Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is undeniably one of the most impressive, influential, and successful film series ever.
I doubt anyone is going to argue with that unless they’re just looking for a fight… just because. Then again this is the internet, so you never know. Something that is much more debated is the quality of the prequel series “The Hobbit.” It’s mixed, there are those who love it and those who hate it. Now before we go any further let me clarify the somewhat clickbaity title. I am not trying to argue that “The Hobbit” films are better or even just as good as “The Lord of the Rings” films. I just want to propose the idea that over time this series will be thought of more highly than it is now.
Now here’s where I’m coming from as a fan. When I was a child I used to watch the old Rankin/Bass version of “The Hobbit.” I discussed it in another article but, to put it simply, it was my gateway drug to the world of J. R. R. Tolkien. My grandfather read us the entire book a chapter a night. I later discovered that there was more to the story of “The Hobbit” when I found a VHS copy of Rankin/Bass’ “The Return of the King” in our library, and then Ralph Bakshi’s “The Lord of the Rings.” So imagine my excitement when I heard they were making these stories into live action films. “So they’re going to make The Hobbit first, right?” No, just the Lord of the Rings. We then get to “The Return of the King” and my first question is “so now they’ll make the Hobbit, right?” Again no, in fact Peter Jackson wasn’t interested at all in interviews. Finally my most anticipated film of all time was getting made! Needless to say I was a huge target for these films, but I do consider myself a fair person and will point out where these films dropped the ball.
These films have been scrutinized by the fans so lets get the negatives out of the way. I’ll start with what I think almost all of the problems boil down to, splitting the book into 3 films. I’ve heard a variety of different reasons for this choice, all placing the blame onto different people. The reason is ultimately irrelevant. When I first heard the film would be adapted into two movies I was surprised as that never crossed my mind. When I went back and re-read the book (in an awesome annotated version my dad got me) I could see it would probably work better. The book, “The Hobbit,” is shorter than any of “The Lord of the Rings” books, however event-wise they’re actually about the same. The only difference is that Professor Tolkien did not go into as much detail. So, letting the story breathe a bit made sense and would allow a lot of the best moments to have their time. The trailers came out and were looking great. Then, a few months before release, Jackson and company decided there was so much good material that they had to tell it in three movies. I was concerned but willing to go along with it. Nearing the end of “An Unexpected Journey” I had some faith it could work. Now, Seeing the films (extended editions and all) it is the most glaring misstep. I still like all three films (obviously if I’m doing this article) but I do think almost all the issues I and other people have with the film can be traced back to this point.
The next biggest flaw, and my personal biggest disappointment, was the departing of Guillermo del Toro who was originally set to direct the 2 “Hobbit” films. The book “The Hobbit” was a children’s book. Yes. We all knew it was going to be changed a bit to fit in more with “Lord of the Rings,” and that was fine, but I felt it meant a director with a different style was called for. As a great filmmaker with an amazing visual eye, Del Toro seemed like the perfect choice. Why did he leave? Del Toro is someone who constantly has a bunch of projects. After working on pre-production for a while, but not getting a green-light (supposedly due to MGM’s financial issues), he left to pursue his other projects. That’s when producer Peter Jackson stood up to take over, which given the circumstances seemed like the best compromise. Although I do find it a little suspicious that MGM suddenly got their issues together and green lit the film mere months after Jackson signed back on. These two main problems had the same result, less time for Jackson to prepare for the films. If you watch the making of’s on the extended edition DVD’s for LotR you’ll often be struck by just how much passion they put into those films to get it right. Even during shooting they were constantly reworking the films to make sure they got the best possible version. Now on “The Hobbit” they often talk about how they used a lot of what they learned on LotR to get through making “The Hobbit” but the same level of passion just doesn’t seem to be there. It feels like there could be more drafts to punch things up. However as I contend that the films do overall work, what would be my solution to easily make the films stronger? Simple. Edit them down to two films like they originally intended. Keep the good stuff and minimize the weaker stuff.
I could go on with a bunch of other things that didn’t work with the films. Such as the use of Beorn, the overuse of CGI and color correction (hello orange and teal), Alfrid Lickspittle, Legolas killing Bolg, etc. But I think the films do truly rise above them. There are a lot of problems people claim that I just don’t see. The main one for me being the White Council subplot. This comes out of the simple fact that J. R. R. Tolkien was not a professional writer, he was a language professor who wrote books to explain his made-up languages. As such, he does a lot of narratively strange things with his writing. One example being how in the book, Gandalf just disappears whenever he needs Bilbo and the dwarves to be in the kind of danger that a wizard could clear up easily just to bring him back for a quick fix. In a film that doesn’t fly. In the appendices of his other books there is an explanation that the films follow. It really does need to be there. I guarantee that if it wasn’t, people would constantly be complaining (rightly so) “where’d Gandalf go?!” In fact I distinctly remember people saying how excited they were about “The Hobbit” getting made because we’d get to see that part of the story. What can I say? Some fans are fickle. The other main complaint from a lot of people is the Kili/Tauriel subplot. I’ll admit adding Legolas into a triangle was stupid and supposedly the studio’s fault, but the actual romance of Tauriel and Kili was nicely done in my opinion. It didn’t take too long or mess up the overall story. Yeah, I don’t think they absolutely needed her. I would assume women can get invested in stories that don’t have women in them. I’m not generally a fan of creating new characters just to fill a quota but, when all is said and done, I liked Tauriel just fine in the movie. I also like the idea of this relationship being what allows Legolas to be willing to become friends with a dwarf later in the LotR.
