeing the giants at a distance is a dramatic enough experience, and reason enough to seek shelter in the cave.

I kept a bit of the Goblin King’s song as an ode to the book. If only the second and third movies weren’t so overly serious–there are enough light moments in An Unexpected Journey to really carve out a Tolkienesque cut of the film.

I cut out Bilbo’s fight with a goblin for two reasons. One, having never fought in his life, Bilbo would surely lose in one-on-one combat. In The Hobbit book, Bilbo survives due to his stealth, wits, and the aid of his magic ring (which he doesn’t yet have). Even in the Battle of the Five Armies, the book explicitly says he plays almost no role, experiencing it from the sidelines before being knocked out.

The second is that the fight ends in the goblin and Bilbo plunging into the abyss of an extreme CGI fail. Not just for the way it’s rendered, also for the fact that anyone falling from that height onto a stone rock face would surely die. Or at least, have enough internal hemorrhaging to not be up for a game of Riddles in the Dark.

My one regret is that because Bilbo has not yet shown that he is capable of killing (we first see this in his encounter with the spiders), his decision to spare Gollum looks more doubtful as an act of pity versus a general squeamishness towards violence.

Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire

It’s a little silly that a small pack of wargs and orcs have Thorin’s company up a tree when they have no problem taking on a whole army by film three. Anyway, the company defends themselves with Gandalf’s flaming pinecones in the book, so they faithfully do it here too. Perhaps they are ensorcelled pinecones?


There is a flashback scene earlier in the movie where Balin recounts the battle in Moria where Thorin’s grandfather died and Thorin earned his moniker “Oakenshield”. I kept parts of that scene in order to establish 1) that bravery in battle defines the dwarves concept of a king and 2) why Azog is a worthy antagonist to Thorin.

The first point is important as a contrast to Thorin’s behavior at the beginning of the Battle of the Five Armies. (One more reason the trilogy works better as a single film.) The second has a payoff here, this first Azog encounter. The threat level has just been amplified–the company is actively being hunted, the peril is more than just random encounters with goblins and rock monsters on the road.

The direct confrontation between Thorin and Azog, however, I wanted to save for the climactic battle at the end of the film.

Flies and Spiders

I cut out Bilbo being captured and cocooned by a spider. I felt like his attacking that spider took away from his killing the other spider that inadvertently gives his sword the name “Sting”.

I also decided Bilbo being cocooned came off as derivative rather than a homage to what happens to Frodo in Shelob’s lair. There is something to be said for the–very much intended–parallels between Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures. (The razing of The Shire, for instance, is a darker parallel to Bilbo finding his belongings auctioned away.) But what works in books doesn’t always translate to screen.

Aaand the scene just plain eats up time. So out it went.

This sequence is one where I took a few more “artistic” liberties in order to make the edits flow better. I think blue tinting looks more natural than the original green and works better with the later transition to the color palette of the forest floor scene with the elves (after the dwarves are freed).

There are two shots where I went further and restored, from the original green tint, the more full-spectrum palette of the forest floor scene: the dwarves cutting themselves out of their cocoons and Bilbo falling with the spider. This was done because I removed the scenes of the dwarves fighting the spiders, scenes which helped ease the transition of the color palette before the elves arrive. Hopefully my color swaps help disguise my editing and allow the scene to flow smoothly to the eye.

Legolas’ role is reduced to just a few cameos, this being the most prominent. I wouldn’t mind letting him shine a little more, if he weren’t guilty of the most atrocious CGI violations in the trilogy.

Barrels out of Bond

The original barrel escape scene was a total CGI nightmare. It’s almost as though Peter Jackson thought he could compensate the serious tone of the dialogue with slapstick physical stunts.

It doesn’t work. At all.

If anything, the CGI madness undercuts any sense of tension we should feel about the dwarves situation. Why should we fear them smashing about in the water if they can bounce around crushing orcs with those barrels?

