Jan 8, 2018

Posted by in Movies, Opinion, Review, Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The Hobbit Trilogy is criminally underrated

The Hobbit Trilogy is criminally underrated

It’s time to spread some positive vibes again after a slew of negative articles (hey, I can’t help it that Disney is making a conscious effort to ruin everything they touch these days). And therefore, I am here to drive home a point I’ve been trying to make since this blog’s inception: Peter Jackson’s Hobbit adaptation is a magnificent and epic trilogy that deserves ten times more respect than it gets.

I’m not going to get into the reasons why I think these movies don’t get more credit, as that would be something for a different kind of article. And as for the inevitable comparisons to the book, I’ll be brief. I’m a serious Tolkien fan, and I am well aware that these films deviate quite a bit from the book in terms of tone and style as the story progresses. I’d just like to make a few remarks about that before I go on to the meat of this article:

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  • The book is the book, the movie is the movie. They are separate entities. Nothing can replace the book and nothing should. You do not make a movie adaptation in order to turn the book obsolete. The movie is one interpretation, a story that exists on its own and in its own medium, based on the book. That’s actually one of the reasons why I think the Middle-earth films are better adaptations than the Harry Potter movies, especially the earlier ones. The latter are slavish to the source material, while the former get creative and do their own thing from time to time, without going overboard and betraying the core principles of Tolkien’s world.
  • It’s actually still a pretty faithful adaptation. Almost everything that’s in the book is actually in the movie, presented in the same way, involving the same characters, especially if you count the Extended Editions. There’s just a lot more in the movies. Granted, I would have liked to see Gwaihir chatting with Gandalf, but other than that, there is nothing that was missing, in my opinion.
  • Peter Jackson and the writing team clearly intended to make the prequel to their own cinematic version of The Lord of the Rings. This movie doesn’t exist to emulate the more childlike, fairy-tale tone of the book. That simply wouldn’t have gelled with the existing movies. In negative reviews, people have often compared the Hobbit trilogy to the Star Wars prequels. And you know what? I completely agree: both are awesome trilogies that increase the world-building and general epicness (epicacity? Epicasion?) of the overall saga.

Those are the main points I can make about the book-versus-movie issue. I don’t want to dwell on that topic because I think that a lot of the issues people have with this trilogy come from the way it relates to the book. I would recommend forgetting all about that for a moment, and I invite you to just look at these movies as fantasy adventures that exist purely as their own thing.
In my opinion, the Hobbit trilogy very easily outmatches the vast majority of both fantasy movies and adventure movies out there. In fact, I can’t think of anything else in this genre (except for The Lord of the Rings, of course) that even comes close. Here are a number of reasons why I feel that this trilogy is not only a great accomplishment, but a supremely entertaining viewing experience.

 The storytelling

All good tales deserve a little embellishment.

-Gandalf

I watched The Hobbit again after the fiasco that was The Last Jedi and the difference in storytelling quality is enormous. Like many blockbuster movies these days, the new Star Wars trilogy introduces concepts, ideas and events only to forget about them and ignore them later, even within the same movie. Contrast this to The Hobbit (especially the Extended Editions) where everything that is set up gets a payoff and everything that is introduced is there for a reason.

Take for example, one small detail from The Battle of the Five Armies: during a fight scene in the middle of the battle, Tauriel’s bow is broken. When later on her beloved Kili is about to be killed by Bolg and she looks on from a distance, there is nothing she can do. If that bow hadn’t been broken, she could have intervened and everything would have turned out different. I bet that in the JJ Abrams version, she would have simply cried about her inability to save Kili while holding her bow. Or perhaps she would have flown towards him and saved him with her previously unknown super-powers.

Another example: in The Desolation of Smaug, Legolas confiscates Orcrist, Thorin’s sword, because it’s an Elvish weapon and that probably means he stole it, in the woodland prince’s eyes. During the final confrontation with Azog in The Battle of the Five Armies, Legolas decides at the last moment to return the sword to Thorin, allowing the Dwarf king to defeat his arch-nemesis with his iconic sword, and not just some random blade.

Or how about that little comedic moment in An Unexpected Journey, when the company has just left and Bilbo tells them they have to stop and turn back because he forgot his handkerchief? When the hobbit finally returns home at the end of the third movie, he finds his cozy little hole ransacked by his fellow halflings, and amidst the remains of his possessions, he finds his neatly folded initialled handkerchief. It was a touching moment that really brought the spiritual arc of Bilbo’s journey in this trilogy to a close.

Then there is the moment in the first movie, when Gandalf tells Bilbo that true courage comes not from knowing when to take a life, but when to spare one. Fast forward an hour and a half to the third act of the movie, when Bilbo gets the chance to kill Gollum and escape the Goblin tunnels. All we need is the expressions on the character’s faces and the music to remind us of Gandalf’s words. There is no repeat of the same line, just a quiet moment between two characters. If you ask me, that’s good writing and good storytelling. And good acting!
There are countless more examples of little things that really prove how well-written these screenplays are , but I don’t want to keep listing things off, so let’s move on to the next topic.

The characters

You have nice manners, for a liar… And a thief!

-Smaug

Closely related to the general storytelling, is what Peter, Fran and Philippa did with the characters. Obviously, the Dwarves needed to be fleshed out. It makes sense that Tolkien kept them pretty homogenous because he really wanted to move a relatively simple story forward, not tell an epic as he did in The Lord of the Rings. In the movie version, though, we do want to go epic (eventually), but more than that, in a movie you simply can’t just move the story along with ten anonymous Dwarves plus Thorin (the leader), Bombur (the fat one) and Balin (the one who is nice to Bilbo). It just wouldn’t work on-screen. So Peter Jackson and his team faced a very difficult challenge in trying to flesh out all these characters, and in my opinion, they did an amazing job. After seeing the first movie only twice, I could recognise and name each of the Dwarves. By the second movie, I knew something about their personalities. Even though Bombur is still just “the fat one” and Bifur just “the one with an axe stuck in his head”, every one of them had some quality to make them stand out. Dwalin is a gruff fighter, Balin is the voice of reason, Bofur is a bon-vivant who sympathizes with Bilbo’s plight, Ori is childlike and naïve, Nori is a bit shady, Dori has a refined palate, Kili is the romantic, Fili is a carefree adventurer, Gloin is the avaricious one, Oin is a healer with a hearing problem and Thorin… Thorin is the king.

I love the book, but to be honest, the original version of Thorin is really just a bit pompous and self-important and hard to take seriously. Richard Armitage’s interpretation is a majestic leader, brooding and obsessive but fiercely loyal. He’s a very strong character with a complex arc and his evolving friendship with Bilbo is something special to watch.

Gandalf was always a great character, both on the page and in the Lord of the Rings movies, and this is just the same in The Hobbit.

And then we have Bilbo, the heart of the trilogy. It must have been very difficult to write a younger Bilbo who changes from a respectable, unassuming gentleman into a real adventurer, in love with the wonders of the world and actually grateful to have partaken in so many perilous, nasty and uncomfortable adventures. But this is precisely what we get and it is beautifully set up and executed with patience and nuance. A lot of that comes straight from the book, of course, but the movies certainly do a wonderful job of translating that to the screen.
I could go on about many other characters who appear in this movie. I could defend the oft-criticized roles of Legolas and Tauriel, but I suppose you either just like their presence in these movies or you don’t.

There is one character I do want to single out, though, and here I also want to make one more comparison to the book: Bard, the bowman from Lake-Town. Now, I love Tolkien’s works, but I don’t hold them to be perfect and sacred texts that just dropped down from the heavens. I think the way Bard was handled in the book was a bit of a mistake. Here we have an entire novel dedicated to the quest of finding The Lonely Mountain and taking back the gold from the dragon, and when the Dwarves finally arrive, what happens? They cower in fear as the dragon flies off to Lake-Town, where an unknown footnote of a character (a certain ‘Bard’) takes him out.

By contrast, Bard is introduced much earlier in the movies and becomes a major character for almost half of the trilogy. We get to know him as a reluctant ally to the Dwarves, a hero of the common folk, a great father and a smart, reasonable individual throughout the second film. That way, when he faces Smaug in the third one, we actually care about him and not just the dragon’s fate. His character arc clearly echoes Aragorn’s, which works beautifully, because we really do want him to become the king of Dale.

Of course, I do have some criticisms. It’s a bit sad we never actually get to see Bard as king, for example. I still don’t know what I think of the Kili-Tauriel romance and I also feel that Beorn was terribly underused to the point that his character actually failed for me in the theatrical release. Luckily, the Extended Edition of The Desolation of Smaug does feature a lot more of the mysterious shapeshifter, and it’s because of that cut that I came to appreciate the cinematic version of this character after all. Still, I really liked Beorn in the book and I’m a bit disappointed that his appearance in the final battle is literally only seconds long.

The whole feel of it

The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.

-Gandalf

To be perfectly honest, I’ve become incredibly disappointed and fed up with Hollywood in the last few years. I consider the endless parade of superheroes to be an utterly boring waste of time and if you’ve followed this blog before, you know how I feel about the recent Star Wars movies. Blockbusters certainly have gone downhill. They have become cold, corporate products entirely lacking in soul or charm. A lot of people share my feelings about this. But they often lump in this wonderful trilogy with that crap, and I vehemently disagree. Really, the trilogy of The Hobbit was the last blockbuster movie experience that truly excited me, and by the way things are looking now, I fear it may stay that way for a very, very long time.

Here are movies oozing with charm and personality in every scene. I adore the much-disparaged length the Dwarves’ visit to Bag End, which allows the whole movie to be steeped in pure Tolkien atmosphere before the adventure even begins. That was a gutsy decision and it paid off, in my opinion. I love the little exchanges of actual character humour, so many lightyears removed from the irritating quips of The Avengers. I love little details like Bilbo keeping an acorn from Beorn’s garden to plant in his garden when he gets home (I mean, that same acorn becomes the party tree where he celebrates his 111th birthday, and which is the first thing Frodo remembers of the Shire when he finally gets rid of the Ring!). I love the sheer size and menace of Smaug the magnificent, the majesty of Thranduil’s Woodland Realm and, yes, I even love the laugh-out-loud over-the-top action set pieces, because they’re vintage Jackson and if you just go along with the universe that Peter Jackson’s presenting you, they are incredibly entertaining. In fact, they turned me back into a ten year-old boy cheering at his favourite heroes for a few moments.

And then… There’s the music. Did I mention the music?

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