Peter Jackson’s screen adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy is one of the few fantasy film series that managed to cross over from geeky entertainment to award-winning, record-breaking, blockbusting prestige pictures. Following-up the franchise was never going to be an easy task and it looked like a return to Middle Earth was never going to happen due to difficult rights issues. Once it looked like these obstacles were going to removed, Guillermo del Toro signed-on to direct two films based on Tolkein’s The Hobbit after Peter Jackson decided to settle on writing and directing. However, legal wrangles dragged-on and del Toro dropped out of the project, unwilling to wait out the opportunity to direct other projects. The lack of director led Jackson to once again direct Tolkien’s work, upping the movie-quota of the writer’s tome to a fully-fledged trilogy (An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Desolation of Smaug (2013), and The Battle of the Five Armies (2014).
Set 60 years before Frodo Baggins left the shire for Mordor, The Hobbit Trilogy sees Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) join thirteen dwarves on a mission to reclaim their home from the gold-loving dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). On the adventure, Bilbo meets a variety of characters including Andy Serkis’ Gollum, Sylvester McCoy’s Radagast the Brown and Luke Evan’s Bard the Bowman as he travels across Middle-Earth to The Lonely Mountain.
As George Lucas can attest to, following-up a beloved trilogy with a prequel tale isn’t easy. Peter Jackson dives head-first into Tolkien’s source material but the slight book groans under the weight of three, three hour movies. Jackson clearly loves the world building and he pads-out Tolkien’s text with impressive visuals and energetic action sequences. They’re clearly aimed at a younger audience than the original trilogy and the lightness of tone makes them feel too slight despite their bloated running times. Each sequence goes on a touch too long and every scene feels like it needs trimmed. These films would have been perfect if they were shorter, however at times you find yourself looking at your watch wondering when Jackson and editor Jabez Olssen will wrap it all up. You really can have too much of a good thing.
The Hobbit trilogy calls back a lot of the characters which made the first trilogy so memorable. Ian McKellen’s Gandalf the Grey plays a large role in the films, while Serkis’s Gollum makes a memorable cameo in An Unexpected Journey. Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett also appear, while Orlando Bloom’s Legolas has a prominent role in The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies.
Much like George Lucas with Star Wars, Peter Jackson’s pre-occupation with digital effects has had an impact of the visual texture of his on-screen world. The New Zealand backdrops continue to remain stunning and the prosthetic effects work remains impressive, but everything has been augmented by a CGI-sheen. This work by Jackson’s Weta Digital takes away a lot of the soul which made The Lord Of The Rings films so memorable, and at times some of the sequences feel like they belong in an animated movie than a live action feature.
It’s difficult to watch The Hobbit trilogy without comparing it to The Lord Of The Rings. This has many of the same elements and its undoubtedly an impressive film-making feat. However, the film’s are about 45 minutes too long and that affects the impact of the storytelling. However, there’s an undoubted energy that runs through these movies that wasn’t in Peter Jackson’s previous Middle Earth adventures and that makes them inherently appealing.
This 3D Blu-ray box set of The Hobbit trilogy comes crammed with special features which cover every facet of production. This is what the digital format was made for. These documentaries are incredibly informative and well balanced. You’ll watch them and feel like you were part for the trilogy’s production crew. Great stuff.