I have debated for a long time how I will rate these movies. I love Film The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and will do my review of it on another day. . . when I am feeling especially ambitious. For now, as I promised about six months ago, I will do my best to rate these movies as fairly as I can without letting my previous knowledge of Tolkien’s works or critic’s opinions of them hinder me.
Peter Jackson directed these films after almost two tiresome decades of lawsuits, unsupported plans and changes in direction. Originally, Jackson was to direct The Hobbit in 1995, based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, or There and Back Again (1937, then follow up with Lord of the Rings. However, United Artists owned the rights to the book and such a venture was impossible at the time. We know the story then, with the release of the phenomenal first Lord of the Rings movie The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and its follow-ups. Eventually, Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy would gross over 6 billion dollars worldwide and receive overwhelming critical praise.
Many fans, including myself, hoped that he would continue to film Tolkien’s world. Specifically through The Hobbit. I already have expressed my adamant admiration for Tolkien’s original novel. In fact, it was the first review I ever did. In about 2010, fans received word that their dreams were coming true: Jackson would direct THREE Hobbit movies to add to his Lord of the Rings. How do these hold up compared to The Lord of the Rings? Well, it depends on whom you talk to.
Multiple times, I have gone over all the mistakes people affirm Jackson made in character development, plot execution and so many other things. I am actually surprised how many are disappointed and even embittered by his work on these movies. I think that it is misplaced. Terribly misplaced. I will explain.
Not only did Peter Jackson add to his previous Tolkien films, he also blended the events of Bilbo’s journey to the Lonely Mountain and the beginning of the Fellowship so perfectly it is remarkable. The Hobbit was the first book Tolkien published but I think Lord of the Rings often overshadows it. Many overlook Bilbo’s adventure, especially in comparison to the descriptive and exciting events that commenced over sixty years afterwards with the awakening of the Ring and its destruction. Nevertheless, I am thrilled that Jackson and others put so much effort in these movies to emphasize Bilbo’s important role in world events.
It is common knowledge among fans that Tolkien modeled his stories after his experiences in World War I and its aftereffects. (He wrote The Book of Lost Tales as a soldier during the Great War). I have to wonder if, like Bilbo, Tolkien also felt misplaced after seeing so much of “the world”, more specifically its cruel underbelly. Words alone cannot efficiently describe, even after almost a hundred years, the horrible experiences Tolkien and many others underwent through that war. It was emotionally scarring, displacing philosophy, logic and many people’s view on human morals. Therefore, we come to the world of The Hobbit. Of course, Bilbo’s own tale is not nearly as grandiose as the battle for middle earth. It is much simpler and only a small piece of the puzzle.
Now we come to the movies. At first, Jackson introduced the audience to similar settings in the Shire where an older changed Bilbo does familiar actions like hang a whimsical sign on his gate and talk to Frodo. We know what is coming, with Gandalf’s arrival to his party among other things. That is where it casually slips back to a time before, when Bilbo was not so different from all the other hobbits of the Shire. He is stuffy, complacent and does not like change.
As I said in my review of the book, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are examples of The Hero’s Journey where a traumatic events or mentors push a chosen hero gallantly onto a journey that will change his/her life and character. (You can look it up in my book review if you are overtly curious about it. I do not have time to write about it here.) That is certainly the case in the movie. I liked the beginning twenty or so minutes of the first movie because it brought a lot of subtle humor as well as established the characters of all the dwarves of the company. Nonetheless, it is clear from the beginning that danger was coming and that evil, which had slept for so long, would not stay hidden for much longer. More so than the book, there is a much more serious undertone.
Jackson’s plot for the films was brilliant considering the small novel he and the writers had to work with. I remember the animated Hobbit (1977) by Rankin/Bass and to be honest I did not like it. I still cannot take the characters seriously and it moves too fast for my taste. As an adaption of a famous Tolkien novel, the film sadly did not put as heavy an emphasis on the journey and Bilbo’s transformation. In addition, the design for the characters, especially the elves, was laughable. I think they had tried to make it seem like a moving picture book . . . of course that only made it ridiculous. These new movies brought The Hobbit out of the story book realm and into the real world where it could be taken more seriously.
I have to admit, they did stretch this novel a little too far. Because the original novel was not nearly as long as Lord of the Rings, they filled in gaps left in the book using outside sources in Tolkien’s other writings (like the fight in Dol Guldur and the entire Battle of The Five Armies). I enjoyed these scenes and there imaginative rendition of events talked about only briefly in the book (For example, Smaug’s death). I have read The Book of Lost Tales along with all of Tolkien’s other printed works on Middle Earth, and I was pleasantly surprised when they included so much detail beyond the company of dwarves. Perhaps these movies work better for me than most because I love detail and contextualizing.
It would not have been as convincing or epic if they had not shown the origins of all the armies and their leaders. I appreciated how they established characters like Bard, who had no personality and life story in the novel, and the citizens of Laketown. Though not all their decisions were wise, the plot moved well and delivered as it should. Perhaps what many do not consider is The Hobbit’s role in Tolkien Lore. Compared to Lord of the Rings, it can’t have the same grand end because. . . it isn’t the end. A worse evil was coming. Bilbo’s adventure was only a small ripple before the tsunami. So what did Jackson, as a director, need to accomplish through these movies?
