Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Hobbit Trilogy: Tolkien? or not?

With the release of The Battle of the Five Armies The Peter Jackson Directed Trilogy of Hobbit movies has been completed. With that completion comes the questions, second-guessing, and complaining that one would expect from such an undertaking.

When I first saw An Unexpected Journey I had purposefully not read anything concerning the movie, no spoilers, no information at all, I went into it blind. I have to say I was surprised when the movie ended when it did.  I had lost track of time, naturally, as I lost myself in the film, and having read nothing about the film before I had no idea it was going to be a trilogy. It would never have occurred to me that it could be more than one movie, especially more than one nearly 3-hour long movie. I thought An Unexpected Journey followed the book well enough, though the inclusion of Radagast was both a blessing and a curse because while I enjoyed his addition to the story I absolutely hated the entire concept of a rabbit sled and the ridiculousness that followed it. The chase scene with the Orcs and the rabbit sled would have worked better as a Benny Hill skit.  That being said, I enjoyed the movie a lot, I had no problem with the inclusion of Frodo and the scenes that tied this to The Fellowship of the Ring. As I have written beforeThe Hobbit is probably my favorite book of all time but I have no problem watching the movies for what they are. Action/Comedy movies that happen to contain characters I love in a world I know well. I didn't need them to be clones of the book, I just needed them to be good movies. (More on this later). I think that Journey is the best of the three movies it is the most complete as a stand-alone movie and is the most entertaining. The extended edition fleshes it out a bit more and I strongly recommend that version if you are going to watch it for the first time.

For The Desolation of Smaug on the other hand, I knew going in was only going to be the middle chapter of three and was more prepared for the experience of it. The only real problem I had with Desolation was that it wasn't a great movie. My understanding is that "middle" movies are hard to make. (we won't discuss the fact that The Empire Strikes Back  was the best of the three original Star Wars movies...) I think it only gets more difficult when you are taking the middle of a single book and trying to make a 3-hour movie out of it. This film is adapted from 121 pages of the book which is actually the most pages of the three films. (see Movie Page Counts) However, my impression of the film was that it really didn't stand on its own. You needed to have seen Journey to know where it was coming from and without Battle it didn't seem complete. There were adventures, chases, video game physics, and comedy to be sure, and I enjoyed watching it but it just didn't seem to have its own complete story arc. If watching a marathon of all three films it would be less problematic to be sure, but with a year in between the movies, it was obvious. Again, the extended edition added to the film and I begin to wonder why these scenes were not included in the theatrical release and the cynic in me thinks it is so they can sell twice as many DVD's and Blu-rays.
I waited rather impatiently for The Battle of the Five Armies to be released partially because Desolation left me feeling incomplete, but also because this was it, our final entrance to Middle-earth, our last chance to experience these places, people, and stories. Not to mention, it had Smaug's death, Thorin's madness, Bilbo's transformation, and fivesix armies. (hey, if the Eagles count then the Bats have to count...). This movie only adapted 72 pages of the book, and the battle was much more, um, epic than I remembered it from the book, but heck, it is a Peter Jackson movie and if his middle name isn't Epic it should be...  To me, the departures from the book's story are more profound and disappointing than in the other movies. Thorin's battle with Azog alone and with Fili and Kili was, I guess, to be expected. PJ had spent nearly 6 hours making Azog the main antagonist of the trilogy and a final movie-style showdown had to be the final outcome, still I found it boring and predictable. In all though, I enjoyed the movie for what it was, there was a lot of action, some sentimentality, and a fine conclusion to the trilogy. I think I was more disappointed that the final scene where Balin comes for tea in the Shire was cut from the film than in any other change. This was the perfect ending to me, ending as it started so to speak with a guest for tea. Oh well, I hold out hope that this will be one of the extended edition additions.

All in all, I enjoyed the movies. Sure, I would like to have seen Beorn given better treatment in Desolation. He did get better treatment than Tom Bombadil did in the Lord of the Rings movies though and it could have been worse. Get rid of the rabbits and the sled, make Radaghast less of a stoner and I would have been happier as well. They certainly were not the movies I would have made, but then again. I didn't make them. Peter Jackson did, and he stayed true to himself and his vision of Middle-earth, and to the spirit, if not the word, of The Hobbit. I have said it before and I will say it again. If I had to choose between these three movies and no movies I would certainly take these. Also, the amount of money these movies made leave the doors open to another director to get a shot at making them again in a way that a failed true-to-the-book movie would not have. I had read that the Tolkien Estate and Christopher Tolkien, in particular, hates the PJ adaptions of the books (all of them, not just The Hobbit) and while I suppose I can understand a certain amount of disappointment in the differences I know of no movies that perfectly capture the feel, the tone, the beauty of a very well written book. Trying to capture the beauty of a book written by a master of language like J. R. R. Tolkien is impossible. If that is what you want then listen to a well-narrated audiobook and don't even attempt a movie. I personally am disappointed in the estate's point of view because it leaves us with almost (still holding hope) no chance of seeing any other of Tolkien's great works adapted into movies.
I hope you can buy, rent, or borrow copies of all three movies and have a marathon of them because when viewed together it is a much better experience and one that if you have the 9 hours you owe it to yourself to experience. (you could also spend 18 hours and watch all 6 in order which would gain you some serious geek points in my book...)

What are your opinions on the movies? Share them in the comments below.

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