Spoilers Alert: Plot information for all "Hobbit" films is ahead.
Peter Jackson’s "Hobbit" trilogy is now complete, so we can finally judge it as a whole. JRR Tolkien's "The Hobbit" was easily my favorite book as a child, and I loved "The Lord of the Rings" films.
Many have aired their disappointment with these films, some even going so far as to compare them to the dreaded "Star Wars" prequels. So, I feel the need to — while acknowledging these films’ faults — point out the films' accomplishments.
Look at this project from a neutral perspective. If someone told you that a director would take a 300-page children’s novel with an odd narrative and some strange literary choices, mix it with plot points from another book and split it into three pieces, you would likely predict a disaster.
Then, if you added that the director would try to match its tone to that of an adult series, which he already adapted into three beloved movies, again, you'd predict a huge disaster.
Yet, all three movies have grossed more than $250 million domestically, each has a positive score on Rotten Tomatoes (64 percent, 74 percent and 60 percent, respectively), as well as very good ratings on IMDB (8.0, 8.0 and 7.7, respectively). And, if it means anything, I also enjoyed each one.
Yes, there were problems. The CGI orc villains looked less realistic than they did in "The Lord of the Rings," the added elements didn’t always flow very well, some of the action scenes bordered on cartoonish, the 48 frames per second was vomit-inducing (in some cases, literally) and the cross-species love story between Tauriel and Kili was painful. Not "Attack of the Clones" “I don’t like sand” painful, but bad nonetheless.
There is an added element of badness to the love story, as the biggest problem with "The Hobbit" is the bloat and the length. The first two films were almost three hours long and the third was almost two and half hours. With so little source material, this was stretched too far.
That being said, it is not making excuses for Peter Jackson and his crew to acknowledge that "The Hobbit" is an extremely challenging book to adapt.
Bilbo is selected by Gandalf to come along for no reason whatsoever (which doesn’t matter in a children’s book, but does matter for Jackson’s already established Middle Earth universe). Gandalf randomly comes and goes to fight the Necromancer, who is barely mentioned and never described in the book, some guy who was never mentioned before kills the dragon and the climactic battle scene takes place while Bilbo is unconscious, after a rock knocked him out five minutes after it begins.
In addition, Kili and Fili’s deaths, as well as the wound that leads to Thorin’s death, are all simply told to Bilbo after the fact.
The movies really had to expand on these elements, particularly to provide reason for Gandalf to leave Bilbo and the Dwarves, what the Necromancer was and what happened to it (hint: it’s Sauron), bring Bard into the story well before he kills Smaug and have Bilbo at least take part in the Battle of Four Five Armies.
In addition, the book version of "The Hobbit" moves at a furious pace with each chapter representing a new set piece. All of this requires at least two films and probably should have ended there. Although, I would have been fine with three if they were each only two hours long.
But again, the negatives don't outweigh the positives, and there were many things that Peter Jackson and his team nailed on the head and deserve credit for accomplishing:
Given the massively different tone "The Lord of the Rings" had compared to "The Hobbit" in the books, it is a great accomplishment that the tones of the two trilogies matched without it feeling forced.
Yes, the stakes didn’t feel as great in "The Hobbit" movies, but, particularly in The Battle of the Five Armies, the battle scenes had an “all or nothing” feel to them.
The ending was a great tie-in to the original trilogy. The emotional resonance was also strong, particularly during Bilbo’s game of riddles with Gollum, Bilbo’s confrontation with Smaug, Bard’s faceoff with Smaug, Thorin’s decline into madness (although the resolution was disappointing) and Thorin’s death.
Smaug was undeniably impressive and beautifully rendered. The voiceover work by Benedict Cumberbatch was fantastic and helped make Smaug the highlight of the second and even the third movies (although his part probably should have ended after the second).
Yes, I could have done without the over-the-top fight scene in The Desolation of Smaug, but “I am fire, I am… death” is surely one of the best movie lines in a good while.
Gollum is CGI character who was masterfully created for his return to the franchise. Yes, it was only one long scene in "An Unexpected Journey," but it was a great one.
And, for a director like Jackson, who's never been particularly good with restraint, the fact that he didn't jam Gollum in later at least deserves a mention.
Sauron and The Appendices
The parts involving Gandalf’s side quest were, by no means, the best part of the trilogy, but they were probably the most challenging to mix into the narrative. None of this happens in the book. It is only discussed in the appendices of "The Lord of the Rings."
Being able to mix this story in without it feeling like a completely unwarranted diversion is praiseworthy.
This was the biggest flaw in the book. The first mention of Bard is in a parenthesis while Smaug is burning Lake Town to a crisp,
No one had dared to give battle to [Smaug] for many an age; nor would they have dared now, if it had not been for the grim-voiced man (Bard was his name), who ran to and fro cheering on the archers and urging the Master to order them to fight to the last arrow.
So basically, some no-name nobody comes out of nowhere and ends up killing the almighty dragon who wasn built up as an unbeatable foe for the entire book. (It also doesn't help that Bilbo and the dwarves were at least partly responsible for Lake Town getting destroyed, but that's another matter.)
Involving Bard early on, giving him some depth by developing his family and having him be a leader in the battle in the third movie was fit in almost seamlessly, and with almost no help from the source material.
Martin Friedman was perfectly cast as Bilbo and was almost exactly as I imagined him when I read the book. The returning cast from "The Lord of the Rings" and the newcomers all filled in nicely as well.
Special Effects, Sets, Music and Atmosphere
Peter Jackson is a bit over-reliant on CGI (Azog should have been an actor), but the special effects and sets were truly impressive, especially Smaug and the Battle of Five Armies.
The music by Howard Shore was, of course, great, as were the beautiful locations in New Zealand. All of this, once again, immersed you into the world of Middle Earth.
Ultimately, that is the great strength of these movies. It feels like you're being transported to another world and buying into the rules and logic of that world, despite how foreign it is from our own. It forces you to become invested in a strange, but fascinating story.
Falling short of "The Lord of the Rings" was inevitable. Quite frankly, "The Hobbit" isn’t as good of a book. And, while many of the challenges were self-inflicted (like cutting it into three long films) and they were far from perfect in other ways, "The Hobbit" trilogy still stands on its own as three very good films.
So, whereas George Lucas made a great trilogy and a God-awful one, Peter Jackson made a great trilogy and a pretty good one.