Trilogy Review: The Hobbit

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (HFR 3D) (2012)

The first entry of the Lord of the Rings’ prequel trilogy based off Tolkien’s children’s book proves to be greatly embellished (for better and sometimes worse) but provides excellent spectacle and detailed fantasy adventure.

Oh lord, this will be a big review. First, some history. The Hobbit was the original book that Tolkien wrote for children while he was a teacher marking school papers back in the 1930s, and he offhandedly wrote the immortal opening line: “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit”. The book was short, forgiving and easy to read (by Tolkien’s infamous standards!) and all together innocent. Afterwards, publishers asked him to write a follow-up story and to make it more adult driven. The Lord of the Rings was born.
I loved reading The Hobbit story as a child, so much so that I remember starting Lord of the Rings and despising Frodo initially because he wasn’t Bilbo! Imagine that. I’m re-reading The Hobbit now and I can say that I remember it beat for beat, and the news of Peter Jackson’s trilogy gave me a lot of room for trepidation… The Hobbit simply isn’t as epic or trilogy-worthy as Rings.
The film therefore strikes on a knife edge of over embellishment and fine detailing; playing a dangerous balancing act of several audiences’ expectations at once!

Set sixty years before the Rings trilogy, we see Bilbo as a sheltered, ignorant and contented Hobbit, who is set on an adventure by Gandalf the Grey. In a party of thirteen dwarves led by the mighty Thorin Oakenshield in a quest to retake their kingdom from the dragon Smaug, Bilbo must first come to terms with his destiny and the wider, exciting world beyond his home comforts.

Where to begin. The film is a marvel to watch. It is visually astounding and each frame is crammed with beautiful details and compositions that relay book illustrations; we have been here before, Jackson, his crew and WETA special effects people have never made something more fantastical and wonderfully rendered. The casting and acting are great; they are doing what comes naturally to them now, but the newcomers (especially Richard Armitage as Thorin) are bringing their A-games also.

As I re-read The Hobbit, I saw the obvious desire from Jackson to exaggerate. Tolkien himself writes huge events very casually… almost absurdly so… The Mountain Giants for example. Huge rock giants who are (in the book) casually lobbing massive rocks around while our waddling heroes pass by completely unhindered. Read it, it happens. In the film, this mere sentence is given a full action sequence! Is that wrong? No… it makes more sense in the way the film portrays it, it is danger and it is happening nearby, and makes for very creative sequences. But did it need to be in the film at all? That is a harder question to answer… and Jackson’s (wayward?) desire for a trilogy may answer it for some cynics…
This example can be said about nearly all of the scenes in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, except for those that people remember fondly, and these are naturally given the most attention! From the three trolls who attempt to cook our heroes to of course The Riddles in the Dark, which is frankly amazing to see on the big screen as one of my favourite pieces of fictional writing (Gollum himself looks jaw-droppingly real here, even more than in Rings!)

But it is not all about Bilbo (much to my inner-child’s slight disappointment) as the story is given direct ties to the Rings trilogy. This isn’t as bad as one may theorise. Tolkien himself edited The Hobbit after publishing Rings to accommodate. The appendices of the Rings books are carefully added and suggest greater things to come in The Hobbit trilogy. This does give the otherwise simple story more subplots than traditionalists would ask for; you can say that the filmmakers wanted to make The Hobbit somehow bigger than Rings, even make it as serious as Rings, which it simply isn’t! These grand sequences and serious subplots can be seen as huge deviations from what the book was about, and that perhaps there is a nicer version of the story yet unmade. But when considered fully, you can appreciate the choice. It aids consistency for cinema goers and adds lore that Tolkien readers will happily devour.

I could go on and on, but there are two more films after all!

Wow, this review has gone on hasn’t it.
– Should you go and see The Hobbit in the cinema, you ask? Yes, absolutely, definitely yes.
– Is it a faithful adaptation of the original book? Yes and no, it is embellished to accommodate the massive cinematic event that was the Rings trilogy, and if you expected anything other… you may want to re-address your expectations.
– Should you see it in 3D and/or HFR? The 3D doesn’t feel necessary, so you don’t need to splash out to experience more. The HFR is a new experience and takes some getting used to. If you suffer from motion sickness or similar you may want to reconsider as you may feel uncomfortable… But if you are keen to see developments in film-making I would highly recommend it. It is unique to say the least, and you will have an opinion on it afterwards (see above!)

