To paraphrase the British film critic Mark Kermode regarding the lengths of installments from both the Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers franchises: In Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, it took two and a half hours to cover the entirety of human existence, spanning from our primitive ape-like ancestors all the way up to the birth of a new species. But in this film, it took Peter Jackson the same amount of time to adapt the last six chapters of JRR Tolkien’s fantasy adventure novelThe Hobbit.
Like them or not, it at least seems too be generally agreed upon that it wasn’t exactly the wisest decision to split The Hobbit story into three films, and that’s putting it generously. All the evidence you really need is up there on the screen. But that point has been made so many times beforehand it hardly merits reiteration. Needless to say, expectations for this installment were pretty low, but the possibility of it being worthwhile still remained. Based on the strengths of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which everyone behind both the production of this film and its marketing team are trying so very hard to emulate and remind the general public of, maybe Peter Jackson just needed a really effective finale to convince us all that turning The Hobbit into a trilogy was a truly worthy endeavor, and something more than an obvious, poorly thought-out attempt to squeeze every last ounce of money from this now dubbed ‘Middle Earth saga’. So how did it turn out…”
On the production front, these films cannot be faulted for their lack of technical skill – aside from the rather poor looking CGI in this installment, but more on that later. Even six films into this franchise, Peter Jackson is still capable of assembling a handsome production, with key technical elements still managing to impress after all these years, such as the creative makeup design and effects, as well as Howard Shore’s rich, thunderous musical score, which recalls the likes of James Horner’s ‘Braveheart’ and Joe Hisaishi’s ‘Princess Mononoke’ in a few sections. All of these elements come together to ensure that this trilogy, however misguided and sloppy from a narrative standpoint, still looks and feels authentic, and also helps to create a select few standout moments, such as Smaug’s opening assault on Laketown – an early highlight which the film unfortunately never comes close to matching in terms of foreboding menace and sheer awe-inspiring grandeur, as opposed to the empty spectacle offered by the rest of the proceedings.
While the casting in these films has also been a resounding success, this installment struggles to give all the characters their fair share of screen time. Heck, at least half of the main dwarf characters don’t even get a single line throughout this entire film. But even the most adamant detractors of this series will at least admit to the perfect casting of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, whose presence single-handedly makes this less of a slog to sit through whenever he’s onscreen, however fleeting his appearances in his own damn story are. And Richard Armitage as Thorin gets the meatiest material he’s had yet from this series, with him and Freeman sharing some of the most well-acted moments out of the three films. Supporting members like Ian McKellen and Lee Pace return as well, but the film does such a poor job a juggling everyone and giving them all proper screen time, that most of them are hardly worth mentioning at all.
Alright, time to come right out and just say it: even with the already low bar set by its two predecessors, this film just might be the worst of the trilogy. With the least amount of material from the novel to work with, Jackson and his co-writers scramble to stretch every last plot-thread from the last two far beyond its breaking point, while even managing to add a few more into the mix, as well as giving superfluous side characters more screen time than the far more interesting heroes of the story like Bilbo, Gandalf, or Thorin. Even Lord of the Rings alumni such as Elrond and Saruman are briefly shoehorned into the proceedings to engage in a boring, narratively isolated duel with the Nazgul before rescuing Gandalf and giving one of the most focused on subplots of the first two films a hilariously anti-climactic solution within the first twenty minutes of the film. Sound like a clusterfuck? You have no idea.
So after an hour or so of (mostly) watchable filler, the film screeches to a halt and then devolves into some of the most repetitive and tiresome action sequences the digital age of cinema has ever seen, containing absolutely none of the charm or dramatic heft that made the extended battle sequences in theLord of the Rings films so damn enthralling. And it’s all made even less visually appealing by a hideous grey/dark blue color scheme, further accentuating the rather poor looking CGI effects in this installment. If the same digital effects company hadn’t also been responsible for the vastly more impressive CGI in this year’s earlier Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it wouldn’t have been too far off to suggest that they’d lost some of their creative gusto, especially considering this film has some of the laziest fantasy creature designs in any big budget fantasy epic.
While the previous Hobbit films were also guilty of stretching things out and cramming in useless side characters and subplots whenever possible, at the very least they were (mostly) coherent films and relatively easy to watch from start to finish, however padded and dull the experience of viewing them was. But this one feels oddly choppy in comparison, as if it was just slapped together at the last minute and torn to shreds in the editing room. Throughout watching this, it’s not hard to imagine Peter Jackson yelling “Oh screw it, just leave it for the extended edition” a few dozen times. No other explanation makes sense when considering the umpteen amount of characters and subplots abandoned entirely and given little to no observable resolution, like Luke Evans’s Bard making his final appearance with 45 minutes still left in the film.
Jackson also must have taken the complaints about the multiple endings of Return of the King to heart, because once the fighting stops in this, there’s quite literally just a mere five to ten minutes of resolution before the credits start rolling. This might satisfy the average viewer, but to those who invested hours worth of time in these characters and their journey, something more than the cinematic equivalent of an acceptance speech being cut short by music chiming in would’ve been more appropriate. Thanks a lot, whiny impatient general audience members; you’ve gotten your way once again, and robbed this series of any sort of satisfying conclusion in the process.
Now that this trilogy is over with, what do we have to show for it? At the end of the day, not much says this reviewer. It may have brought die hard fans back to Middle Earth a few more times and made Warner Bros and Peter Jackson a couple billions of dollars, but was it really worth it to get three mediocre Hobbit films instead of one truly great one? Surely once this hits DVD, a fan edit of all three films trimmed down to what’s actually in the novel will appear, which sounds far more interesting than revisiting any of these films in their entirety again. But until then, keep Peter Jackson away from The Silmarillion for goodness sake!