There And Back Again: Some Observations on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Trilogy

I have a new tradition. Every year, when a Hobbit movie comes out, I take a vacation day so that I can see one of the first showings. It accomplishes two things: 1) I can pay a matinee price for my ticket and 2) I can avoid the crowds. It’s a day of fun and excitement, and I love sitting in the theater and immersing myself back into Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth.

I knew I’d have a lot of thoughts about the movies, about the film trilogy as a whole, once The Battle of the Five Armies came out. And ever since Friday (this year, the movie opened on a Wednesday, but I wanted a three day weekend, so I made myself wait until Friday to see it), I’ve been mulling over the film, considering my reactions to it, and listening to Howard Shore’s The Battle of Five Armies score. There’s so much I wanted to talk about, but my attempts at a post got long, unwieldy, and unfocused.

So in order to at least start the conversation, I’m going to make a list. The list will be below the picture and behind a cut, because there will be spoilers, and I won’t be responsible for ruining the movie for you if you decide to spoil yourself. Cool? Cool.

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1) If you want a great, in-depth analysis, you can’t go wrong with Emily Asher-Perrin’s post at Tor.com: What of the King Under the Mountain? The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. I think I agree with pretty much everything she’s said, both the praise and the criticism.

2) I especially agree that the film project should’ve been kept to two films. Not three, which felt like watching extended editions even for the theatrical cuts, and not one, which would’ve been WAY too bloated with action and sacrificed some wonderful, quiet but character-building scenes unless the single movie itself was four hours long. However, if you’re one of those that believe that one book should’ve equaled one movie, then the below fake trailer is for you.

3) But after seeing the three films, I think the moral of the story is this: not that greed is bad (don’t get me wrong, it is, and that theme is pretty well hammered into the movie), but that if you’re an attractive dwarf, you will die. Don’t be an attractive dwarf. Fili, Kili, and Thorin: R.I.P.

4) I loved seeing Galadriel kick some serious ass. I’ll note that I didn’t feel that the Sauron/Necromancer storyline resolved in a super-meaningful way. It set up that Galadriel is officially weakened and was sent to Lorien to recover; it gave us a tease as to how Saruman might’ve gotten corrupted, but I kept expecting more to come from this storyline, other than Gandalf escaping in order to warn the others (which they didn’t heed, so it’s almost as if he went through it all for nothing. Though I’ll acknowledge the extended edition may shed more like on that).

5) I’m still a fan of Tauriel. Not the love story/triangle. Again, Asher’s post above hits the nail on the head, but when Tauriel wasn’t forced to act like she’d lost the love of her life — a love she’d spent maybe a total of ten minutes screentime with, I found her role in the movies quite interesting: forcing those around her to be a part of the bigger world, because the bigger world will affect them too. In many ways, I think it was her example that inspired Legolas, which gives us the motivation and inspiration for his desire to be part of the Fellowship. And I’m thrilled she didn’t have to die for him to get that lesson.

6) I also really loved the moments where we learned more about Legolas’ mother, and I really loved how Thranduil stopped being an asshole long enough to give his son that precious gift of knowledge (in addition to sending him Strider’s way).

7) Lee Pace as Thranduil. LOVE.

8) In terms of cutting, I think you can take pretty much ANY action scene in any of the movies and reduce it greatly.

9) I also could’ve done without the whole corrupt Master of Laketown and his if-not-more-so corrupt second-in-command Alfred. Seriously. Cut it all. Bard didn’t need that kind of additional conflict to make him likeable.

10) I also think we could’ve done without Beorn. And Radagast. And Azog. I say these things as merely a wishlist of sorts: if I were the one to edit the three films into two, these are the things I could’ve cut or simply referenced in passing, simply to get the story moving. Admittedly, some viewers may prefer to cut all of the extraneous elf stuff instead. 😉 Of course, I would’ve cut the love triangle, which pretty much failed on a host of levels. And I will say I did appreciate how Beorn and Radagast ended up playing a role in the final battle.

11) I still don’t like the name of the third film. Not saying that There and Back Again would’ve made much sense, considering, but if they could’ve moved Smaug’s death up to the second film, and focused on Thorin’s rather short rule as king, then I think a more apt title could’ve been “The King Under the Mountain.”

12) Words cannot express what a joy it has been to watch Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. The movies are worth the ticket price just to watch Bilbo on the screen.

13) I do wonder how people feel about the ending, those who haven’t read the book and don’t know that Thorin is doomed. Because when you think about it, it’s a rather unsatisfying and unheroic ending. The good guys win, but they also lose horribly. After Smaug’s death, the battle itself and what comes after is rather anti-climatic. I was also hoping we’d get some kind of footnote, maybe in the form of Bilbo’s voiceover (though I do love how it wrapped up and braided itself into Fellowship of the Ring), as to what became of the dwarves under the mountain. Did they invite the people of Laketown to live there? Did all the dwarven clans migrate?

14) I’ve had a weird observation every time I’ve seen An Unexpected Journey, which now numbers three times, twice extended edition: I wonder if Tolkien meant for the story of Erebor and the resultant wanderings of the dwarves to mirror any particular diaspora? I kept thinking of the Jewish people (an analogy made somewhat problematic due to the stereotypical obsession that dwarves have with gold), but I’m sure far better-educated minds than mine have tackled this, if such an analogy exists.

15) I find it interesting that for the three Hobbit films, the end-credits songs have been sung by men, but the end-credits songs for The Lord of the Rings have all been sung by women. I don’t know why I find this interesting, since when put together, it’s split 50/50 for male and female singers. I just wonder what it is about the Hobbit songs that lend themselves to male singers. Are dwarves simply more manly? I will say I adore Billy Boyd’s “The Last Goodbye,” though I think Annie Lennox’s “Into the West” is still my favorite end-credits song.

16) Regardless of the bloat in the movies, I still enjoy them. I love sitting down to immerse myself in Jackson’s Middle Earth. The films are beautifully wrought, and while The Lord of the Rings is the more successful and more artistic and simply the better trilogy by far, I’m super-grateful to have The Hobbit trilogy as well. I can’t wait to get my greedy hands on the extended edition and watch all six movies, extended scenes and all, and enjoy the way the story weaves in and out of itself through-out the films. It’s a beautiful world to look at, with a score wonderful to hear.

17) When I saw An Unexpected Journey for the first time, I wanted to go home and read The Hobbit. I checked the impulse, because I’m not a fan of re-reading something RIGHT before seeing the film adaptation, because I don’t need the source material so fresh on my mind. It’s fun to see what the adaptation brings to the table, fun to see what I’ve forgotten played out on the big screen. But now that the trilogy is over, I feel like I can finally sit down and read The Hobbit for the third time. The first time I read it, it was after I’d seen The Fellowship of the Ring. The second was for a Modern Science Fiction and Fantasy course I audited back in 2003. It makes sense that I read for the third time now, after the film trilogy is over. It’s a charming book, and I can’t wait to see how it reads with Jackson’s vision influencing my reader’s eye.

And that’s it. I’m sure I’ll think of other points, and I wish I could think of them now, since ending the list at #17 is a rather odd thing. But that’s okay. I have my favorite copy of The Hobbit sitting next to me, so I’m going to read instead.

2 thoughts on “There And Back Again: Some Observations on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Trilogy

  1. I read THE HOBBIT back like.. mmm, more than 20 years ago, my god I AM OLD NOW (I was really young– I am due for another reading because it’s very faint and hazy). Anyway, reading your comments on what you would edit out I was thinking I would edit out that Tauriel love triangle. Then I thought.. wait, I really don’t remember the love triangle in the book at ALL. And then I thought: OK I don’t remember Tauriel at all! So I just googled and see she wasn’t in the book. I feel a bit better about my memory. I also remembered that the last part was all battle battle battle so I went into this movie expecting what happened.
    I recall one of my favorite parts of the book was when Bard killed Smaug, and I loved that the tension I remembered from the story was there on the screen, so that was pretty much my favorite part of this film (all the Smaug bits were really memorable parts of the book for me). I have to say though, there were other parts that made me feel all heart fluttery and into what I was watching, like when it looked like the elves weren’t going to fight and then suddenly they are jumping over the dwarves and engaging. It felt like there were a couple of places like that. Someone in the theater was bawling her eyes out when Tauriel wanted the pain to go away, but I was more affected by the moment before that, where Legolas left and has that moment with his father (but uhm, also not in the book).

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    1. I really do love the addition of Tauriel in the films. No, she’s not in the book, but they name all of two elves in the book (Elrond and Thranduil), why wouldn’t there be a girl in the guard? And why wouldn’t Legolas be hanging out with his dad? I also loved the moment Legolas and Thranduil had at the end, a very nice touch, and honestly, I wouldn’t have minded Kili’s infatuation with Tauriel…. it was the expectation that it would be reciprocated that just seemed ridiculous, though I agree with the women crying at the theater: when Tauriel screamed to have those feelings taken away, it was well done. There were very lovely moments, like that one, that spoke to the Elves’ immortality and what that means for them and why that makes them different.

      Also, I did so love seeing Thranduil kick ass in battle. And yeah, that moment where the Elves leap over the dwarves? Freaking awesome.

      I didn’t speak of it much here, but I loved Bard, and I loved the scene where he killed Smaug. Very, very well done. I look forward to seeing how that plays in the book, because other than remembering that he DID it, I don’t remember details. 🙂

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