The Hobbit Trilogy: An Evaluation

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I saw The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies last night. 3.5/5 Read on if you need to understand my rating.

Yes, the film adaptation of the beloved novel, “The Hobbit”, originally one piece of literature; originally planned for a two-film adaptation with Guillermo del Toro and Peter Jackson; changed to a two-film adaptation with Peter Jackson; ultimately ending up as a trilogy heavily including material from the appendices, has finally come to its prolonged conclusion. Please don’t call yourself a huge LOTR fan if you have never read the books. Many of my points and discrepancies come from a disregard of the original literature.

BOFA is a guilty-pleasure film, with action I found much more compelling than “The Desolation of Smaug.” Both films’ action defies probability and gravity. However, BOFA didn’t have that ridiculous barrel scene, so it gets a pass. It’s a blown-up action film with Middle-Earth as its background. I enjoyed it on a visceral level and just accepted that it was a stupid action film. It was not as dreadful as DOS, but maybe I had lower expectations. The opening scene with Smaug destroying Lake Town doesn’t work as a beginning of the film. The second film had such a cliffhanger revolving around this dragon about to destroy this city, and to end it 10 minutes into a film that came out a year later feels anti-climatic.

In the opening scene and 40 minutes into this film, I did not care about anyone and was very aware I was watching a film. It took the superb acting by Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins to suck me back in. His dialogue with Thorin (credit to the screenwriters) adds a human element to it. Due to the fact that “The Hobbit” trilogy has a George Lucas touch to it, hinders any real character development. Also, there’s 13 dwarves and a handful of other characters to follow. It’s hard enough keeping up with the dwarves in the book. To Peter Jackson’s credit, that seems like a hard feat to accomplish. But what doesn’t help is that these films are butter scraped over too much bread. There’s great source material to follow and it didn’t need three movies. It’s a stretched out story with as much CGI crap that one can fit in each frame (the George Lucas effect). The film focuses too much on the unnecessary (it’s unnecessary because the original story flows fine without the film’s inclusions) material of the appendices and attempts to be as epic as LOTR, that the character development is stalled and they’re set pieces for a visual experience. Side note: why is Billy Connolly’s character all CGI?

Much like DOS, BOFA’s action does not posses any real peril. The characters are almost untouchable, but I applaud the film makers for following the source material and killing off Thorin, Fili, and Kili. It was one of the few times I felt an emotional connection…..well 2/3. Kili and Tauriel’s romance made me not care more. I know a lot of people have found this romance cheesy, and rightly so. This brings me to a lot of my main points. A lot of the grievances people have with these films are aspects that are NOT in the novel. I follow a lot of Youtube film reviewers; Schmoesknow, Jeremy Jahns, Chris Stuckmann. I really appreciate their opinions and it often makes or break if I see a film. However, they often justify the concept of stretching out “The Hobbit” story and tell people not to compare the source material. But their gripes, like many other film goers, stem from elements that the film is not a stand-alone piece.

It’s Not In The Book/It Is In The Book

I’m annoyed when I hear that the books don’t matter, because they do. As I said earlier, don’t call yourself a fan of the series until you’ve done your homework. Unless you’re Steven Spielberg, you should probably stick to the novel’s material. I’m not a Tolkien purist and understand changes need to be made when you’re making a film. “Jurassic Park” is a great film on its own and it steers from black and white in regards to the novel. But “The Hobbit” novel is a perfect, linear story and the characters you’re supposed to care for, you do. There’s a sense of adventure that the films lack. It’s trying too hard to be like its epic LOTR counterpart. I have my issues with the original trilogy, but I feel Peter Jackson did the best adaptation you will ever get, and I don’t mind most of the creative liberties they took. The Scouring of the Shire; important, yes, but as a film, it does not translate well after destroying the ring. Tom Bombadil; my favorite character (next to Pippin and Merry). Tom and the barrow-downs is such a rich element of the novels and it’s the epitome of great fantasy. But ultimately, it does not affect the overall story of Frodo, which is what the filmmakers were adamant about. There’s much more to discuss about LOTR, but this is about “The Hobbit.”

