The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Director: Peter Jackson
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) Director: Peter Jackson
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) Director: Peter Jackson
I recently watched the entire bloated trilogy for J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit. This series was cranked out in the 2010s in an effort to exploit the popularity of the original trilogy of films, and it is obviously a cash-grab by all involved. The result is a wildly disappointing, superficial carnival of CGI and literary revisionism. I decided to review this trilogy together all at once. Before I dive into some of the problems with this utterly contrived trilogy, I should begin by noting that there are at least a handful of good moments in the three films –Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug is terrific, and there are some compelling, atmospheric sets used in all three films. However, it goes without saying that this should have been at most one or maybe two films, and it should have stuck closer to the original novel rather than infusing the story with endless green screen special effects and ongoing boring combat sequences which defy all laws of physics (many of these computer-generated fight scenes appear to have been created exclusively by and for teenage boys). The overwhelming majority of the run-time in these movies are simply packed with filler content in order to stretch the story as long as possible. The result introduces us to characters devoid of depth, and a wandering unfocused plot that offers very little.
When Peter Jackson first wanted to make The Hobbit into a movie, he hoped for a single film to precede the release of the Lord of the Rings. However, Jackson was unable to acquire the legal rights triggering a battle between now-disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein, Saul Zaentz, United Artists, and MGM. When the legal obstructions were removed nearly a decade later, Guillermo del Toro was set to direct The Hobbit alongside a core group of writers including Peter Jackson. Del Toro apparently had initially crafted a more complex narrative structure, but by 2010 he departed the project due to ongoing delays and constantly expanding story structures. With the future of the film in question, Peter Jackson stepped in to direct the project (it was likely an uncomfortable situation after his public lawsuit against New Line Cinema over the original Lord of the Rings) and Jackson quickly expanded it to three films with a more traditional linear structure.
In essence, the plot follows a band of thirteen dwarves who seek to reclaim the riches of their ancient kingdom of Erebor from a powerful dragon who has conquered it. They are joined by Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf. Outside of this the movies go completely off the rails. At the outset, the Shire seems different (probably because much of it is green screen/CGI) and it takes nearly 45 minutes for the adventure to even begin in the first film between long, drawn-out songs, and an unresolved schtick in which Bilbo continually tries to ask the dwarves to leave his house. So why then in the morning does he decide to join the group? There is no answer (in the book Bilbo was more or less forced by Gandalf to take part as I recall). From here, Bilbo is captured by the trolls in this famous scene from the book which is actually enacted fairly well in the movie, and Gandalf greets his fellow wizard Radagast the Brown who has encountered the rise of a new necromancer believed to be linked to Sauron. Meanwhile Thorin, leader of the dwarves and heir to his kingdom of Erebor, soon learns that he is being tracked by a pack of orcs led by a silly looking CGI orc named Azog who has a personal vendetta against Thorin (I could have done without this whole revisionist narrative). Miraculously, Gandalf leads the group along a secret passage to Rivendell where they learn of how to enter their kingdom to defeat the dragon (naturally it is revealed in the form of a riddle) while Gandalf discusses the state of affairs in Middle Earth with Galadriel, Lord Elrond, and Saruman (plenty of fan-bait nostalgia here). Departing Rivendell, the group makes way for the Misty Mountains where they are caught in a battle between two giant rock monsters and then immediately they are captured by a massive underground lair of goblins in a scene that never seems to end. Bilbo is separated from the group, finds an unusual ring from the creature Gollum, and then is reunited with the dwarves. Without a moment to spare, Azog catches the group and traps them in a set of trees hanging over a cliff –again this confrontation lasts far too long and somehow a tiny hobbit (Bilbo) is able to save the day by tackling an orc –how is this possible? Any way a deus ex machina rescues the group as Gandalf calls for the eagles to fly them to safety. Why doesn’t Gandalf simply request for the eagles to fly the group to their destination at the Lonely Mountain? No reasons are ever given. And this is merely a terse summary of just the first film.
