Any of you who read my review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and saw my book-nerdy reaction to it probably understand the depth of my affection for Tolkien. That said, it should come as no surprise that after reviewing the last installment of The Hobbit, The Battle of the Five Armies, I am still feeling feelings. Because we very well may never seen Tolkien adapted to screen again. Well, until Peter Jackson needs another paycheck and decides to tackle The Silmarillion. Or some asshat decides to reboot The Lord of the Rings.
Anyway, to deal with these lingering nerdy feelings, I have decided to compile a list discussing several of my favorite and a few of my least favorite things about the Hobbit Trilogy. Be warned: this is one my lengthier posts. Oh yeah. It’s getting that real.
#10: The References to The Lord of the Rings
There are lots of big connections, of course—the Ring falling into Bilbo’s possession, the gifting of the mithril chainmail that would eventually save Frodo’s life, the mentions of a looming war, etc. But the references I appreciate are the sly ones. “That’s my wee lad, Gimli!” Gloin says as Legolas scowls at his future friend’s portrait. Thranduil advises his son to seek out a man called “Strider.” Saruman ominously says to Elrond and Galadriel, “Leave Sauron to me.” The Hobbit is riddled with connections to LOTR, and I have a tiny geekout every time a new one pops up.
#9: Radagast the Brown
In the book, Radagast the Brown is only mentioned by Gandalf in passing, but I kind of love that he becomes a full-blown supporting character in the Hobbit Trilogy. A gentle, excitable hermit, Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) is a pretty quirky character. He’s an animal lover to the extreme with a functional bird’s nest for hair, and his preferred method of transportation is a sleigh made of sticks…and pulled by giant rabbits. It’s so bizarre that it’s fun. I love having the opportunity to see other magical beings from Tolkien’s world. Too bad Gandalf has “quite forgotten” the names of the other two wizards. Tolkien, you tease.
#8: The Song of the Lonely Mountain
When the very first trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey first popped up, I remember getting chills when I heard this song. Hell, I still get chills when I hear it. It’s just so deep and haunting—sets a really perfect tone for the scene. Plus, the words to the song are taken directly from the book, and I absolutely love that (for another fine example of that, just see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1). Frankly, I think Jackson and co. should’ve found a way to incorporate it more because I find the spirit of the dwarves really lives in this song.
#7: The Return of Familiar Faces
A good portion of the Hobbit Trilogy is basically a LOTR reunion, and I find that pretty awesome. Right off the bat we see Old Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Frodo (Elijah Wood). Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Saruman (Christopher Lee) all pop up together a few times. Gollum (Andy Serkis) creeps his way onscreen for the “Riddles in the Dark” scene, one of my favorite moments in both the book and the movie trilogy. And Legolas (Orlando Bloom), of course, has a pretty big role in the last two films—not to mention a certain someone who has earned his very own spot farther down the list. For me, it’s a real treat to revisit these characters I love. Or love to hate, sometimes. Sorry, Gollum.
#6: The Dwarves
Though I do wish the movies had spent a bit more time bringing out the dwarves’ individual personalities, I actually think Jackson and co. might have done a slightly better job helping us get to know these guys than Tolkien did simply due to the advantage of visual representation. As the leader of the pack and a major focus of the trilogy, Thorin (Richard Armitage) is pretty easy to pick out, but Balin (Ken Stott) becomes quickly recognizable with that distinguished white beard and gentle demeanor. Dwalin (Graham McTavish) stands out from the crowd with his bald head and gruffness. Fili (Dean O’Gorman) and Kili (Aidan Turner) are the scruffy-chinned youngsters—the dreamy ones of the bunch. Bombur (Stephen Hunter) has his bulk, Bofur (James Nesbitt) has his funny hat, Gloin (Peter Hambleton) is the spitting image of Gimli, etc. In the book, the dwarves tend to all blend together, but the film give them little quirks, and it’s fun to see them brought to life.
#5: Thranduil the Elf King
I’m not sure if his name is used in any of Tolkien’s other works, but I know that Thranduil is simply referred to as the “Elvenking” in The Hobbit. In the movies, he is fabulous-as-can-be King Thranduil (Lee Pace), Legolas’ cold father who struts around on a giant elk and rumbles the air with that deep, gorgeous voice. *swoons* Seriously though, I find this character fascinating. He has that air of mystery and grace that all elves seem to emit, but there’s also something a little too proud and a little too sinister about him—that last bit ringing especially true when he reveals his nasty burn. Eeeek! On top of just being awesome, Thranduil helps give a proper backstory to Legolas, adding depth to his character. High five, Jackson and co. You guys nailed it with this one.
#4: Smaug the Dragon
After reading The Hobbit, I knew that getting Smaug the Dragon right was going to be a tall order. The massive, clever, gold-loving monster packs a lot of personality. Could Jackson and his team of CGI wizards really capture all of that? When Benedict Cumberbatch is cast to voice and do motion capture for that creature, the answer to that question is a resounding “YAAASSS.” Smaug is a feast for the eyes and ears—a hulking, thunderous presence thoroughly imagined down to the last scale. His personality fills the room, which is particularly impressive because he has a very big room to fill. He’s not only one of my favorite things about this trilogy, but I think he’s arguably one of the best CGI creations to date. You go, Smaug. P.S. If you haven’t already seen this very important video of Cumberbatch doing the Smaug motion capture, then you are missing out. Also, this one of Smaug on The Colbert Report.
#3: The Return of Gandalf
It’s not often that you’ll find an actor as suited to a role as Ian McKellen is to Gandalf the Grey. When I learned that The Hobbit was being adapted for the big screen, one of the most appealing factors was seeing McKellen back in that delightful pointy grey hat. And it truly has been a treat. Gandalf is basically all—wise, clever, cheeky, powerful, caring, and so much more. He is a mentor, protector, cheerleader, and, ultimately, a friend to Bilbo, and McKellen portrays all of this beautifully. In many ways, Gandalf is the most important force in the Tolkien world, always saving the day, always pushing people in the right direction. It was a joy having him back for another adventure.
#2: Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins
While Ian McKellen is probably my favorite casting choice of The Lord of the Rings, Martin Freeman as hobbit hero Bilbo Baggins is hands down my favorite casting choice of The Hobbit. Freeman gives Bilbo these delightful tics and mannerisms that are utter perfection. His exasperation when the dwarves first burst into his home is hilarious, and his carefully contained sadness upon leaving those dwarves in the end will break your heart. He hits all the right notes with this performance, embodying the character I imagined and adored while reading the book. Bilbo is certainly a quiet hero—he doesn’t slay any dragons or fight on the front lines or throw powerful magical objects into roaring volcanoes—but what he does, he does well and with an unmatched purity and bravery. Freeman was exactly the right person to bring this little guy to life.
#1: More of Middle Earth
For me, the best thing about the Hobbit Trilogy is simply having the opportunity to return to this vividly imagined world I’ve come to love so well. Meeting new characters (like the ones above), seeing new places (Mirkwood, Lake Town, The Lonely Mountain), and having new adventures all in a world created by Tolkien? In my humble opinion, it doesn’t get much better.
So there’s the best of it. I really should stop there, but, sadly, the Hobbit Trilogy is a flawed creation, and it would drive me crazy if I didn’t spend at least a little bit of time venting about why. So let’s do a quick countdown of the 5 worst things about it:
#5: The Elf/Dwarf Love Triangle
I complained about this quite a bit in my review of The Desolation of Smaug. Admittedly, it didn’t bother me as much in The Battle of the Five Armies, but…yeah. Still totally unnecessary. I think Tolkien is probably rolling in his grave over this. First of all, love triangles annoy me to begin with. Why is it that all of the sudden they’ve absolutely exploded in books and movies (especially YA stuff)? I mean, just stop. Anyway, here we have a love triangle between Legolas, elf lady Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and dwarf Kili. Legolas digs Tauriel, but she clearly has eyes for Kili, who is practically drooling over her. It’s all just very forced and cheesy. Plus, I think it cheapens Jackson’s clear agenda to infuse a stronger female presence in these films. Why can’t Tauriel just kick ass and not get all lovesick? Honestly, I liked Tauriel, but I did not like how she was used.
Again, I kind of covered this in my review of The Battle of the Five Armies, but guys—Alfrid (Ryan Gage) sucks. He sucked in the previous film, but his suckage was exponentially multiplied by the most recent one. Alfrid exists solely to be one of those “so cowardly and greedy he’s kind of funny” characters, but here’s the problem: he’s not funny. At all. He’s annoying. His amped up presence in The Battle of the Five Armies seems to be solely to provide a foil for Bard (Luke Evans), but Bard doesn’t need a freaking foil! Ugh. This guy deserves to steal screen time away from more important characters like Bilbo?! I’m sorry, but I must adamantly disagree.
#3: The Orcs on Steroids
Seriously, what the hell has Sauron been feeding these monsters?! The orcs in LOTR seem tiny in comparison. Why is it that these orcs are somehow as big if not bigger than the Uruk-hai? And what is going on with the wargs, who are somehow much uglier this time around? Was the continuity guy on vacation?! Really though, as much as I enjoyed seeing Gandalf wander off on his own adventure to discover the orcs hiding out with Sauron (an adventure that is not explored in the book, mind you), every time the film would cut away to show those damn orcs speaking their mystery language with subtitles, I was very ready to move on. Again, can’t we spend time with other characters? Wasteful.
#2: It Tries to be The Lord of the Rings…but It Shouldn’t
The fact is, The Hobbit is not and should not have tried to be anything like LOTR. The Hobbit is a simpler and shorter story—kind of the calm before the crazy storm of good vs. evil. It’s still a thoroughly exciting and enjoyable tale (one which I actually like reading more than the LOTR Trilogy), but it’s a very different flavor. Whereas LOTR jumps around to all of these different folks doing important things in all of these different places, The Hobbit is supposed to be the much less complicated story of how Bilbo Baggins came to be a hero. Jackson, unfortunately, has flipped all that to make an action-packed Tolkien trilogy for a new generation—less “The Hobbit” and more “Lord of the Rings: The Prequel.” Don’t tell me the studio wasn’t seeing dollar signs when they decided to make three long movies out of one 300-page book. Which brings me to my next point…
#1: That Hollow Feeling
Because The Hobbit is forced to become something it’s not, the big moments throughout this trilogy don’t feel quite as big as they could. It feels like a pale imitation of LOTR—often echoing some of those moments a little too closely. That cheapens the story. Though LOTR and The Hobbit are undoubtedly linked, I think the latter often leans too heavily on the success former. LOTR earns its victories. Sadly, The Hobbit often does not.
Gees. That bad stuff sounds bad, huh? Well, here’s the truth of it all: I’m still glad that these films were made. If I had it to do over again, I’d still troop out to the theater in the December cold each year from 2012 to 2014 to see Bilbo and the dwarves get into trouble in Middle Earth. That, my friends, is the magic of J.R.R. Tolkien.