Radagast the Brown has been dubbed by a few as the Jar-Jar Binks of these films. While not as bad, he’s a zoophile who smokes weed and is covered in bird feces. He rides around on CGI rabbits and is used as an eagle tamer in the final battle of BOFA. He’s nothing more than a sentence in the novel and I think we all prefer him that way.

The romance between Tauriel and Kili has maybe about 10 real minutes of screen time. Sure, Kili makes a penis reference in DOS, but that doesn’t count. Not in the book, not necessary. I don’t understand creating Tauriel. I really liked Evangeline Lily in “Lost”, but this character is not interesting. And when you add her romance with the one dwarf without dwarf prosthetics, it’s forcing a connection that’s not there. The fact that it’s a made up (made up as in not the book’s material) romance with a made up character is too distracting for when you’re supposed to feel something when Kili dies. Kili originally dies with Fili defending a wounded Thorin. It’s more honorable and I cared a lot more. His made up romance with a made up character who serves no real purpose is laughable, not tear-jerking.

Orlando Bloom is great as Legolas and I tend to forgive his over the top antics in the film’s depictions of the Battle of Helms Deep and Pelennor Fields. His banter with Gimli helped is the human element that was missing in “The Hobbit” films. You saw their friendship grow and the film really captured their arcs. But just knowing Legolas was added in for fan service makes me despise his action scenes. He’s untouchable! I also never worry about him because he’s in the next set of films. He kills one of the main villains in BOFA, which I guess isn’t so bad. The main orc that’s not Azog isn’t in the book, so having a character not in the book killed by a character not in the book works….I guess. Legolas’s lack of mortality (besides the fact he’s an elf) is one of the reasons I’m not huge on prequels. Prequels tend to use the same characters from the original, so I’m not too worried about them. The fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin at the end of “Revenge of the Sith” is fun and goofy and all, but you know they’re both going to live. Anakin turns to charcoal, but you know him and Anakin are in EP IV-VI.
Legolas also has aged! I’m not the first one to say this, but he doesn’t have that elegant, elf-like look he had in LOTR. He has a Benjamin Button effect.

Gandalf’s side journeys are a desperate attempt to bridge both stories. Gandalf disappears a lot in the novel, and you accept it because he’s a cooky wizard. You don’t need to know where he’s going (unless you read the appendices). Your focus is on Bilbo and the company. Gandalf being captured by Sauron and seeing the Sauron gif is another desperate attempt to stretch out the story. They eventually vanquish Sauron in the BOFA, but that’s it? For over 60 years, Gandalf never attempts to uncover anything or has any real memory about it? Is it really not until Bilbo gives the ring to Frodo that he bothers to do any research? Hey Gandalf, it’s an odd magic ring that Bilbo found, and you just were captured by a ring maker, maybe you should look into that! Sure, Saruman say’s “he’ll handle it” but over those 60 odd years, you never bothered to ask questions? Sauron did not need to be a focus in the film, but a foreboding presence to the next set of films. With this bridge, you’re left wondering why Gandalf was neglecting any of this. Also, the battle with Galadriel, Saruman, and Elrond against the Nazgul ruined the mystery of the Ringwraiths. You know just enough in LOTR and in BOFA, they’re goofy transparent spirits with different aesthetics that don’t line up with the hooded menaces. This story did not another made up action scene. Seriously, was the barrel scene not enough?

The singing in “An Unexpected Journey” has been met with some mixed reviews. I’ve heard that it’s too kid-like or that it’s corny. Well, hate to break it to you, but “The Hobbit” novel is a kid’s book that is a bit corny. It’s one of the aspects I found the most gratifying in the film. When the dwarves are washing dishes in Bag End and break out into a tune, I broke a smile. I thought it was a great way to include the singing, which is greatly excluded from the LOTR films. It captured the magic of Middle-Earth and AUJ is actually my favorite film in this trilogy. It was the only film that had the adventure-sense and there’s a magic to it that was eventually bogged down by overly-long orc fights in the next films. Yeah, there’s a ton of creative liberties taken and the pacing is off, but I felt like I was in Middle-Earth. It wasn’t in an action movie with Middle-Earth as the setting. It also has a lot of Hobbiton, which is my favorite element from the films and novels. I recently took a trip to Hobbiton and it’s the reason I felt compelled to even write this review.

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I found AUJ to be the most loyal to the novel, and it captured it well. The climax with the cave goblins and Azog served well, even with the extensive time it took to get there. People, primarily those who did not read the book, went into AUJ expecting an epic like LOTR and were disappointed. Of course they were! It’s not supposed to be this grandiose tale. “The Hobbit” is on a smaller scale and does not possess the elements to match LOTR. Sure, the filmmakers tried, but it wasn’t there in the first place.

The encounter with Smaug in DOS starts off great. Bilbo steals the show, yet again, with a CG character. Smaug looks awesome and he lives up to his reputation. But then the dwarves get involved and make that weird dwarf statue. You’re submerged in this dialogue with this hobbit and this monster, and to have it end with dwarf shenanigans was odd, and another reason DOS is my least favorite. It too, was not in the novel and it did not serve as a good climax. As I said earlier, DOS ends with such an emphasis on Smaug’s fury and he’s killed off in the first act of BOFA.

The pacing plagues AUJ the most, but the other films as well. AUJ takes too long to get to the point; DOS takes too long to get to the point, but throws more action scenes in it to please teenagers; BOFA is the polar opposite. There’s a 30ish minute build up, a 60ish minute battle, and a 20ish minute reflection then it’s over. All three film’s pacing suffer from the fact that appendices material is added and it all feels like filler. When you watch AUJ and DOS, then read the novel, it’s humorous how quickly you get to the encounter with the trolls and Beorn. It takes an hour to see the trolls in AUJ and a whole movie for Beorn.

I Do Like The Hobbit Trilogy

I really do. BOFA looks awesome. I saw it in high-frame rate and unlike when I saw AUJ 48 frames per second, I found it complemented the film’s visuals. It wasn’t weird and distracting. They’re well filmed and well acted. I don’t think anyone would doubt Peter Jackson’s talent, and Howard Shore’s music is what separates the LOTR trilogy from many films. Billy Boyd and Annie Lennox both have great songs that see off each trilogy. It’s what makes my stomach drop at the end of “Return of the King.” “The Hobbit” trilogy is fun for its own reasons, but it could have been so much better. If Peter Jackson took the same approach to “The Hobbit” as he did with LOTR, that is, sticking to the novel as best as possible and honoring Tolkien’s work, we would have had a fun singular film and a four film epic. Sticking to the novel would have solved the pacing issues, the stupid inclusion of Legolas and creation of Tauriel, the romance, the character arcs etc. I am really trying to condense my thoughts, because unlike these films, I want to get to the point. The novel ain’t broke, don’t turn it into something it’s not.

We now have a six film saga, so I guess that’s neat. I can at least get through “The Hobbit” films to reach LOTR; I have a harder time with Star Wars EP I-III. Overall, I ache a bit knowing that this is probably our last film experience in Middle-Earth until the remakes. The tradition of seeing these films each December was still fun, and harkened back to my nostalgia when I saw the LOTR each December back in middle school. I still cannot stress enough to read the novels. They’re a difficult read at times, but they are so beautifully written and there’s a lot of neat stuff that isn’t in the films. I’d also be a liar if I said that I don’t own both versions of AUJ and DOS (theatrical and extended) and I’ll probably do the same with BOFA. These films certainly aren’t perfect, but it’s a great portal into a fantasy world that I’ve grown to admire since I first read “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”

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