“Just one song? We could do three. Or we could do one long one and split it into three. I’ll tell you what, it’ll be worth it.”
Peter Jackson, Team Ball Player Thing *
When it was announced that The Hobbit was going to be made into a trilogy, I was actually excited. Yes, the stretching out of a children’s book far shorter than even the first instalment of The Lord of the Rings would mean a lot of padding, but I didn’t mind that. I love The Lord of the Rings. I just wanted more in whatever way I could have it. I’m one of those people who could watch the extended versions forever!
And I really liked The Hobbit trilogy – until three quarters of the way through the second film, that is.
The first film, An Unexpected Journey, was brilliant. I have read The Hobbit many times, and seeing the scene with all the dwarves bursting into Bilbo’s cosy hobbit hole brought to life was, for me, exhilarating. And that singing – it gave me the chills! The film continued to be brilliant, even with the introduction of Azog following the party. In fact, the film did a better job of making me care about the characters that weren’t Bilbo than the book ever did.
I simply adored the portrayals of Thorin, Fili, Kili and Balin. Thorin was beautifully deep and brooding. Fili and Kili were more than adequate Merry and Pippin replacements – they were actually given characters, something seriously lacking in the book! And Balin was perfect. As for the other dwarves, there wasn’t much they could have done even with all the padding. Bombur, for example, serves exactly the same function as in the book – he’s the butt of fat jokes.
The scenes with all the dwarves at Rivendell are wonderfully funny, especially in the extended version. The whole trilogy was far more light-hearted than The Lord of the Rings, which threw a lot of people. I didn’t mind the film’s self-indulgence here in the slightest. Also, I don’t agree with the argument that the White Council scenes were unnecessary. They were in the book; they just happened off-stage. Besides, Gandalf randomly buggers off in the book and doesn’t return for ages – they couldn’t have gotten away with that in a film without showing where he’d gone.
And as for the addition of Radagast, I found that utterly delightful.
Now, the bit with the goblins singing… that did feel uncomfortably childish, even more so than that bit with the trolls, but it’s in the book, dammit! Finding the correct balance between the childishness of the book and keeping the film consistent with The Lord of the Rings was always going to be difficult, given the source material, but The Hobbit trilogy… did not find it. Ah well. At least that computer game-like goblin escape was good fun.
Undoubtedly, the best bit of the first film – and, indeed, of the entire trilogy – was the Riddles in the Dark scene. In fact, I’d say the entire trilogy was worth it just for that! Shame it had to be in the first film, really. The second-best scene of the film, I’d say, is what came after: the bit where they all climb the trees on the edge of the cliff to escape from the orcs. That was beautifully done – suitably tense – and the music was amazing. Re-using the Black Riders’ theme from Fellowship to create the mood for Thorin’s charge made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Then the eagles.
The eagles showed up in the book too – they’re not just a deus ex machina exploited by the films. But the thing is they’re actually explained in the book. They can talk. Here’s an extract from The Hobbit book, from after they’ve just been rescued by the eagles and set down:
It seemed that Bilbo was not going to be eaten after all. The wizard and the eagle-lord appeared to know one another slightly, and even to be on friendly terms. As a matter of fact Gandalf, who had often been in the mountains, had once rendered a service to the eagles and healed their lord from an arrow-wound… He was discussing plans with the Great Eagle for carrying the dwarves and himself and Bilbo far away and setting them down well on their journey across the plains below.
The Lord of the Eagles would not take them anywhere near where men lived. “They would shoot at us with their great bows of yew,” he said, “for they would think we were after their sheep. And at other times they would be right. No! we are glad to cheat the goblins of their sport, and glad to repay our thanks to you, but we will not risk ourselves for dwarves in the southward plains.”
I hope that stops a few of you ‘why didn’t the eagles just take them there?’ complainers! I think this should have been the opening of the second Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug. It would have provided a useful explanation (for non-readers) for the eagles in The Lord of the Rings too.
So anyway – the first Hobbit film – VERY GOOD. The second film is where things get iffy. I was still onboard for it. The only thing I really didn’t like was the just-too-ridiculous action scene at the end, when the dwarves flush the dragon out of the mountain. You know, the whole molten gold bit. I was onboard for Legolas. (He would have been there.) I was onboard for the barrel ride. (Over-the-top, but FUN.) I was onboard for Stephen Fry in Lake-town. (It was Stephen Fry!) I was even onboard for the unnecessary addition of Tauriel. (The inclusion of a bad-ass elf chick – or even any female character at all – was most welcome.)
As for the Tauriel-Kili flirtation, I was fine with it. It was funny. It developed their characters. Kili’s character needed developing. (His death in the book is literally just ‘oh, and by the way, Kili and Fili died too’.) Even when the flirtation developed into a somewhat forced love story, I gave it the benefit of the doubt. I would wait to see how it turned out in the next film before I would condemn it. Maybe it would even make the audience care about Kili’s death. (Never mind Fili, eh?)
But then came the third film. The Tauriel-Kili love story was AWFUL. If anything, it detracted from the emotional impact of Kili’s death. It would have been far better to show Fili and Kili fall defending Thorin ‘with shield and body’. Instead, we got those nauseating lines delivered by Tauriel and Thranduil. For me, four words destroyed the entire film: “Because it was real.” UCK. SPLURG. ICK. In the cinema, I was left wanting to shout, “I GAVE YOU THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT, DAMMIT! THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT!”
I mean the third film did have some fine moments. The surprise Billy Connolly cameo, for example, was a stroke of genius, but where THE FUCK did those giant goats come from? And why THE FUCK does the CGI look worse than it does in The Lord of the Rings, which came out over ten years before The Battle of the Five Armies? It makes the film look – ironically – rushed.
At the end of the day, though, the entire Hobbit trilogy is beautiful. Every shot looks like a painting. It’s artfully acted, (if not always artfully written,) and it really delves into the wider world of Middle-earth. And even The Battle of the Five Armies is a lot better than some of the movies that come out today. I just hope that people watch The Lord of the Rings first. The Hobbit is a bit of beautiful fun; The Lord of the Rings is a towering landmark in the history of cinema. (And both are very expensive New Zealand tourism commercials.)
* Team Ball Player Thing is a New Zealand charity/All Blacks support music video in which many local celebrities make fun of themselves. Watch it here for a great example of Kiwi humour: