The Hobbit could have been many things. It could have been shorter, certainly, like hours and hours shorter. It could have been a more direct adaptation of just the one book, instead of any and all related material that could be found plus some stuff they made up. Most importantly, it could have been a new creative team’s version of Middle Earth, a new interpretation of one of the most beloved fictional universes ever created. But when it came down to it, The Hobbit had to be what Peter Jackson wanted it to be. It’s just a shame he George Lucas’ed it.
I haven’t been as hard on Peter Jackson as I probably should have, for a couple reasons. One is that I know he tried damn hard to pass this series onto someone else, and got pretty close to convincing Guillermo del Toro to do it. I believe he truly loves the works of J.R.R. Tolkein and wanted to do what was best for them, and that meant taking the reigns himself when he couldn’t find a worthy successor in the face of plenty of studio pressure to make this thing happen. The other reason is that I agree with what I believe his idea behind the trilogy is: to frame The Hobbit as a prelude to The Lord of the Rings in a way Tolkein couldn’t. To make something that is tonally and thematically consistent with Fellowship and the other movies while coloring in as much of the universe as possible. That seems like a worthy approach, albeit one that inherently makes it less appealing to die-hard fans of The Hobbit book and people not invested in the cinematic Middle Earth. The problem is he didn’t stick with that single vision.
Like the first Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a passion project from someone who had to fight for everything he got. When they began filming those first movies, everyone considered it crazy; one of the biggest risks in cinematic history. When they started filming The Hobbit trilogy, it always felt more like an attempt to rekindle that former glory, rather than a new adventure. If you go back and watch the Production Diaries on YouTube, it’s just not the same as all the behind-the-scenes stuff from the last trilogy. Does anyone believe that the Martin Freeman and the thirteen dwarf actors feel the same brotherhood as the fellowship did? That last series was a quixotic quest, this one felt like a long job.
Not that I think any of the actors are bad or that anyone made this film as cynically as I talk about it. I think that Peter Jackson, like George Lucas, loves filmmaking technology, and was all too willing to use green screen and CG in place of the more complicated tricks he had to employee previously. Case in point: The Battle of the Five Armies (which is just called The Battle of Five Armies in the book, by the way) introduces a new dwarf character played by Billy Connolly who is entirely CG for some reason. At least it looks that way. What’s going on there? Why would you do this? Why would anyone do this?
The majority of the final chapter of this trilogy is spent building up to this eponymous battle and then actually showing the fighting – all the big cliffhangers from the last movie are quickly swept under the rug in favor of scenes that begin to feel redundant. We see Thorin (Richard Armitage) stubbornly giving into his greed over and over. Bard (Luke Evans) try to broker a peace over and over. Legolas be a cool douche over and over. This is because they’re trying to turn the climax of the story into it’s own story, and it just doesn’t work. It will never feel right, and frankly I hope that Topher Grace or whoever steps up and edits this trilogy down into one tight movie. That might actually be truly great. Instead we’re left with a trilogy that is exhausting for most, infuriating for true diehard fans, and mildly pleasing for people like me, who are more happy looking into Wikipedia than The Silmarillion.