First, the films needed to show Bilbo’s “unexpected” journey and, in so doing, how he changed from being a naive, stuffy hobbit into a wiser leader. He needed to see the big world, experience great loss and gain irreplaceable memories. Overall, the audience needed to ask themselves “Do I judge him for his attachment to the Ring or do we see his wisdom and wit in face of evil and fear?”.
Second, it they had to highlight the events that lead to Lord of the Rings. More than I ever thought possible, they accentuated the rise of Sauron as well as the growing fear that began festering at Smaug’s awakening. Evil had lain asleep for a long time and most had grown complacent in its absence. It is in The Hobbit that evil started to show its hand. It would have been catastrophic to leave this out of the films.
Thirdly, they needed to touch on the other “evil” that lurked inside people’s hearts: greed, which blinded men to love, loyalty and morality. In the conversation between Thorin and Balin it shows it best.
Thorin Oakenshield: You’re afraid.
Balin: Yes! Yes, I’m afraid! I fear for YOU, Thorin. A sickness lies on that treasure, a sickness that drove your grandfather mad!
Thorin Oakenshield: I am not my grandfather.
Balin: You are not yourself! The Thorin I know would not hesitate…
Thorin Oakenshield: I will not risk this quest for the life of one burglar.
Balin: Bilbo. His name is Bilbo!
The films showed the detrimental effects of Erebor’s treasure wonderfully, especially in the case of Thorin.
What of the story’s end? As I said before, there is no resolution or happy conclusion. The best way to describe the last movie is that it is cold and eye opening. The audience cannot rest well after watching it because they know something worse is coming. What started as a lighthearted quest turned into a story of betrayal, madness, inconsolable loss and heartache. Well-known and loved characters die unceremoniously and what the survivors gained seemed inconsequential. Yes, they won the battle but how many had to die to make it so? Does this make these films bad? Not at all. If Jackson had done it any other way I would have been furious. There was no escape from this book’s conclusion. Fili, Kili and Thorin had to die and Middle Earth could not be at peace . . . yet.
I love the actors and actresses chosen for these films. I only have some issues with their characterization, specifically with Thorin. Before I talk about him, I wanted to touch on the specific performances that I thought were especially brilliant.
Firstly, Martin Freeman deserves praise for his role as Bilbo Baggins. He has a charm and gentleness about him necessary for the character, especially as he changes during the journey. When introduced to his younger self, I immediately felt attached to him even as he obsessively guarded his family heirlooms and comfortable lifestyle. He never comes across as grand or fantastic. Bilbo was unaffected by the gold’s sickness. As Tolkien intended, he stood as a simpler person who valued the comforts of home and peace above gold. As Thorin stated in the movie, “If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world”. He saw the chaos surrounding him and could think clearly and decisively. Too often, people overlook gentleness and simpler men and rather glorify warriors and gunfighters. I wish more heroes in our movies were like him.
Next is Smaug, voiced and acted by Benedict Cumberbatch. I cannot praise him enough for his rendition of Smaug. The minute that he came on screen, he mesmerized me (and possibly everyone else in the theater). It is remarkable how well he portrayed the dragon’s intelligence and malicious nature. Evil unfortunately is not and never will be stupid. Smaug proves that. Fully aware of the nature of his actions, Smaug represented avarice and its many facets. His statement to Bilbo when he found the Arkenstone, “I am almost tempted to let you take it, if only to see Oakenshield suffer. Watch it destroy him, watch it corrupt his heart and drive him mad.” encompassed his own obsession with treasure and his own venality. All aspects of Cumberbatch’s performance from his captivating vocal delivery to his realistic movements and mannerisms were nothing short of a cinematic gold.
Lee Pace’s performance as Thranduil, the elf king of the Woodland realm, was also a highlight of the films for me. In the animated feature, I found him boring. I always wondered how he could look in a more realistic setting. Pace delivers the majestic and detached form of the king as well as his complexity effortlessly. He did not portray him as merely another greed driven leader. Rather, he became three-dimensional, with a character than extended beyond his intended purpose to take back the heirlooms of his people. Whenever he came on screen, it almost seemed as though he shifted away from you, as if he belonged to a different world. I also liked how they touched on his relationship with his son and the loss of his wife. I have always thought that it must have hurt more for the elves to lose loved ones because of their immortal nature.
I wanted to touch on the love story between Kili played by Aidan Turner and Tauriel played by Evangeline Lilly (a character that fans have emphasized repeatedly never existed). What can I say? I do not mind their relationship at all. In fact, it intrigued me the first time I watched The Desolation of Smaug. Having read the novel, I knew that Kili was going to die. At the end of the second movie, I was not concerned with whether she would return his feelings. Rather, I dreaded the inevitable heartbreak that would come. I have wondered why they included this in the film. Do they like to torture the characters (and the audience)? I think that it adds a profundity to the story you do not see often in films. There will be times when love does not overcome all evil. I think it also helped unearth Thranduil’s own buried anguish and showed how powerful love is. Just because both Tauriel and Thranduil had lost someone they loved deeply, did not mean that the feeling disappeared. If you have the time, I think you should read Tolkien’s The Children of Húrin (2007). It is equally heartbreaking, mind opening and touches on facing overwhelming grief.