I was happy to dive back into Middle Earth once again, and I love consistency within films. Learning more about the world (through added details I’ve not read up on) I can safely say I want to see the next films and conclude the tale! Some may find it too ponderous, biding time before things really kick off, but I came out of this film with a smile on my face

I should flesh-out my thoughts on Peter Jackson’s HFR (Higher Frame Rate) 3D. Most films are shot in 24 frames a second, as a rule, since the human eye can only see so many still images in one second to convey motion. However here we have 48 frames per second (since in actuality the human eye can perceive more) and the effect is… curious. Initially I feared I would hate it; characters appeared to move too quickly, from the simplest nod of the head to walking appeared rapid, as if a fast-forward button had been pushed. I wouldn’t handle three hours of that!
However as my eyes adjusted, it settled into regular motion, and details (especially in motion) became alarmingly precise and crystal clear. Similar to comparing Standard Definition to High Definition, only more so. The only issue I had was (curiously) during “tracking shots”, when the camera moves laterally through a set or room, my eyes knew they were seeing more than usual, and would try to take it all in only to see an almost shuddering motion while doing so. This was however only during long tracking shots.
The 3D effect therefore did not hinder the film; there was no strain on my eyes or blur present, everything snapped and popped out. Maybe a little… too much. At times characters appeared as though they were in front of a flat background, like they were before a matte painting or theatre backdrop. Again, curious. I couldn’t tell if this was the HFR adjustment, poor 3D use or both! I actually took my 3D glasses off at times, and I could see the 3D was only slightly used…

I can see HFR becoming the norm, or at least with 3D films; the motion is incredibly fluid and you feel immersed even further and details strike out more. I will say that The Hobbit does not use 3D nearly as well as it could have, we are not watching the same quality as Avatar (speaking of which, James Cameron should look into HFR for his future Avatar sequels) but that said, it means the 2D version will not suffer! I think I counted one 3D “gimmick” moment.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (HFR 3D) (2013)

The second part of the embellished Hobbit trilogy continues, and my opinion hasn’t changed from part one… except to say that this film makes An Unexpected Journey look completely unnecessary.

While still being pursued by the orc horde, Biblo Baggins and the dwarf company are led by Thorin Oakenshield and Gandalf through the region of Mirkwood and finally to the Lonely Mountain, lair of Smaug the Dragon. Along the way they meet many foes and challenges and only a few to help them.

Well here’s a thing: An Unexpected Journey took perhaps twenty pages of the original text and inexplicably stretched it over three hours, yet The Desolation of Smaug probably covers a massive eighty percent of the story!
I’m serious, most of (if not all) my favourite scenes are in this one film, and if I wanted I could just close my eyes and imagine the beginning and end on my own. (It would save me six hours!) We have the barrels, the wood elves, the Mirkwood spiders, Lake Town, Bard, Beorn and of course Smaug the Magnificent! I honestly can’t remember anything of comparable substance in the first film, and I cannot fathom the third film having any more material to work with.
Sounds good right? Well naturally the film looks great too; one cannot criticise its looks any more than previous films (although the indulgent use of CG is still there…) The action sequences here are actually better than in the first film, they feel more natural and without the “surfing on wooden bridges down chasms” problems. The barrel sequence is not the same as the book, it too is an action sequence, with orcs attacking and a dwarf being propelled out of the water, rolling across the cliffs and knocking them down! Very imaginative and creative additions.
But like all good artists producing more of the same, familiar imagery, we can only pick at the imperfections.

I said it already, and I’ll say it again. I have no problem with strong female characters, but I do have a problem with a character entirely made up by the film makers to force a pointless love triangle that only snares up the film’s exciting climax with needless cutaways. If I may indulge (heck, the film makers do!) The Hobbit is set in earlier times; the elves and dwarves do not like each other. Legolas features in the film, and though he was never in the book I didn’t mind his inclusion: he exaggerates the disharmony between the two races (…despite the fact that the Wood Elf King does this fine on his own…) but Tauriel has a romance triangle with Legolas and………… Kili.
Utterly absurd, and I know exactly where this is going in part three, and it is as throwaway as Tauriel herself. She doesn’t override the film, but her scenes just take me out of what I want: The Hobbit as a film.

