As a long time fan of The Lord of the Rings movies and a reader of all things Tolkien, I was very excited about the announcement that The Hobbit was being adapted to the big screen. Then it was turned into a trilogy and I was skeptical but had faith in the brilliant cast and the vision of Peter Jackson. Over their release schedule I saw each of the movies several times with different groups of friends and family yet always came out of the cinema feeling slightly baffled.
The movies were unbelievably… meh. Not good, not bad, just kind of… boring. All of the elements were there: A great source material, talented actors, stunning visuals and a skilled director with experience making great movies from similar books, so why did The Hobbit trilogy fail to interest me?
The movies have been out for a while now and I occasionally think about them and where they went wrong. So here are my in depth thoughts on just that. For me there were three main areas in which The Hobbit movies failed: Tone, Length and Action. We will start with the most glaring of these which was the length.
The Hobbit is a short book made for children. It is less than half the length of The Fellowship of the Ring, which was made into a three and a half hour movie, yet ended up being made into a trilogy that totalled around eight hours. Granted, Fellowship had things be cut to fit into a single movie length, mostly at the beginning such as Tom Bombadil and the Barrow Wights. Maybe an unaltered Hobbit could have worked as a two movie deal.
Only, that’s not what happened. So much was added to the movies to stretch the time that they somehow felt bloated yet completely void of content at the same time. Things that probably should have been cut were not such as the numerous times that the dwarves broke into song. Tolkien loved his songs but they don’t really gel well into modern movies. I usually skip the singing and poetry in the books, I certainly don’t want them on the screen. They could have worked, there is still a few songs in The Lord of the Rings but they feel better paced and have some emotional depth or character development while they felt more like time wastes in The Hobbit.
All of the major plot threads beyond the main quest were added in for time. The big orc boss, not in the book. The stuff with the necromancer was cool and gave context to things in LotR but was not in the book. The elf/dwarf romance, not in the book. Legolas, Not in the book. The book had its own great content and its own pace which was messed up by trying to shoe-horn in extra stories that served no purpose. Things that should have been big events felt almost overshadowed by unimportant fodder. Unlike with The Lord of the Rings, the 3+ hours each movie could not hold my attention.
Which leads mo to my second point: The tone. The Hobbit was written for children. The movie’s biggest audience was fans of The Lord of the Rings movies. These are two different groups yet are surprisingly similar in regards to what they would find good in a movie. They want adventure, fun characters and awesome battles. The simple things are what make or break these kinds of movies.
Yet The Hobbit’s tone was all over the place. The adventure was there but it was bogged down by venomous paranoia among the dwarves that often killed the light-heartedness that their characters were introduced with. There was the random romance subplot that went nowhere, added nothing to the story and appealed to no audience group. It wasn’t enough to draw in a female audience that was not already going to see them and did nothing for kids or fantasy nerds wanting epic battles. Again, it just slowed down the pace and added to the confusion in the tone. We have the internal conflict of Thorin Oakenshield, the politics between elves, men and dwarves, the slapstick comedy of the barrel battle or of Lake-Town’s over-the-top corrupt lord’s assistant.
One scene we see Thorin losing his mind to doubt as he turns against his friends and succumbs to darkness, then the next scene there is a man dressed as a woman trying to flee a battle. There is no consistency. Each scene seems to be fighting against the others rather than working together to enhance one another.
My final point is perhaps the most subjective. I had a real problem with the action in these movies. The battles looked so fake that they really took away from my immersion. In The Lord of the Rings, the orcs and Uruks were mostly men and women in suits. when there was an up close battle it was real people with real prop weapons really connecting with one another. The combat felt real because it was as real as it could be. The costumes looked great and every enemy had its own unique look and feel that gave them personality.
In The Hobbit, most of the enemies are CGI. It isn’t that it is particularly bad CGI but actors swinging swords at thin-air will never look as visceral or strenuous as actors fighting against other trained actors or stuntmen. Some of the battles, like against the goblins in An Unexpected Journey, felt less like a fight to the death and more like children in a playground fighting imaginary foes.
I am not against CGI. It often looks great and works really well but I have yet to see a movie or show where humanoid CGI looks better than men and women in prosthetic if they are interacting with the characters.
All of this said, it sounds like there was a lot of trouble with the making of this movie and that Peter Jackson basically scraped these movies together at the last minute under very difficult circumstances. I believe that given the time, resources and creative freedom, Jackson could have made a really great movie. And that is the true shame.