Lastly, let us talk about Thorin Oakenshield. I would have liked him better if I had not read the novel. In the movies he is too grand, almost (sadly) like a replacement for Aragorn. After I watched the first film, I reread the book and was surprised with how different he was in each. Though I would not have made him into the idiot he was in the book, it would have been better to show how he matured and that he had obvious faults (haughtiness being the least of them). I will say this though: I loved how they showed his fall into madness. It was heartbreaking to watch, yet it was a highlight in the films for me. I like him in the films. Really, I do, but I did not connect with him until the third movie as a character. Maybe as I continue to watch the films I will grow to like him more.
Visually, these films are stunning. I hardly even thought about how much CGI there must have been. (Granted it needed to be there). Compared to other films made this year I would say, the last film The Battle of the Five Armies went well beyond most films that use computer effects. I think when done right, computer animation is incredible. The special effects team went ALL OUT for all the films. Images like the devastating destruction of Laketown and the breathtaking view above Mirkwood constantly made me feel as if I transported into another world. (In a fantasy, that is what is important) It seemed SO real and I wished that somehow I could join them on their journey. There was so much color, so much depth and so much life. That is the beauty of well-done films; they make you wish you could go on your own journey to visit their majestic mountains and cities. So far, I have not heard anyone complain about these film’s visual effects. For that, I am grateful. If anything, critics and audiences alike should recognize these movies for their cinematography.
I could not give Howard Shore a less than perfect score. I believe that his scores for all the Lord of the Rings movies are masterpieces and I can say no less for these new films. The music in all The Hobbit films, for example the theme for the Shire and Rivendale, is familiar and yet at the same time brings a different feel and texture than its predecessors. The world is the same yet the journey and its people are not. Music makes or breaks a film. Thankfully, Shore’s score is magical and spellbinding.
I think The Hobbit movies are epic, entertaining and intelligently done. I have heard complaint after complaint, and I think their harsh criticism is a little foolish. There NEED to be more films like this made. There is no gratuitous violence, nor does it advocate immorality and praise wicked behavior. Beyond anything else, it mirrors the battles we face today, where reality replaces the greed for a dragon’s hoard with people’s need for instant gratification and wanton entertainment.
We need more heroes like Bilbo who valued non-material treasures like honor and integrity and faced monsters Smaug despite his fear. We need to think about the true meaning of love and learn from our mistakes. Life is a journey. Should we not ask ourselves where we are going? The grief the audience feels at the death of well-known and loved characters is especially needed, specifically because it shows those who had to endure it and continue living. What good does it do for men to forget and close their hearts like Thranduil until they no longer see the need to fight evil? Rather than allowing ourselves to be foolishly entertained by films like Dumb and Dumber 2, should we not look for films like these that teach us such valuable irreplaceable lessons?
Are these films masterpieces? No, they cannot compare to the majesty and rendering of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Nonetheless, Jackson wonderfully directed the Hobbit films, which are still better than most movies that have come out these last few years.
OVERALL SCORE: 4.7/5
1. Thorin Oakenshield: [to Bilbo] Farewell, Master Burglar. Go back to your books, your fireplace. Plant your trees, watch them grow. If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world. (FIVE ARMIES)
2. Tauriel: [weeps for Kili] If this is love, I don’t want it. Take it away, please! Why does it hurt so much?
Thranduil: [sadly] Because it was real.
3. Kili: Tauriel…
Tauriel: Lie still.
Kili: You cannot be her. She is far away. She… she is far, far away from me. She walks in starlight in another world. It was just a dream. Do you think she could have loved me?
4. Thranduil: Such is the nature of evil. Out there in the vast ignorance of the world it festers and spreads. A shadow that grows in the dark. A sleepless malice as black as the oncoming wall of night. So it ever was. So will it always be. In time all foul things come forth.
5. Smaug: I am almost tempted to let you take it, if only to see Oakenshield suffer, watch it destroy him, watch it corrupt his heart and drive him mad…
6. Balin: In truth, lad. I do not know what you will find down there. You needn’t go if you don’t want to. There’s no dishonor in turning back.
Bilbo: No. Balin, I promised I would do this. And I think I must try.
Balin: It never ceases to amaze me.
Bilbo: What’s that? Balin: The courage of hobbits. Go now, with as much luck as you can muster.
7. Galadriel: Why the Halfling?
Gandalf: I do not know. Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid… and he gives me courage.
8. Gandalf: Well, all good stories deserve embellishment. You’ll have a tale or two to tell of your own when you come back.
Bilbo Baggins: …Can you promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: No. And if you do… you will not be the same.