In the second film, the group are being pursued by the orc regiment led by Azog (again, why the eagles did not fly the cohort to a safer location is beyond me) so Gandalf takes refuge in a house ruled by a “skin-changer” who takes the form of a bear to protect them, even though he says he hates dwarves. We are briefly treated to a glimpse of some complicated backstory involving this person. At any rate, as luck would have it Azog is called back by the Necromancer in order to muster his armies, so Azog delegates the pursuit of the dwarves to Bolg –essentially a carbon-copy of himself. At least this way the plot can stretch into another two movies I guess. Gandalf leads the group to the edge of a mysterious and dangerous forest where he reads some ancient, evil runes. However, he amazingly decides to abandon the group here in order to investigate the tombs of the Nazgul (which are revealed to be opened) so the dwarves and Bilbo venture into this murky forest alone before they are attacked by giant spiders only to be saved by fan lip service, er I mean Legolas and a new Elvish character named Tauriel. Their combat sequences are utterly fatuous but clearly included to appease the fanboys. The dwarves are now imprisoned by the woodland elves, just long enough for one to fall in love with Tauriel for some reason in a bizarre plot device. At any rate, Bilbo rescues the group and they escape in a collection of barrels while floating down a river and we’re off to the next (and possibly worst) battle scene in which the orcs are cartoonishly cut to pieces in all manner of laugh-out-loud CGI stunts which are wholly impossible in the real world. At one point Legolas leaps into the rushing river to stand on the heads of two dwarves in barrels floating downriver while he shoots arrows at orcs as they come leaping at the barrels, killing two at a time. Next, the dwarves are smuggled into a lake town called Esgaroth by a man named Bard, and wouldn’t you know it? His late father just happens to be the one who wounded Smaug the first time around. Anyway, far too much time is wasted in this town (amusingly Stephen Fry plays the town magistrate) before the group makes haste for the Lonely Mountain where they finally enter the kingdom of Erebor in a wholly anti-climactic scene. Then Bilbo is immediately sent down to retrieve a precious stone from the dragon’s hoard but of course Smaug awakens and disputes with Bilbo (why he doesn’t immediately kill him is beyond me especially since he can actually see Bilbo unlike in the book as I recall). Bilbo manages to steal the precious stone, and what becomes of it? Don’t know, it is never really addressed again in the series. Anyway, this leads to a foolish battle scene between the dwarves and the dragon which eventually finds the dragon covered in gold so he decides to attack the nearby town for some reason.
At the start of the next film, we spend about 20 minutes watching Smaug torment the town before he is finally killed by Bard with the help of his son. And then the next two hours of this movie concern a massive battle, which is more epic than Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers for some reason, especially because the battle is described in a matter of paragraphs in the book. It is a battle royale of sorts –more dwarves arrive led by Thorin’s cousin, and woodland elves arrive demanding their share of the jewels from Smaug (which they never receive in the film), followed by Gandalf and the orcs led by Azog, as well as the eagles, the bear, and most everyone else we have met in the film. While Bilbo remains blacked out for most of the battle and Thorin succumbs to some strange “dragon sickness” but then miraculously recovers his senses in time for the fight, Legolas battles Bolg in a moronic scene which sees Legolas leaping from falling stones, and Thorin battles Azog in a frivolous, hollow fight that kills both of them. The love side-plot between Tauriel and the dwarf falls flat, and for some reason Legolas decides to leave the woodland realm in order to apparently wander for some sixty years searching for Strider –also there is an odd comment about Legolas’s mother loving him, what is this all about? The conclusion leaves very little resolved but Bilbo decides to head home at this point (and I haven’t even mentioned the dumb inclusion of the unibrow-brandishing character Alfrid), and in the final chapter we are given more Lord of the Rings nostalgia as the closing scene becomes the opening scene of The Fellowship of the Ring.
At the end we are left feeling beleaguered, bewildered, exhausted and disappointed. Even with all these many failings, The Hobbit is sure to be better than the forthcoming Amazon Lord of the Rings series.