There and Back Again: Where the Hobbit Trilogy Fits In

WARNING: There will be spoilers-aplenty for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (and every other Middle Earth movie) in this retrospective. Steer clear if you haven’t seen it yet.

I was disappointed with how the final Hobbit movie turned out. The Battle of the Five Armies felt like a culmination of every issue with turning J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit into three movies rolled into one meandering final chapter. That said, I felt an urge as the end credits began. I had to rewatch Fellowship of the Ring. Hell, maybe even the whole trilogy. I wasn’t sure if the Hobbit films had tied in well enough with Lord of the Rings that I was ready to embark on another journey, or if Battle of the Five Armies left me hungry for a much better Middle Earth movie.

Having since watched Fellowship (actually, I just put in The Two Towers as I’m writing this; we all know where this leads), I am now seeing the Hobbit trilogy with even more clarity. Now that it’s over and done with, we can talk about the complete story and where it stands in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth saga, as well as cinema in general.


Give Credit Where it is Due

Generally speaking, none of the Hobbit films are inherently bad. In fact, The Desolation of Smaug comes pretty close to being as good as Lord of the Rings. The chapters that bookend the trilogy are a different story. But still, there are good, even great things about The Hobbit.

Martin Freeman is a perfect Bilbo Baggins. This casting as honestly as good as Ian McKellan as Gandalf. Bilbo in general is actually a much better lead than Frodo. Elijah Wood’s hairy-footed protagonist is weak, always relying on others and never himself. He’s also quick to judge, never thinking the situation all the way through before acting (example: telling Sam to leave and sticking with Gollum). Bilbo, on the other hand, wants to prove his naysayers wrong. He fights as an equal to the dwarf company, even if the dwarves don’t often see him as such. Sam, Merry, and Pippin exhibit the same traits, leaving Frodo alone as the hero restricting himself based on his kin. Having a better lead is a big win for the Hobbit trilogy.

The Hobbit‘s episodic nature gave way for a lot of great scenes. The trolls, riddles in the dark, spiders, escape from Mirkwood, and Smaug were all a joy to watch on screen. It was between these episodes where Jackson lost control of the wheel. But even if it took a while to get to, who can deny the power of the film’s version of Smaug?

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“Do you dare you insult me?”

Also, as far as creative decisions go, Jackson succeeded in creating an original character. Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel is a highlight of both of the latter two Hobbit films. This series is in dire need of strong female characters. Are there any women even in the book? The addition of this character really worked to make the world feel more balanced.



The Hobbit takes some serious missteps on the road. As great as Bilbo is, he can’t make up for the company of dwarves that hardly have any individuality. A few stand out besides Thorin, namely Balin and Kili, but the rest are pretty difficult to distinguish from each other. It’s a shame considering Jackson did such a wonderful job fleshing out the supporting cast of the previous trilogy. Even seemingly minor players like Eomer and Faramir had not just memorable moments, but worthwhile character arcs. Conversely, I think I only learned which dwarf was Fili when he was killed by Azog in Battle of the Five Armies.

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What if Aragorn was meaner?

It doesn’t help that Thorin struggles to fill the void left open by Aragorn in this trilogy. His role in the three films actually reflects the quality of each of the films. In An Unexpected Journey, you’re not quite sure if you like him, or the movie for that matter, but he eventually grows on you and it ends up being good enough. In The Desolation of Smaug, Thorin becomes rich and layered as the quest begins to weigh on him and he grows more desperate. But in Battle of the Five Armies, he takes way to long to get over himself and join the battle, but once he does, things get pretty good. His arc is uneven and drawn out, but intermittently fascinating. It probably would have played much smoother over two films instead of three.


The Hobbit Should Only Live Twice

Now that all is said and done, can we get some die hard fan with superior Final Cut skills to turn this thing into two, much better movies? The edition of The Hobbit on my bookshelf is 330 pages. If you combine the runtime of all three movies, you end up with just shy of eight hours of The Hobbit. That’s insane. There’s no way this thing needed to be longer than five or six hours. The films seriously suffer for it. There are sections of An Unexpected Journey and Battle of the Five Armies that are just plain boring. Even the superior Desolation of Smaug could use a once-over in fat-trimming. The Lord of the Rings movies are long, but you hardly feel it. All three whiz by, leaving you in a tizzy and ready for the next one, or wholly satisfied in the case of Return of the King.

Humor me for the next paragraph. I’m not a filmmaker, and if I was one I doubt I could make anything half as well as Peter Jackson. But here’s how I would have done The Hobbit: two movies, split right after the dwarves escape Mirkwood. Skip Beorn a la Tom Bombadil, as well as some of the other episodes between “Riddles in the Dark” and “Barrels Out of Bond”. Start the second film with Bard sneaking the dwarves into Lake Town, do all of Smaug and the Battle of the Five Armies in movie two. Seriously, how jarring was Smaug’s opening-scene death in Battle of the Five Armies? Two movies would eliminate all the weird pacing issues with Thorin’s arc as well. As for Gandalf’s Sauron-induced side-quest, do all the parts from the first two films in movie one, and make his rescue the opening scene of movie two. BAM! Just my thoughts. But that still doesn’t fix one major problem with The Hobbit.

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“Did I even need to be here?”

Jackson tried to infuse the Hobbit trilogy with connections to the larger conflicts of Lord of the Rings, but all it really did was serve as a reminder that Thorin’s quest isn’t nearly as important as anything that happens later. It’s sad because the events of The Hobbit are really fun and interesting, but Jackson forced them to live in the shadow of the darker, world-changing Lord of the Rings.


Cage Match: Peter Jackson vs. George Lucas!

It was inevitable, we have to talk about this prequel trilogy in reference to another infamous prequel trilogy. In sum, while The Hobbit never reaches the lows of Hayden Christensen or Lucas’ “dialogue”, the Star Wars prequels feel more passionate that these films. Say what you will about them, but the number of new worlds, vehicles, and races we’re introduced to in the more recent Star Wars films s massive. His filmmaking abilities may have faltered, but Lucas was very much still mining the world he created for new ideas. All that can really be said for The Hobbit in terms of inventiveness is that dwarf culture got majorly fleshed out. Oh, and Smaug. But still, The Hobbit feels like a story in a fully fleshed-out world, rather than one expanding it. The climax of Revenge of the Sith takes place on a never-before-seen lava planet. The climax of Battle of the Five Armies takes place in a field and some ruins. I know Jackson had to stay true to the material, but so little of this trilogy felt new.

Going back to the point of how The Hobbit connects to Lord of the RingsStar Wars definitely has the upper hand. Phantom Menace is pretty insignificant, but the other two contain an entire, massive war, not to mention the destruction of democracy in the galaxy in favor of an evil empire. The Hobbit is a treasure hunt where one character finds a really important object that isn’t that important yet. As inferior as the Star Wars prequels are, they are undoubtedly part of a larger story. Conversely, The Hobbit doesn’t add much to Lord of the Rings.

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Who wins?

Also, both Lucas and Jackson are in need of a CGI intervention. What happened to the excellent orc makeup from Lord of the Rings? Did they really all have to be CGI?

I’ve got to go with Star Wars as the winner. The prequels, while occasionally unwatchable, are surprisingly memorable. Everyone feared The Hobbit would be Phantom Menace all over again, but what we got was something plain and insignificant, which can hardly be said for Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.



So this ends our retrospective on The Hobbit trilogy. But we’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Disagree with us? Tell us. We’re all here for the same reason: discussing what we just saw. I’m interested in what people are saying about The Hobbit trilogy because I, like you, love Lord of the Rings. So lets start the conversation.


By Matt Dougherty

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