On Abridging

Why Abridge The Hobbit?

This edit is ultimately meant as a love letter to The Hobbit, both J.R.R. Tolkien's book and Peter Jackson's trilogy. I wanted to create a movie I could enjoy in a single sitting, either as a stand-alone film or as a prelude to a Lord of the Rings film marathon. The Abridged cut aims to re-center Bilbo and Thorin's main adventure, emphasizing the heart at the center of the films.

What Has Been Cut?

From 8 hours and 20 minutes of footage, the final cut is 3 hours and 47 minutes, including credits. Broken down by film, the runtime of the Abridged cut is:

  • An Unexpected Journey: 1h18m
  • The Desolation of Smaug: 1h09m
  • The Battle of the Five Armies: 1h07m (+13m credits)
Edited Hobbit films
All the video and audio edits that make up the Abridged cut.

The film has been edited according to 3 central rules:

  1. Slim down scenes for pacing, keeping transitions smooth and as "professional" as possible,
  2. Keep all major events that transpire in the book,
  3. Keep elements necessary for completing Peter Jackson's narrative arc for Thorin and Bilbo.

Almost every scene that remains in the Abridged cut has received some nipping and tucking to improve pacing. Action sequences have especially been trimmed. Dialog has been trimmed both for pacing and to remain consistent with plot elements that have been removed.

All major events from The Hobbit book remain intact, including the stone giants and Mirkwood river. Where the films deviate from the book and Tolkien lore--particularly with Azog and the Necromancer--I have followed Peter Jackson's lead in order to remain consistent with his portrayal of the Battle of the Five Armies in the 3rd act.

Here's a breakdown of the major elements that have been removed:


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.

The White Council:

It never made sense to me why Saruman and Galadriel would happen to be in Rivendell, or know that Gandalf was going there, let alone that he'd have important matters to discuss.

I've removed the White Council, and all elements of the subplot that the elves would try to stop Thorin's quest. I kept a modified sequence of Galadriel's morning meeting with Gandalf, with the dialogue edited to serve as the first introduction to the Necromancer at Dol Goldur.


Orc presence has been drastically reduced. Orcs only appear:

  • in an abbreviated version of the Battle of Azanulbizar flashback,
  • after Goblintown and before Beorn's house,
  • at Dol Goldur,
  • and in the final Battle.


Legolas' part has been reduced to a few cameos.

He helps capture the dwarves in Mirkwood and only plays a role again in the final battle. He alerts Gandalf and Bilbo to Bolg's army, and helps Thorin by shooting a few orcs. A very small part of his fight with Bolg is kept in order to return Orcrist to Thorin for the final Azog encounter.

Importantly, his most egregious offenses to physics have all been excised.


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. The source material of The Hobbit is sorely lacking in female characters. And Peter Jackson has made some effort in addressing that. But all his female characters, besides Galadriel, end up subsumed by their romantic subplots.

Tauriel serves a real function acting as a counterpoint to the insular Thranduil, pointing out the evil that can arise from elves valuing their own immortality over engagement with the world. It's a theme that comes up in LotR as well. But including this side theme ended up just too distracting in a film that already clocks in at over 3 hours.

History of the Abridged Cut

I first started re-cutting The Hobbit films in summer 2015 as a way to decompress after submitting my PhD thesis. I spent a few hours a week over the course of the next few months hacking away, finally producing what I call The Hobbit Abridged.

I took a second look at my cut of the films in 2017 and made a few more refining touches, cleaning up the narrative and certain transitions. And in 2018, I took one last swipe. This time, I thought closely about the overall story this version was telling, making sure each theme and story arch worked cohesively with itself and the larger narrative.

The Abridged cut draws from: An Unexpected Journey (theatrical version), The Desolation of Smaug (extended edition), and The Battle of the Five Armies (theatrical version). Because I wanted to share my edits (learn more), I did not include additional footage from deleted scenes or the extended edition of the 1st and 3rd film. (Including them would require those using my edits to have access to the same clips.) However, other editors interested in adding new scenes can easily use the project file I've shared to make their own perfect version of the film. If you do modify the Abridged cut, please let me know!

