As I have yet to finish the second season of Stranger Things, I thought I would take a look at a film franchise that may soon be getting a TV reboot, The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R Tolkien is one of my absolute favourite authors. I’ve always been a huge fan of both the books and the films, and I always loved The Hobbit. In a way, I liked it more when I was younger, especially seeing as it was much more aimed towards children and easier to consume. The Lord of the Rings took effort to read, The Hobbit was short and sweet. There was more humour, a lighter tone and a sense of carefree adventure, all things a younger kid prefers. So when I heard that the book was being adapted into two films by Peter Jackson, I was extremely excited. Jackson had turned the three LOTR books into a hugely entertaining and richly detailed trilogy of films, and I had no doubt he could do the same again.
In hindsight, I may have hyped these films a bit much. In my defence, I don’t often over-hype upcoming films, but I think that everyone has that one franchise that they can’t view objectively and mine is the Tolkien series. As most would agree, The Hobbit trilogy is a deeply flawed set of films. Even Jackson has since admitted he wasn’t satisfied with how the films turned out, “I spent most of The Hobbit feeling like I was not on top of it.” On the one hand, I enjoyed each film as it came out and on the other, there are a lot of elements to the films that actually made me angry, and it wasn’t because they didn’t stick to the book.
If anything, it was that they added to the book rather than taking anything out. The main problem in my opinion was stretching the single short book into three films. Two would have been acceptable, after all they could hardly spend all that money for a stand-alone film, and there is plenty of material to fit two films, but there aren’t just two, there are three. For one book. But for all their problems, the Hobbit films are still very entertaining, so I’m going to go through a few things that work and a few that don’t.
Let’s begin on a positive note. The three films have a beautiful visual design. Although it can be said that the extra frames per second and the colour palette make everything seem unreal, I think it fits the tone of the original book. The novel is light and comedic, the story isn’t a particularly deep one, and so a sillier costume and set design fits in well, and a brighter colour scheme suits the setting, in the golden age of Middle Earth before the return of Sauron. While this doesn’t always match the tone presented by what is going on onscreen, it does reflect the original style and so I view it as a good thing.
There is no getting around the amount of padding in these films. For instance, two large subplots have been crowbarred in to give enough story to reach three films, Gandalf going to Dol Guldur and Kili and Tauriel falling in love. So many superfluous scenes are slipped in to justify the length. There is even a completely pointless scene in Bree, which only serves to remind the viewer of information we already knew from earlier. However, some scenes have been cut from the novel, which could have been better padding than the new fake characters like Tauriel (Oh we’ll get to her). There is an entire sequence where Bilbo meets the eagles king and we learn why they fly favours for Gandalf and Jackson didn’t see fit to include it. It’s actually one of my favourite scenes from the book, but apparently it isn’t as important as a terrible romantic subplot.
All of the casting is inspired in these films. Every actor suits his role to a tee, and none more so than Martin Freeman. He gets the mannerisms and personality of Bilbo absolutely spot on and it is a joy to watch him grow as a character through the story. Another great character is Bofur, who forms a close bond with Bilbo, and is very charming owing to James Nesbitt’s natural charisma. Ian McKellen returns to Gandalf with ease and grandeur, and Richard Armitage is a great choice for the brooding and troubled Thorin. My only qualm is that he doesn’t capture the greed of Thorin very well, passing it off as a sickness and not an actual character flaw. I loved Lee Pace as Thranduil, haughty and unfeeling after centuries of loss. Almost all the characters are played superbly by the cast, and this elevates the films greatly. All except Alfrid.
The characters Jackson created for the film suck, so much. I wasn’t that angry about him adding in new characters, there are too few women in the Hobbit, and so adding a new female elf character fitted into the Mirkwood scenes. But then Tauriel turned out to be a love interest to one of the dwarves, Kili. Why? Couldn’t we just have a badass female character with her own hopes and personality? Why does every film feel the need to add a romance plot? It takes away a chance of her developing her own identity and actually ruins the relationship between Legolas and Gimli in the Lord of the Rings, because it turns out, they weren’t the first elf and dwarf to become friends. But Tauriel is nothing compared to Alfrid. This character is a painfully unfunny comic relief side character, which is fine in small doses, but in the Battle of the Five Armies, they give him a ridiculous amount of screen time. I don’t mind a side character not being funny for five minutes. I do mind a side character not being funny for a good thirty minutes and wasting my time.
This is a back handed compliment really, but I think Jackson did a smashing job, considering the pressure he was under. He had to take over from Guillermo Del Toro late into production, meaning he was constantly playing catch up, with no real creative vision and no time to form one. The level of work and stress eventually led to him becoming ill and needing to take a break. The script was being written as they shot the film, because they were simply not given enough time to refine it. So the fact that I still enjoy these films at all is nothing short of a miracle.
The films keep trying to remind us of Lord of the Rings. The problem is that this trilogy wants to be both the light-hearted children’s book, and the gritty dark Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it can’t choose one or the other. The tone is all over the place, in part because it feels like two different movies. One is the adventure with Bilbo, which remains fun and engaging, and the other is a weird fanfiction style prequel to Lord of the Rings, starring Gandalf and Legolas. One of these films is significantly less fun, can you guess which?
Overall, these films are not terrible. They are entertaining and fun, and kids will certainly love them. But I can’t deny it is a shame how much potential is squandered for the sake of padding out the story and trying desperately to connect them to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. I can’t help by wonder what Guillermo Del Toro’s Hobbit would have looked like. It would at least have been more memorable. Oh well, now to see if the reboot messes up.