Lastly, there’s the humor. Again, it’s being adapted from a children’s book. So, I was more than happy to see the songs in the films. For the most part I laughed at the moments that were meant to be funny and I thought overall the way the films start off funnier only to get darker and darker as we get closer to the end (and thus closer to the LotR). However that was a decision they couldn’t win. I don’t think the fans themselves could decide which direction they wanted the films to go. Should it have been sillier in keeping with its children’s book origins, or more serious like the earlier trilogy and step away from the book? Everyone has different opinions and as a result we have different reviews complaining that the films were too this or too that. How it should have been more like the way the other review was complaining about. I personally think they picked the right way to do it, although your mileage may vary.
So what about the things that do work? Well the casting is just as if not maybe a little better than for LotR. After seeing Ian Holm in “Fellowship of the Ring” I couldn’t imagine how anyone else could capture that role. Martin Freeman then goes on and shows himself to be the perfect choice for Bilbo Baggins. Some of the designs are improvements over the first trilogy. I always hated the design of the wargs in “The Two Towers.” It was in “The Hobbit” were I could say to myself now that’s a warg, that’s how I always imagined it. I wasn’t a huge fan of the design of the Orcs either. I always imagined them more monstrous looking. The goblins from Goblin-Town delivered on what I had originally wanted 11 years earlier. In general it seems Jackson was keen on making the visuals stronger. Maybe some of Guillermo del Toro rubbed off on him as some of the designs definitely look more del Toro (i.e. Stone Giants). Howard Shore’s score may not be as impressive as it was in the trilogy but it’s still damn good. Aside from that I feel the film is just chock-full of great character and emotional moments, the stuff that builds a film up in my opinion. It’s impressive to see 13 dwarves that I can tell apart, remember their names and name some sort of trait that they posses. That is more than I can say for the book where it’s just Thorin and Balin who get defined personalities. I guess if you count fat jokes then Bombur in the book also counts. But other than those three, the rest of the dwarves in the company are totally superfluous. Despite all the changes, the film perfectly captured the meeting of Bilbo and Gollum. Especially important is the moment when Bilbo spares Gollum’s life, which is actually the most important moment or decision made in the stories. When the dwarves make their final charge into the Battle of the Five Armies it gives me the same chills as the Rohirrim charge onto Pelennor fields in “Return of the King.” Explaining all moments that work throughout these movies would take too long. Believe me, I could do it if I wasn’t restricted on space.
So why exactly do I think history will be kinder to “The Hobbit” trilogy? Well the hype surrounding these films was insane. After all how do you top “The Lord of the Rings?” The simple answer is that you can’t. But it will pass and, in my opinion, future viewers will not have the baggage from the anticipation we had. Perhaps it will allow them to see the good parts even clearer. What exactly am I basing that on? Myself. In between each “Lord of the Rings” film I was constantly re-watching them to help pass the time. For 3 years it was something to look forward to. When “The Hobbit” films came out it was like getting a time machine and I have found that repeat viewings do help the films overall. Even the “Star Wars” Prequels have gotten a better shake as the years have gone by. Despite all of the prequels’ faults in the eyes of fans of the original trilogy, it didn’t stop new “Star Wars” fans from getting into the series. I still often see people talk about them in much the same way I talk about the original trilogy. Still my opinion hasn’t changed much as my recent re-watching for “Force Awakens” showed me, I still really didn’t like them all that much. However it does make me question how objective I or anyone truly is. I would be fascinated to bring an old critic from the 30’s back and show them that “It’s A Wonderful Life” is one of the biggest Christmas classics ever. For those who didn’t know, the film was panned when it first came out. Now does that mean every movie we don’t like will automatically become more loved over time? No, there are plenty of films that were hated when they first came out and are still hated now. And for good reason. What I hope I’m illustrating is that you can never tell what history will say, though I’ll still do an article to try and predict it.
An interesting thing I noticed with “The Hobbit” trilogy was how it seemed to have an effect on people who didn’t like LotR found at least one “Hobbit” film that they liked. This is the kind of series I would generally say if you don’t care for one of the films then you’re probably not going to jump on board. And that’s okay. But these “Hobbit” films somehow pulled that off for some people. Let me put it this way. I’ve never heard anyone go “I don’t like Lord of the Rings, except for that Two Towers one. That one worked for me.” So “The Hobbit” series was not perfect. I think it could easily be made significantly better by editing them down. But they are fun films. I say that not as a fan of the book (though I am), but just a simple movie lover. If you don’t like the films and feel disappointed, then I understand. I don’t want you to feel like I’m saying that you must like them. But I would offer a suggestion that you give them another shot. You never know what may happen.