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:

  • Serve as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings movies in terms of tone and themes,
  • Retain as much of the fun and adventurous wonder of the book as possible,
  • Remove over-extended plot points, orc encounters, and dialogue,
  • Cull the most egregious offenses to physics and subpar CGI,
  • Remain internally self-consistent with plot, characterization, and set-ups and pay-offs.

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).

Interestingly enough, Tolkien himself recognized the tonal mismatch between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It is well-known amongst Hobbit fans that the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter was rewritten to reflect the role of Gollum's ring in LotR. What is less well-known is that Tolkien dabbled at rewriting the entirety of 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.

Peter Jackson's The Hobbit movie trilogy takes 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.

In the light of the additional material J.R.R. Tolkien wrote around the events of The Hobbit, and his intention to rewrite the classic book itself, I wonder if Jackson gets unfairly maligned by book purists for the less light-hearted components of his interpretation, including his focus on Sauron. Regardless, the final trilogy suffers from a confused tone and a bloat of over-extended side plots and characters. This edit is aimed to re-center Bilbo and Thorin's main adventure, emphasizing the heart at the center of the films.

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

Clips from the Film

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 21 minutes. This involved shortening the dwarves arrival (partially shown here) and editing the conversation around the table introducing the quest. I also cut the "Blunt the Knives" song, though a version of 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 love 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 also recut Bilbo slipping and Thorin's comment that he should never have come. In this version, he stumbles before the giants appear and Thorin makes the comment then--which makes much more sense than blaming Bilbo for stumbling while the entire mountain is on the move! I also moved Thorin's line about seeking shelter to after the stone giants appearance, further reinforcing that Thorin did not consider conditions too treacherous at the time Bilbo stumbled.

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.

Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire

Since I cut Bilbo's attempt to return to Rivendell, I cut Thorin's suspicions that Bilbo has turn tail and run. None of it is in the book. However, Bilbo's escape from the goblins is still an important turning point. He earns the dwarves' respect by escaping alone, without the help of a wizard. I wanted to preserve that here, and I hope my edits are effective.

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 a condensed version 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 changed the color palette to match the forest floor scene with the elves (after the dwarves are freed). Hopefully my color swaps help disguise my editing and allow the scene to flow smoothly to the eye.

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.

Originally, I totally cut Kili's injury and any reference to dwarves remaining behind in Laketown. I put the injury back because the only scene that explains Kili and Fili's relationship to Thorin (and why Azog would want them dead) is the scene where Thorin tells Kili to stay behind and recover. So back in it went, but this time the wound is just due to their rough ride in the barrels.

The introduction to the Master of Laketown is cut drastically--both his character and Alfrid are tolerable only in small doses. I kept a small part of their interaction to establish the Master's fear over his own popularity and his antagonism towards Bard, which both contribute to his motivation for aiding the dwarves later.

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 a little disjointed, so I added the song in to tie the audio together. I think it works well ultimately. 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

The remaining dwarves make a quick escape from 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. This is the first and only scene we have with Saruman, though he is named earlier in the film by Gandalf as the 'head of our order'. Galadriel is in the opposite boat: we've seen her briefly at Rivendell, but she's never been named. So I edited in their names being spoken.

I'm glad I added a little more Galadriel in this editing round. At least there's one bad ass chick in the film.

The Clouds Burst

Here is the beginning of the battle, with no giant worms that could be used to instantly destroy an army, and far fewer trolls (which would surely also turn the tide).

In the book, The Battle of the Five Armies was meant as an epic climactic chapter that brings together all the 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--for example, I loved the focus on Bard tracking down his kids. (His stupid surfing on a wagon cart had to go though.)

Final Confrontation with Azog

Legolas is back in the picture to relay some important information: Bolg is leading a second army. (In this cut, we already had a hint of this in a scene between Azog and Bolg at Dol Goldur, while Gandalf is imprisoned.) I edited out the Thranduil drama, but I liked Bilbo's confrontation with Gandalf, showing his inner strength and resolve. It's a defining moment in their relationship.

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

I cut this final clip in two to abide by youtube's rules. To watch Thorin get Orcrist back, see below: