Tolkien 101: Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Movie Trilogy

It is no accomplishment to walk into a movie expecting to dislike and to dislike it.  I never expected to like Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy.  I gave up any hope of that as soon I heard that he was turning a 300-page book into a 9-hour movie.  I didn’t even watch the movies all the way through until I started this series.  So, sure, I didn’t like it.  But I expected the movies to be mediocre, and they aren’t.  They’re awful.

I could go on a long rant here, but these movies aren’t worth it.  I could break down what went wrong from a film perspective, but these movies aren’t worth it.  (And I don’t really care about the film side of it.)  I could break down everything wrong with the storytelling, but these movies aren’t worth it.  I could refute each of the arguments by Jackson’s apologists one by one, but these movies aren’t worth it.

These are flabby, flabby movies, and I don’t have time to cut through all that fat.  The bottom line is that it was always an obviously wrong move to try to stretch the story past one movie.  Peter Jackson had the juice after the overwhelming success of The Lord of the Rings to get the The Hobbit done right.  But he didn’t care.

One of the remarkable things about The Hobbit is that it is always earnest and epic at the same time he’s taking the piss out of, say, Gandalf.  Jackson’s movies are silly and unserious without ever being funny.  They are full of interminable action scenes without ever being epic.  You might think that surely Jackson will take advantage of those 9 hours at least.  You would be wrong.  He rushes through Queer Lodgings and Flies and Spiders, my two favorite chapters from the book.  The long runtime allows him to incorporate material from the appendices, but that stuff (1) isn’t any good and (2) takes up surprisingly little time.

You know you’re in trouble when we get to the trolls.  Not that it doesn’t take long enough, given how much filler Jackson stuffs into the beginning.  We get an awful fight scene with the dwarves.  Which leads to a bit of a problem—how do you get from an all-out fight to thirteen dwarves captive with no one getting hurt?  Jackson has the trolls seize Bilbo and threaten to pull his arms off.  The same Hobbit they will happily send alone into the dragon’s lair after he has won their respect.  So the dwarves trade a fight they are winning for almost certain death.  Azog should have just grabbed Thror and held him hostage.  He could have captured the entire dwarven host.

I kind of stopped taking notes at this point, to be honest.

Jackson thought the first movie moved too fast, so naturally the second starts before the first even begins.

Jackson robbed us of that great sequence with the wargs and then the orcs, replacing suspense with a silly action.  And now he robs of us the wonderful introduction to Beorn.  And, of course, Jackson thoroughly cocks up one of the very best parts of the Hobbit, Mirkwood.  Jackson sprints through in favor of elves (always a weakness of Jackson’s vision, particularly here).  Then he squanders a huge amount of time in Laketown.

Then badly fumbles Smaug’s attack on Laketown.

By the third movie—long breaks between movies notwithstanding—I’ve been worn down.  I’ve moved beyond hate-watching to watching in a torpor as a defense mechanism.  So close to finishing, I was sorely tempted to turn the movie off…forever.

People will say, oh, it’s okay that it’s 9 hours, because Jackson adds in material from the appendices and other canonical materials.  He does.  Some.  He adds much more of his own, and it shows.  Not only that, but he dramatically changes effectively every major sequence from the book.  You might say that it needed to to match The Lord of the Rings movies tonally, but here’s the thing—the end result doesn’t match The Lord of the Rings in tone at all.

You would think that it would at least look great.  But preproduction was hugely rushed and it shows.  The effects are noticeably worse.  The worst stuff from the first trilogy is still here—the elves and the wargs.  Between Beorn and the dwarves, Peter Jackson has something against beards.

Jackson turns Bilbo’s story into Thorin’s story.  There were hints of this with Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings movies, but the problem is much, much worse here.

Good things: Balin.  Riddles in the dark.  Initial reveal of Smaug.  Beorn jumping off of a giant eagle.

You can find my stream of consciousness rants on Twitter at #JacksonianHobbitry.

Next week I cleanse my palate with the three animated movies before moving on to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings.

2 of 5 Stars.

 

You can find all of my Tolkien 101 posts here.

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About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction). https://everydayshouldbetuesday.wordpress.com/ https://hillbillyhighways.wordpress.com/
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16 Responses to Tolkien 101: Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Movie Trilogy

  1. Lindsay Ellis has a great 3-part Youtube doc-thingie that does a Deep Dive into Jackson’s Hobbit movies, and why it’s such a freaking mess (and also how it screwed up New Zealand’s economy). Well worth a watch!

    Liked by 1 person

    • H.P. says:

      Yeah, I watched the first two. (I started the third and, um, I don’t think she’s exactly qualified to cover the topic.) But she largely misses the point, and I’m much more interested in the storytelling than the behind the scenes and the film-making stuff.

      Like

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  3. pcbushi says:

    Was the Battle of the Five Armies at least entertaining? I didn’t watch the second two films, and don’t intend to. Just curious.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bookstooge says:

    You watch this and THEN go into the cartoon versions? Man, you are either really brave or really stupi…
    oh wait, I mean, really brave 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • H.P. says:

      I make no apologies for loving the Rankin/Bass Hobbit. The Bakshi Lord of the Rings, though, is not good, and I haven’t made it to Return of the King (which I’m pretty sure I never saw as a kid).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bookstooge says:

        I concur. The Hobbit was really how I thought Jackson was going to go. But the other two, oh man. I think they’re worse than this trilogy.

        But I’ll wait to fully comment with my typical pithiness for the actual post 😀

        Liked by 1 person

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  6. John Boyle says:

    Your review is short, accurate and not cruel enough. By the end of the third movie, I was so angry that I swore to never watch anything Peter Jackson makes in the future. I see no reason to change my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • H.P. says:

      I was too beaten down by the end of the third movie to muster the appropriate vitriol.

      I’m worried now that his Lord of the Rings trilogy will be retroactively ruined.

      Like

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