In my cut the dwarves face danger from drowning and the elve’s arrows. It’s a rough escape, but one that feels somewhat realistic.

Not at Home

Okay, in this case, yes Smaug is indeed at home. Really there’s no book chapter to map here because Peter Jackson deviates quite a bit from the order of things in the book.

The big stylistic change to this sequence, in addition to all the cutting, is adding in one of the songs from the credits. It starts right before Smaug bursts into the large hall that Bilbo has just escaped into. I added it to help transition around the scene of Smaug bursting out of the mountain to attack Lake Town.

In the film, the dwarves pour molten gold on the dragon in some convoluted scheme to stop his rampage. The result is that when Smaug bursts from the mountain, creating a new hole in the front door, he is covered in glimmering gold, which he then twirls and sheds mid-air. That scene is quite visually stunning, but getting there is just too ridiculous to include.

The scene I stitched together sounded disjointed, so I added the song in to tie the audio together. I think it works well ultimately. We don’t see Smaug burst out. But really, there was no reason for the front door to be boarded up in the first place. The only reason the dwarves don’t use it is that it is presumably guarded by Smaug. And the brightly lit, molten gold we see in the distance, behind Bilbo as he pursues Smaug, could in this cut be taken as the fire left behind by Smaug’s rampage through the mountain.

At any rate I hope it all works like a cohesive sequence.

Fire and Water

None of the dwarves remain in Lake Town, and Bard is not in jail. Let’s get straight to being a hero, Bard the Bowman.

Gandalf and the Necromancer

I originally cut Gandalf’s side quest with the “Necromancer” out entirely. I only added bits back in at the request of my husband, who was disappointed to see Elrond, Saruman, and Galadriel’s big fight scene cut.

So now we get a few bits and pieces of Gandalf encountering Sauron at Dol Guldur, his imprisonment, and, in the clip above, his rescue. As this is the first and only scene we have with Saruman and Galadriel, I edited in their names being spoken. Saruman was at least mentioned once before, when Gandalf told the company who the other wizards are at the start of the film.

Galadriel, well. For an explanation of who she is, you’ll just have to watch The Fellowship of the Ring. Because you won’t find it here.

At least there’s one bad ass chick in this film.

The Clouds Burst

The Battle of the Five Armies was meant as an epic climactic chapter that brings back together all the new characters we had encountered along Bilbo’s journey. Even the orcs were originally the goblins of the Misty Mountains, come to seek vengeance for their murdered king.

There never was enough material to turn one battle into an entire film. I tried to keep enough of the battle scenes to show some heart–I loved the focus on Bard tracking down his kids. (His stupid surfing on a wagon cart had to go though.) Check out just how much fluff has been removed.

Final Confrontation with Azog

Thorin emerges and we see the parallel with his leadership in Moria. He’s finally the king he was meant to be. Men and elves also appear to be rallying–a good moment to move to Thorin’s big showdown with Azog.

We don’t get a clear motivation in this cut for Bilbo to follow Thorin. His desire to make things right between them? Perhaps. He clearly has something to say to Thorin when he arrives. But we’re cut off by the death of Fili. The battle marches on.

Originally I cut out the deaths of Fili and Kili for time’s sake. But they do meet their end in the book, and after ignoring their absence during the return to the Lonely Mountain, it would be a shame to ignore that they’re missing at the end of the adventure.

Poor Kili’s death goes unavenged in this cut. Legolas’ physics-defying stunts are nowhere to be found. But such is war.

The clip above ends with Bilbo getting knocked out. He doesn’t belong in a battle. Much less taking down orcs by throwing rocks.

Room for new editions

My hope is that by making available the source file for the Abridged cut, others who were frustrated by the excesses of The Hobbit trilogy can enjoy a shorter version that stands in well as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings films.

And perhaps my cut will inspire others to use what I’ve done as a launching pad for their own tweaks and edits. Other condensed versions of The Hobbit films do exist, but it is a large undertaking. I want to offer up an edited version to start from and improve upon.


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