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STUDIO New Line Home Video
RUNNING TIME 169 / 161 / 144 minutes
• New Zealand – Home of Middle-earth
• Peter Jackson Invites You to the Set
• Production Videos
• Recruiting the Five Armies
• Completing Middle-earth
• Music Videos
“We successfully turned 1200 pages of The Lord of the Rings into nine hours worth of movies. Let’s repeat that with the 300 pages of The Hobbit. What could possibly go wrong?”
Watson, Magneto, Dracula, Khan, Ronan the Accuser, Owen Shaw, Ash, Agent Smith, Elizabeth, Will Turner, Kate from Lost, the priest from the second X-Files movie, that guy from Into the Storm, and actually, that vampire with that pesky extra chromosome from Nick’s List of Dumb.
The Lord of the Rings was critically acclaimed and made a gazillion dollars. Who in charge would have ever had the balls to tell shareholders “Okay! Let’s just be glad we had this, right?” Of course everyone at New Line was keen on getting back to Middle-earth as soon as possible, but legal conflicts with the Tolkien Estate took quite a while to resolve. As soon as they came to an agreement though, New Line was so, so ready to shovel some more of that precious gold.
Early on, they only planned on doing The Hobbit as two movies, as it seemed abundantly clear that the novel didn’t offer enough content to match the previous trilogy’s runtime. Utterly exhausted from first trilogy, Peter Jackson chose to just write the new trilogy, and help out his replacement in the director’s chair: Guillermo del Toro. When production stalled for months due to MGM’s financial troubles, Del Toro bowed out and soon announced a bunch of other movies he’d direct (not all of which have come to be). Now, The Hobbit was back on Jackson’s plate – and he wouldn’t let it go. Prior to the release of the first movie in 2012, they discovered they only needed a few reshoots to turn its sequel into two movies. Tragically, they only thought about whether or not they could, not whether they should. So they did.
Even before the first Hobbit movie was released, well, even before they announced the groan-inducing splitting into three movies, The Hobbit trilogy had already faced overwhelming hostility. No matter where you saw the movie being discussed, everyone seemed in doubt. “This is going to be another Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace experience,” many seemed to think. An unnecessary, bloated CGI disaster that will forever taint the richness of the original trilogy.
Me? I was so happy about it. The original trilogy had been my favorite series of fantasy movies and although I’ve had read all four of the novels, I actually found Tolkien’s written works to be inferior. I didn’t give a Sumatran Rat-Monkey’s ass that the very same creative team were telling more stories about Middle-earth, and were even inventing new scenes and characters. I was okay with that! “How could anyone doubt them?” I thought. Completely naïve, I just loved looking forward to spending more time in Peter Jackson’s wonderful vision of Middle-earth, whatever they were up to. I had no idea what I just signed on for.
The Lowdown: An Unexpected Journey
The first Hobbit movie is both the most exciting and most relaxed of them all. It does seemingly take forever to get going, and I understand why many felt the arrival of the dwarves at Bilbo’s was unbearingly dull. The Fellowship of the Ring takes some time, too, but then the shit quickly hits the fan. If Frodo didn’t act, the Ring Wraiths would’ve simply come for him. Our young Bilbo is only casually being invited to join in. The stakes are completely different. Sure, the Lonely Mountain may once have been the dwarves’s legendary home, but they could easily go live somewhere else. Thorin is only interested in pride and wealth. What I truly enjoy about this movie is the naturalism it manages to create. Yes, the dwarves are juggling plates and singing and Bilbo is overly careful and whiny at times, but that’s just their nature. These are folks not aware of dark forces trying to conquer the land. The dwarves do have war experience, but they’re jolly and fun to be around. Their daily life isn’t wading through piles of slain enemies, it’s drinking, traveling and having fun. Freeman is simply fantastic and completely believable as a clueless among them. He’s in for an adventure, and his enthusiasm is both inspiring and amusing.
I’ve seen the movie about four times now, but still have major problems naming all of them. Thorin is the grumpy boss. Balin is the wise one. Kili is the handsome one who ends up romancing Kate from Lost. I guess Bombur is the fat one who gets a lot of laughs. The others, Dwalin, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Fili, Nori, Ori and Dori never really get to shine which doesn’t look good. In comparison, every member of Frodo’s fellowship was distinctive and had memorable scenes. These dwarves may have great costumes, but are mostly just glorified extras. I suggest that it is Tolkien’s fault though, not Jackson’s. And there’s obviously no way Jackson could have gotten away with reducing the group of dwarves to just five. Even if it had really served the story.
I’ve got no problems with the troll barbecue, but it annoys me to no end that Radagast has bird shit on his head. I get it, he’s the eccentric wizard of the woods, but it just looks stupid. At least Sylvester McCoy fittingly plays him a little nuts. The scenes at both Dol Guldur and Rivendell are yawn-inducing. The first meeting with the Necromancer shows the same wrong choices Jackson made when he introduced the cannibals in King Kong. Eventually, it seems Jackson was a little aware of this, as this slogs enhance both the insane stone giant wrestling match, and later on, the video gamey sequence in the cave of Goblins. And the childishness of both those scenes work great in making the best scene of the movie (Bilbo’s meeting with Gollum) so good. We already saw and heard enough about Gollum, so his single scene was obviously posed to be the most superflous. Instead, it went on to become the most memorable of the whole trilogy. It’s tense, it’s exciting, and again, Gollum turns out to be a fascinating creature to watch.
Sadly, Jackson fails big time at one thing. He’s unable to make Thorin interesting. Throughout all of An Unexpected Journey Thorin is praised as that great leader, with everyone looking up to him, but he always comes off as an arrogant dick. He doesn’t do anything of importance. However, his character is good for something. He’s really important in igniting and guiding Bilbo’s arc. He is the one giving the others a reason to go on that adventure in the first place and of course his personal connection to Azog guarantees that the group will always stay relevant to the enemy. The whole movie belongs to Bilbo though, and Martin Freeman does a great job turning this little man into a fantastic adventurer. The moment Bilbo gets his hug, it’s utterly deserved. And how could you not enjoy the final image of the Dwarves looking at the Lonely Mountain? There’s some effective spirit of adventure.
While pretty much everyone I saw this movie with turned out to be either bored or angered by it, I was pretty much satisfied with the results. It is not on par with the original trilogy, obviously, but it was never supposed to be. It has its share of problems, but much of it is a worthy addition to its cinematic universe. It may just be the Thor of its MCU.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
The Lowdown: The Desolation of Smaug
Oh boy. Even the opening flashback scene of Gandalf meeting Thorin at the Prancing Pony is a mistake. It doesn’t add anything to the saga. It’s useless fanboy pandering, only to reintroduce one of the well-known location. Sadly, it’s a fitting foreshadowing and it’s overly ironic that Peter Jackson chose to do his cameo in this very scene.
Anything involving Beorn the shape-shifter comes off wrong. Playing with the fact that he’s super dangerous as an animal but friendly as a human goes nowhere. It’s not funny or thrilling, just odd — especially as the skin-changer will only return for a blink-and-miss-it cameo. The spider forest scene is a lame rehashing of Sam’s and Frodo’s magnificent Shelob encounter, and Gandalf’s confrontation with the Necromancer turns out to be worse than Radagast’s. These are worringly weak scenes without any weight or tension, and the movie is truly suffering from it. Bilbo is reduced to a minor role, barely influencing the main story anymore. He does have a fantastic scene with Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice, but those are just ten minutes among one hundred and sixty. Meanwhile, actually important characters such as Tauriel, Bolg, Bard or Legolas are only now getting introduced (way too late). I wrote that Azog is a solid villain on his own, but his son doesn’t get anything that defines him. He’s just that other leading orc.
I may be alone on this, but anything involving Lake-town or its inhabitants feels like a wrong choice to me. In a fantastic world such as Middle-earth with all of its various races and creatures, a shabby, filthy town of humans has it especially difficult to stand out on its own. Luke Evans is a fine actor, but he’s not able to make Bard and his family charismatic enough to make us care for them. Jackson tries to make Bard look better by introducing the mayor and the terrible goof Alfrid, but this time that approach doesn’t work. If you’re adapting this story, you have to make us root for Bard. The movie doesn’t achieve that. The humans do support a wounded dwarf, but Jackson fails at establishing a connection for them as well. The humans may have that one last arrow to kill the dragon and the dwarves may owe them money, but even that is not enough to raise attention. Everything feels like a bad RPG side quest that just won’t let you go back to the main story.
At least the movie comes briefly alive during the barrel sequence. If you didn’t like the Goblin chase, I guess you probably hate the glorious barrel ride. Especially for CGI Legolas doing his best at reminding you of that infamous fight scene in Blade 2. I love it. I think the barrel sequence is actually as much fun and as well shot as the amazing chase in Spielberg’s Tintin. The sweet little romance between Kili and Tauriel can be labeled wasted potential. The actors do a fine job, but their romance never gets intense enough to leave a mark. The relationship of Aragorn and Arwen wasn’t that impressive either, but those characters had a long history, and they sold that. These two don’t even get to second base. If Thranduil only had more scenes, he could have been a great addition. He stays too vague.
As for the showdown: When did a villain ever leave an ongoing confrontation to mockingly go torch a dozen families first? If you wouldn’t know how the story ends, this might be a really great cliffhanger in an otherwise disappointing movie. How are they going to stop the dragon before he reaches the city? He’s super fast and as we just established, unstoppable. They won’t really let him destroy Lake-town, won’t they? And how is Bilbo going to defeat him? It’s his movie, and everyone expects him to slay the main adversary, right? Maybe he’ll trick the dragon into wiping out the orcs? How about using the One Ring to sneak up to Smaug, then stab him right where he’s vulnerable? Still, it feels undeserved to close this movie without actually defeating the dragon. The third movie already promised to have that battle of five armies, did it have to have the defeat of the dragon too? After the first time seeing this, I thought that maybe having seen Part Three will make this look better in retrospect. It doesn’t.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
The Lowdown: The Battle of the Five Armies
I get it. Opening The Two Towers with the scene of Gandalf defeating the Balrog was a courageous choice and it worked out well. Here, Jackson copies it with the final defeat of Smaug, but I have several issues with it. For one, Smaug is pretty much the headlining MVP of the whole trilogy. Ask a six-year-old what’s the coolest character and he’ll point at Benedict Cumberbatch’s snappy dragon. The Balrog was not, but that creature went off against one of our most cherished heroes. Nothing against Luke Evans, but no one cares for Bard the fucking fisherman, and him and his son finishing off Bilbo’s dragon does not feel deserved — at all. I’m not suggesting they should have veered away from the novel there, but you can’t have a bunch of nobodies bring down the main attraction. That’s like seeing the TV reporter from Iron Man defeat the Iron Monger.
Instead of abandoning Lake-town for good, Jackson stays with their people and somehow chooses to give Alfrid even more moments. Not realizing that character is just terrible. Again, Bilbo feels shoehorned in and doesn’t to much to justify his presence. Suddenly, he’s the one having the right connection to Thorin. As the two of them didn’t have much of a two-sided relationship, emotions and twists don’t hit home. It’s a weak resolve. Characters die, there’s betrayal and momentary rage. It’s suprising that none of it ends up to be moving, not even accidentally. For all that matters, Jackson is still really, really efficient at crafting action scenes. At this point one might be utterly disappointed with everything else, but you can’t deny the movie is fairly watchable whenever he focuses on warfare. Both “boss fights” are highly satisfying. Still, everyone experiencing this movie for the first time has to be really irritated about the fact that Bilbo didn’t get to defeat the dragon, Azog, or Sauron. After escaping Azog for the first time, he’s just hanging around and barely active anymore. That’s like seeing a Star Wars trilogy in which Luke doesn’t defeat Vader or the Emperor, and does not destroy the Death Star. He gets the droids to rescue everyone from the trash compactor, so I guess that counts. Both The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies suffer from the late decision of becoming two separate movies I guess. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was such a giant of perfect, rousing, memorable entertainment, therefore it’s unbelievable this other trilogy mostly feels so numb. These are beautifully shot movies with flawless production values and lots of entertaining bits and characters, but they are not touching or engaging. They should have been.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
It seems they’re still holding back stuff for later releases, as there aren’t that many special features to find. An Unexpected Journey, for example, only has about three hours of bonus materials to offer. And most of it has already been put online.
Of course, they’ll release the Extended Edition of the third movie on Christmas, leading to a whole new choice of box sets. If you’re a die hard nut of these movies you might wanna wait for them, but by now I’m sure I won’t. I saw the Extended Editions of the first two movies and was utterly unimpressed by them. In the long run I might see myself revisiting An Unexpected Journey a few more times, but I doubt I’ll sit through the others. But would I support another Jackson Middle-earth trilogy? Of course.
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