Right, with that out of my system. The subplot that tethers The Hobbit to the Rings trilogy is much stronger here than in the previous film. Gandalf does indeed leave the company in the book to do other “important tasks”, these are shown as the film deviates from Bilbo’s perspective. It is welcome, if you survived An Unexpected Journey this stuff is more than appreciated by now.

But the same old problem surfaces while watching the film, and as this trilogy goes on, I fear for its longevity. The Hobbit book is not the same as Lord of the Rings, and this is not a good adaptation of it. I dare say this singular film is the best-worst adaptation I’ve seen. The Hobbit is about Bilbo and his very small perspective of a vast world. It is a children’s story. Embellish, but never forget what the focus of a story is…

I still feel there is a better Hobbit adaptation to be made. That Guillermo Del Toro film that was never to be? This outing actually crushes its predecessor into dust, boasting all of the book’s finest moments through the wonderful lense of the films’ creative team. But, there are still unnecessary additions, and I know that they are chess pieces to make the final film more exciting… But are they literally just pawns in an epic that was never meant to be?

Additional Marshmallows: The HFR (high frame rate) 3D was more familiar to me this time, and took a lot less getting used to.

And the winner of “most unnecessary and indulgent director’s cameo” goes to… Peter Jackson! Fabricating an entire opening scene that has little to no purpose other than to get him in there.

… if you are also wondering, is it worth watching only for the dragon?

Heck yes!

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (HFR 3D) (2014)

It is quite an achievement, considering how much my fondness for the Lord of the Rings franchise has been slowly but surely worn away.

With Smaug the Magnificent bearing down on Lake Town, Thorin Oakenshield and his dwarves having occupied the fortress of Erebor and the Orc armies closing in, Bilbo finds himself at the centre of a massive battlefield.

There’s very little to actually say about this, storywise, but can you blame me? This film is based around about ten pages of book!
It feels like the equivalent of walking in on Return of the Jedi as the rebel fleet attacks the Death Star, or when Gondor falls under siege in Return of the King.

The folly of director Peter Jackson’s decision to turn a children’s book into a seven hour epic has been fully realised here, making The Battle of the Five Armiesquite possibly the worst entry in the franchise (and that is only because of An Unexpected Journey’s sheer nostalgia factor) this so-called “Defining Chapter” is little more than a CG infested battle sequence, living up to its name perhaps but definitely failing to feel important or relevant.
It has been a year, you could say the flow has been broken.

The Battle of the Five Armies, in the book, is a brief affair since the story is told only from Bilbo’s perspective (the book is called The Hobbit, after all) and he is swiftly knocked unconscious and misses the entire battle. The makes this film’s existence the most perplexing and the most difficult to sell, but it appears Jackson has taken this issue and ran with it as an excuse show Legolas doing more crazy gravity defying stunts, to cast Billy Connelly as a battle frenzied dwarf and have a lot of replicated computerised orcs.

Of course there are moments. Richard Armitage plays the murky psyche of Thorin Oakenshield perfectly; this is a storm that has been given time to build and provides this film’s only sense of gravity and finality. Smaug, as with the book, remains the reason we are watching despite lasting a pitiful ten minutes here (consider him used like the Balrog fight in The Two Towers) and the film is worse off for not having him longer.
Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman continues to be excellent in the role given to him in the second film, Bard who becomes a valiant hero in the book by the end. Yet, by the power of the trilogy’s bafflingly silly screenplay Bard’s stand off with Smaug is made ridiculously stupid, making one of the book’s other exciting moments more of an eyebrow-raising absurdity.
It also still has the performances, though some are decidedly just there for cameos, the look and feel of the other films, which maintains a level of quality despite all of the flaws.

Even the other reason for making three films, The Necromancer, feels woefully swept under the carpet; reduced down to a rather silly rescue mission featuring the lady Galadriel, lord Elrond and Ragagast the Brown.

Now I am sure people will defend the film, but I honestly struggle to imagine how. This is a conclusion, literally the third act that The Desolation of Smaug was lacking. It fails as a singular film, lacking any new characters or developments that allow it to have its own style or merit, and would only benefit from watching back-to-back with its predecessor.

The way that Desolation has ended made me suspect this sort of palaver would follow, but I had hoped I’d be proven wrong.

Someone needs to make an edit of these films and condense them down to about four hours, because having seen them all I can safely say it can be done. Right now, I have no desire to watch any of them again except the second one.

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