Adapting the works of fantasy progenitor J.R.R. Tolkien is, admittedly, a very tall order. Not only must the adaptations appease Tolkien’s incredibly adamant and meticulous fans but also introduce the wide world of Middle-Earth to those, young and old alike, who are new to its magics and intricacies.
With the three Lord of the Rings films (which debuted in sequence in the early 2000s) Peter Jackson did a commendable job of bringing the classic good versus evil story to life in a visually stunning, emotionally wrenching and action-packed way. These films, for the most part, were truly enjoyable and, I think, did a great job of adapting the books. Cuts were made but details were not sacrificed as the stunning New Zealand countryside was, without question, transformed into Middle Earth. Yes, the loss of Tom Bombadil was felt throughout the world by us avid Tol-keeners but it, and many others, were cuts worth making for the sake of the audience and the film’s storytelling capabilities. These adaptations stretched the roles of women in the story, added a few moments for character building…
… and the filmmakers gave the silver screen it’s space to establish what Tolkien’s many words created. The Lord of the Rings films managed to tell three stories, with a complete beginning, middle and end, that formed an epic. Each action had a character reaction, and the core of the story – that even the smallest person can make a difference – is driven home in each film. Best of all, in the space of three films Peter Jackson managed to tell the story of three books. A challenge that was very well met.
And then we come to The Hobbit film. No, I’m sorry, films.
The beloved novel, originally intended for children was published in 1937 and its success led, and allowed, Tolkien to continue the story with The Lord of the Rings. Now the quietly magical story of a young hobbit being whisked off his feet and carried off to adventure has been transformed and stretched out into a trio of film spectacles that jump from one action to the next without a moment’s pause for Bilbo’s growth, with invented characters, love interests and an entirely rewritten Thorin that sings… And, to top it all off each installment is promoted and marketed even more than the last (there are phone cases, plushies and even collectible dishware).
I think that much of the dislike I have for The Hobbit films stems from my complete adoration and awe of the source material. For me, Tolkien’s tale is humble and quiet, a story that just barely touches on the wonders of Middle-Earth and one which really doesn’t focus on action, fighting or romance at all. There is no subtlety about the films – and certainly no sense of pacing. They blow the story up and out of it’s humble boots and turn it into a hollywood blockbuster that really makes the whole Hobbit project feel like a giant cash-grab that underestimates the child audience (which Tolkien did not) and panders to the “Hollywood” crowd. Moments like this (the goblin king from Unexpected Journey) make my skin crawl because this isn’t Tolkien at all, it’s a grab for laughs, it’s physically impossible and there is no character reaction that makes sense: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRRBkF7iqzc
With The Hobbit franchise we have a set of films that attempted to mimic what made The Lord of the Rings films so popular – epic good vs. evil (seriously, with Radagast and his rabbits versus Sauron?), a Romeo and Juliet-esque romance, and larger than life battle scenes. We have a Thorin who is more like Boromir than Aragorn (and who wants to watch three films centred on a character we already know is untrustworthy?), we have a bunch of goofy dwarves that only serve as a grab at comedy and weird romance angles (seriously, what’s up with this?), and worst of all, we don’t really feel like Bilbo (or any of his comrades) has had much genuine growth throughout the whole adventure. from the beginning of film one to the end of film three he has changed a requisite amount, but there are no arcs in each of the films, we don’t get a sense of character that doesn’t feel… false? Sure, Martin Freeman’s scenes are still the best gems from the set of films (aside from the awesome CG dragon, but that’s not really storytelling now is it?), bottom line, the films needed more Bilbo. With a pared down set of of maybe 2 films, that focussed on Bilbo and his growing sense of the world and it’s dangers and wonders, we could have had a set of narratively successful films. Instead Bilbo’s journey is entirely overshadowed by the CG dragon and LOTR-esque action.
What I think Jackson was missing was giving Bilbo something to hold on to, as Samwise Gamgee put it:
With barely a moment to to breath between battles (and these battles were full of unbelievable action (Legolas on top of dwarves down a rushing river?) and had a lack of character reaction – Smaug destroying Rivertown was the CLIMAX of the book and barely had any space in the films… it all happened before the title of the third film…) these films didn’t set up any stakes, emotional or otherwise. The core issue is that the films did not tell the great story of The Hobbit, the one that you want to hear over and over again, it just created a visual spectacle meant to make money.
Read the book.
EDIT: Here’s a great video that I totally agree with: http://geektyrant.com/news/heres-why-the-hobbit-films-suck-in-comparison-to-the-lord-of-the-rings