As a lifelong fan of Tolkien’s famous fantasy series, it was naturally that I was overwhelmingly excited when Peter Jackson’s LoTR: The Fellowship of the Ring movie hit theaters back on December 19, 2001. Sure, I was a little nervous that the film wouldn’t live up to all my lofty expectations, but after a few minutes of watching I was completely won over and became a HUGE fan of the film trilogy. (Heck, my home office became one huge Tolkien shrine for much of the 2000s with LoTR posters and memorabilia littering the walls.) But I only say all this to set up the fact that when The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hit my local cinema I was expecting great things!
I vividly recall being super pumped to take my kids to see the film. They were not around to go see LoTR in theaters and weren’t into Tolkien like I was. (Marvel’s The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Wreck-It-Ralph were their individual favorites in 2012, as I recall.) Probably I hoped seeing Peter Jackson’s cinematic The Hobbit in a huge theater surrounded by other fans would ignite a love for Tolkien’s worlds.
I also clearly recall no one really loved the film. There wasn’t much excited talk by my son’s about this action scene or another, no discussions on the ride home of what was going to happen next. They didn’t hate it, but it just didn’t hold the same sway over their imaginations as watching another superhero movie would have. And, if I’m being honest, I was a little disappointed in the film as well; the story lacking some element to transform it from a solid, entertaining story into an unforgettable one.
We did go see the next two installments of the films, but they left all of us ever more disappointed. No one hated The Desolation of Smaug or The Battle of the Five Armies by any means, but none of us loved them either. No posters appeared on mine or my kids walls. No desire to buy any memorabilia. No requests to go to the local public library and check out a book. Nope, they were . . . a disappointment, one which I never felt any desire to revisit until a few weeks ago.
There I was at home taking care of my sick middle school age son (Walking pneumonia for those who are wondering) for a solid week, and we were watching movies to pass the time, going through pretty much all my son’s favorites like The Maze Runner, The Legend of Tarzan, and different Marvel superhero films terribly quickly. We even started pulling little watched or remembered stuff like the Tron films out. And then out of nowhere he suggested we watch The Hobbit films.
Have to admit I was surprised he even recalled the films; he was rather young when we watched them in the cinema. Plus I don’t remember him caring much about them back then. But I was desperate to keep him entertained, so I discarded any foreboding, dug around in the back of the dvd/bluray cabinet, eventually finding all three dvds sitting untouched, unopened and very dusty in the back, probably gifted to me by someone on a holiday or other. And, soon, we were watching Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarfs setting off on a grand adventure.
As I’ve said, this was the first time in over four years that I had watched the films and the first time I’ve ever watched all three movies back-to-back-to-back. And it made the films a bit more entertaining but also made some of the negatives a bit more annoying as well. Overall, though, I’d still say these movies are far inferior to LoTR for some simple reasons I’ll go into below.
For me, An Unexpected Journey was the strongest film in this trilogy. Definitely, the return to the Shire and Rivendell, getting to revisit favorite characters like Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, and Elrond helped me instantly warm to this installment, but I also felt the narrative itself was very good, especially the new story lines like the Necromancer and Radagast the Brown, as well as some stunning visuals like the first sight of the Lonely Mountain. Sure, some of the action sequences were a bit over-the-top, too long, and a tad bit unnecessary, but there was enough of the original fun, charming, and sweet Hobbit of Tolkien there to cover up the issues.
The Desolation of Smaug was where things began to come off the track for me. My main issue being the new characters, whom I found terribly annoying. Beorn? Was he even in the movie? Thranduil? God, he was somber and dull. Legolas? Ditto. (This was a major disappointment because I thoroughly enjoyed Legolas in LoTR.) Tauriel? She had flashes here or there, but, overall, her whole love story with Legolas and Kili seemed horribly out of place. Bard? His plot felt like filler material. Only Smaug himself and the Necromancer lived up to expectations, delivering impressive CGI spectacles, and even with them Peter Jackson went way too far with some aspects (especially the dwarf/dragon scenes inside Erebor), making me wish the adventure would end already. But it wasn’t over quite yet.
The conclusion comes in The Battle of the Five Armies; a story filled with overdone action scenes with far too much cgi, fights which last far past the point they were cool anymore, and filler material galore. Sure, there were touching moments like Bilbo’s emotional struggle to deal with Thorin’s growing gold lust and their final farewell, but from the dragon’s too brief appearance to a battle which was way over-the-top, the film mostly jettisoned the emotional aspects of Tolkien’s simple story for a huge adrenaline rush, thereby losing most of the simple charm of the book. All of which means it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say my favorite part of this whole film is the last few minutes which is basically a set up for LoTR: The Fellowship of the Ring.
So how would I sum up my new feelings about these movies? A lost opportunity.
At least for me, this film trilogy started off on the right foot, sticking with the source material, adding some cool new plots and characters, and delivering a movie which looked and felt like The Hobbit. If only Peter Jackson and company had kept that same pattern going, not added unnecessary cgi filled fight scenes, and endless action but focused on the characters, their relationships, and the emotional nature of this children’s tale I feel like The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies could have rivaled The Two Towers and The Return of the King in my heart. As it stands, these movies are fine for killing some time trying to entertain a sick, bored pre-teen but not something I’m very likely to revisit anytime soon — though I do dearly love the beginning of An Unexpected Journey where Bilbo finds his home invaded by dwarfs.