"What's really nuts to me," Lindsay Ellis says, "is that a sovereign nation changed its laws to benefit one production. It's bonkers."
Ellis, a popular American YouTube movie reviewer and video essayist, is talking about our notorious Hobbit law, which she deep dives into in her brand new, three-part, feature-length "autopsy" on Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy.
The videos, which you can watch on YouTube, are ambitious in scope and execution and rich with insight, revelation and humour. They see Ellis critically re-evaluating the films, exploring their troubled production and tackling the controversial law. In just under three weeks they've already clocked up a combined 1.5million views.
With over 333,000 subscribers to her channel and close to a decade uploading vids on YouTube, Ellis says she's fielded many requests to tackle the Hobbit, but a chance conversation made her realise there was an untold story there. Through a friend of a friend's husband she discovered that "people in the industry in New Zealand were not huge fans of the movies because of the effect it had on the film industry".
"I was like, whaaat?", she says. "I hadn't heard this."
Ellis, an "out and proud Lord of the Rings fan but not a fan of The Hobbit," says all the production drama was well known - original director Guillermo del Toro leaving in dubious circumstances right before filming, countless reshoots and the sudden ballooning from two films to three - but the Hobbit law stuff was not.
"I'd seen some lower profile things on The Hobbit trilogy, but none mentioned the law and the effect it had on your film industry and what Warner Brothers and the Prime Minister did to benefit one production," she says. "The fact that news never made it overseas, even in film circles, was really shocking."
This led to her decision to go on her own unexpected journey down to Middle Earth.
"I could have done this over Skype. But it's much more satisfying for it to feel like a real documentary rather than some schlub on YouTube doing the barest possible minimum," she laughs. "Once we made that commitment it all fell into place. People were tremendously helpful. It was a synergistic thing. The decision to go to New Zealand led into some really great opportunities once we got on the ground."
Her big scoop is a no-holds-barred interview with actor John Callen, who starred as the dwarf Oin. Sitting on his deck, with no flips left to give, Callen gives an unfiltered account, detailing in a blunt manner the "Band of Brothers" excitement he and his fellow cast of dwarfs felt at the onset, through to their curt sidelining and delegation to, essentially, well-paid extras.
"That alone really put in perspective how much the story of The Hobbit had been shoved down in deference to these things that, presumably, the studio wanted; like battles and Legolas and stuff that doesn't really matter. In the third movie, most of the dwarfs don't even have lines."
The films were a huge financial success for Warner Brothers, who benefited greatly from the Hobbit law, but they're largely viewed as a critical failure. Ellis, who holds a Masters in Cinematic Arts, can be humorously ruthless in her dissections, but she says that she wanted to judge The Hobbit on its own terms.
"It didn't turn out that way because, actually, if you judge the Hobbit on its own terms it's still depressing. Especially if you include the Hobbit law," she says. "When they came out I was indifferent but I've honestly hardened on it. I hate it more now. When you dig into how much was business and bureaucracy and the politics of studios and literal politics it brings to light why they are the way they are.
"To me, The Hobbit is a case study of how the business and bureaucracy of Hollywood can really ruin a project's potential."